Everything you wanted to know about the “Sustainable Development Goals” but were afraid to ask

author: 
comms
19 february 2015
 
The countdown has begun. In a few months, the member states of the United Nations are set to agree a new global agreement on how to tackle the world’s most pressing problems, including poverty, inequality and environmental destruction. 
 
This new “Sustainable Development Framework” will have binding consequences for all UN member states, and will therefore also impact on Ireland’s own development in a number of policy areas, such as energy, transport, agriculture and environment.
 
So here are a few of the key things everyone in Ireland should know about the “Sustainable Development Goals”.
 
 
1) What are the sustainable development goals?
 
The sustainable development goals are the successors to the “Millennium Development Goals”. The MDGs were drawn up in 2000 by governments and expire at the end of this year.
 
 
2) Why do we need a new set of goals?
 
The Millennium Development Goals provided one of the most important and most successful global agreements ever. Since their agreement, governments, NGOs and businesses around the world have worked together to achieve major successes in the fight against poverty, hunger and disease. 
 
But the MDGs were not perfect. They were not ambitious enough, only setting out to “halve” the number of people living in poverty. Furthermore, they focused on the numbers game prioritising, for instance, school enrolment ratios over the quality of education in those schools. Finally, by only focusing on social development (education, education, health), the MDGs were blind for the impact of government policies on inequality, security and the environment. 
 
Although the MDGs apply in theory to all countries, in fact they were often seen as targets for poor countries only, with the role of rich countries being limited to providing the funding necessary for the achievement of the goals. A crucial difference with the new proposed sustainable development goals is therefore that they are meant to apply to all countries. “Sustainable Development” is not something that only “developing” countries should do, but that each UN member state should work towards.
 
 
3) What are the proposed seventeen goals?
 
The latest round of negotiations on the new Sustainable Development Goals will be based on a set of goals suggested by various UN working groups, and summarised by the UN’s Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
 
They are: 
 
Goal 1 - End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Goal 2 - End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
Goal 3 - Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Goal 4 - Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Goal 5 - Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Goal 6 - Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Goal 7 - Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Goal 8 - Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Goal 9 - Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation
Goal 10 - Reduce inequality within and among countries
Goal 11 - Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Goal 12 - Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Goal 13 - Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts*
Goal 14 - Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Goal 15 - Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Goal 16 - Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Goal 17 - Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development
 
 
4) How were the goals chosen?
 
The new set of goals was, in contrast to the Millennium Development Goals, not drawn up within the walls of the UN building. Instead, they were the outcome of a number of long and complex discussions in different public and private fora. 
 
The process started at the “Rio+20” summit on Sustainable Development held in June 2012, after which regional, national and thematic consultations took place and an “open working group” of UN member states was established to come up with a proposal for a new set of goals. 
 
The open working group comprising representatives from seventy countries had its first meeting in March 2013 and published its final document with 17 suggested goals in July 2014. This proposal was submitted to the General Assembly in September last year.
 
 
5) Are all governments happy with the proposed seventeen goals?
 
The goals are far from agreed. Several countries, and many of the NGOs, feel that there are too many goals. Others argue that it is better to have seventeen goals that include key issues such as women’s empowerment, good governance, peace and security, than to have fewer goals that ignore these issues.
 
Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the UN, has said in his “Synthesis Report” that the final decision on the number of targets will depend on the Member States, but that he does not expect the number to change. However, he did suggest that the Goals might be easier to communicate if they were grouped by “essential elements”: dignity, prosperity, justice, cooperation, planet and people.
 
 
6) How will the goals be financed?
 
This is one of the most important questions. Some experts have estimated the cost of creating a social safety net to eradicate extreme poverty at about $66 billion dollars per year (about €75 billion), and UNCTAD estimates that developing countries will face a gap of $2.5 trillion per year if they are to achieve the SDGs. 
 
Public funding will remain important for the achievement of the Goals, but it is clear that financing from the private sector will also be required. In addition, new measures are needed to speed up tax reform, crackdown on corruption and on illicit financial flows, and tackle widespread tax avoidance and tax evasion.
 
In July this year, a major conference on financing for sustainable development will be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It is hoped that concrete agreements on financing the new set of goals will be established at this conference.
 
7) When do the new goals have to be achieved?
 
If the UN Member States agree on the proposed seventeen goals at the UN Summit in September this year, the new framework will come into effect from January 2016 and expire in 2030.
 
 
Further reading: