The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as the agenda around which all UN members are expected to frame their activities and policies until 2030. The intergovernmental negotiations on the proposed agenda were first mandated by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in September 2013 and it was also decided that the new UN development agenda was going to be adopted in September 2015. This process included the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in June 2012, a UNGA special event to follow-up efforts towards achieving the MDGs in September 2013 and the first eight meeting of the Open Working Group on the SDGs between March 2013 and February 2014.
What we have right now are the seventeen proposed SDGs presented by the Open Working Group (OWG), the so-called “zero draft”, which are focused around six main elements: dignity, basic needs of people, planet, partnership, justice and prosperity, issued on 2 June 2014. This proposal was adopted by UNGA resolution 68/309 of 10 September 2014, where it welcomed the OWG report and decided that the proposed agenda would be the basis for the new development agenda. The actual negotiations based on the proposal of the OWG began in January 2015, holding monthly sessions and it is expected that these will conclude before the UN summit in September. So far five meetings have been held, which have focused on different topics related to the SDGs, like government views, declaration component of the outcome, indicators to be set, financing for development and other modalities for the process of intergovernmental negotiations. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and most of the governments seem to be fairly content with the proposed goals, except a few like the UK and Japan as they consider 17 goals to unwieldy to implement. It is more likely that the number of targets will be reduced (now 169) than the actual number of goals, according to experts. Additionally, specific indicators still have to be determined, but various governments, like Ecuador in representation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, are requesting and lobbying to be developed voluntarily at the national level, he added, in accordance with national circumstances and capabilities.
The first proposed SDG is to “[e]nd poverty in all its forms everywhere”. The proposal determines five targets with two sub-targets, the first establishing how poverty is measured, that is those living on less than $1,25 a day. The second target determines that governments should aim to reduce by 2030 at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions. The third target proposed is that with the implementation of nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable should be achieved by 2030. Fourth, governments should, by 2030, ensure that all men and women, particularly the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources and access to basic services. And fifth, the OWP proposed that by 2030 resilience of the poor and vulnerable should be built and their exposure and vulnerability to extreme events should be reduced, ensuring significant mobilization of resources from a variety of sources and creating sound policy frameworks.
But what does this mean and how does it relate to what has achieved by the MDGs? Basically, it is clear that the governments still need to fight against poverty due to the fact that there is still a considerable percentage of world population living on less than $1,25 a day. As mentioned by the Secretary General, two decades ago, almost 40% of the developing world lived in extreme poverty and the notion of poverty eradication seemed inconceivable. The first MDG was “eradicate extreme poverty and hunger” and the specific target of reducing by half the proportion of people living on less than $1,25 a day was achieved five years ahead of the 2015 deadline, and this has showed that extreme poverty can actually be eradicated within one more generation. Nevertheless, according to official data from the UN there are still 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty globally. Additionally, the measurement of the indicators has been widely criticised and it has even been said that the data shared does not reflect what is actually happening around the world. This means that there is still work that needs to be done. The complete eradication of poverty is clearly one of the greatest challenges the world faces nowadays and one of the most important as well, due to the determination of people as the centre of sustainable development.
Now, how will this wonder be achieved? That is exactly the tricky part; it will all depend on the local and national policies governments adapt to reach the set goals. Also, the UN will establish measurement tools to be able to determine if the work being done by the countries is being effective or not through the indicators. If it is decided that there should be a global determination of indicators, these will also require national and voluntary development, to be adapted to local and regional realities and capabilities as mentioned earlier. Additionally, annual or biannual reviews must be conducted from the start, so that countries understand where they stand on each of the SDGs in comparison to the MDGs. Furthermore, as the UK has called, an agreement on a review framework where no target is considered met unless it refers to all groups has to be reached so that we can have accurate measurement of the achievement of the goals. Finally, it would be a good idea to have peer review on how the SDGs are working and maybe shadow reports from UN-recognised NGOs, as it happens for human rights issues.
*The other 16 SDGs will be analysed in future articles.