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25.01.2016 Feature Article

In Pursuit Of A New Global Agenda: Understanding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

In Pursuit Of A New Global Agenda: Understanding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
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On September 25th, 2015, the international community through the auspices of the United Nations General Assembly adopted a new global development agenda, officially titled “ Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. The Agenda is a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) crafted through a better-than-before international consultative process that has yielded a worldwide consensus.

The SDGs represent an improved paradigm of expected development outcomes that seek to consolidate the gains made under the erstwhile Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and to generate an impetus within and among countries for improving the integrated well-being of people and planet.

The goals are fashioned in a manner that identify the most important challenges of our generation, in perceptible linkages that represent the integrated framework required to pursue them as an operational unit rather than fragments of dispersed priorities. This global agenda is an action plan rather than a reference document. Its purpose is to transform the world, not just changing bits and pieces here and there in that country and continent.

Transformation means improvement beyond threshold levels resulting in an end state that is objectively distinguished from the initial situation. In many ways, transformation alludes to a revolutionary change. It is the outcome of reformation. This is not rhetoric. It is the meaning of what our global consensus has decided to pursue. What we mean is that in the next fifteen years are will relentless work to achieve these goals. “Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” has five areas of critical importance: people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership. For each of these cardinal areas, world leaders have made the following commitment:

People: We are determined to end poverty and hunger, in all their forms and dimensions, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.

Planet: We are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations.

Prosperity: We are determined to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.

Peace: We are determined to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence. There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.

Partnership: We are determined to mobilize the means required to implement this Agenda through a revitalized Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focused in particular on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable and with the participation of all countries, all stakeholders and all people.

The SDGs comprise 17 goals and 169 targets and yet to be released number of indicators. This is tempting to call ambitious, especially when even 8 goals under the MDGs were addressed with mixed success. Yet, the thorough process of brainstorming built upon the foundation from the Rio+20 world conference in 2012 and the extensive national and international consultations have generated formidable momentum to underscore the determination of the global community to achieve these SDGs. The understanding is that, in maintaining the sovereignty of UN member States, there will be a bottom up surge on intra-country efforts, coupled with an international drive and favorable global environment.

This couple would be undergirded by regional and sub-regional endeavours from blocks like the African Union, European Union and ECOWAS. So the quest to achieve this global agenda is hinged upon a critical balance between national action and international dynamics. We must be real: the success or other wise of the SDGs is dependent on the truthfulness tenacity of the determination of the international leaders. Those who wield the resource and control the power must demonstrate their determination responsibly. That means that those who seem not to have enough resources and power should show that they deserve to be assisted. This global agenda do not replace national priorities. The latter can never be usurped. Rather, the SDGs seek to reinforce and inform national development policies and objectives.

This means that individual countries maintain their sovereignty, responsibilities and opportunities for prosperity while benefiting from an international framework that would catalyse the realisaton of their national ambitions. But it must be clear that the present levels of inequality across the world is a big hindrance to the achievements of the SDGs, even before we start. Oxfam recently reported that if nothing is done, by the end of this year 2016 one percent of the world’s population will own more resources than the remaining 99%. This is a bad start to the SDGs. Ahead of the World Economic Forum held in Davos Switzerland, the Executive Director of Oxfam, Winnie Byanyima, warns that “extreme inequality isn’t just a moral wrong.

We know that it hampers economic growth and it threatens the private sector’s bottom line.” Our challenge is not to be naïve with the SDGs. Unless there are practical demonstrations to narrow the inequality gaps within and among nations, we are heading towards nothing or mediocre in 2030. That’s why it is not enough having “Reducing Inequality” as one of the 17 global goals. It’s tricky because if those who control the resources have achieved that by truly legitimate means and those who lack resources are truly liable for their situation then we cannot hide behind perverse social justice and skewed morality to demand any inordinate redistribution of resource in the name of reducing inequality.

The truth however is that much of the wealth gained by the rich cannot pass thresholds of equity. Tax evasion by multinational corporations, undue advantages by oligarchs and ultra-sophisticated corruption in the west and east have accounted for the present crisis. We, as a global community have chosen a daunting agenda. But we can achieve it if we do what is right. Many times references have been made to concepts considered as superstitious but which may very well be the key to unlocking the wherewithal for achieving these goals.

As we pursue these development goals we should remember to remain optimistic, constructively critical and selfless. Indeed, it is possible to end poverty, stop hunger, promote health and wellbeing, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth, infrastructure innovation and industry, reducing inequality, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and productivity, tackling climate change, enhancing life under water, enhancing life on land, peace justice and strong institutions, and promote partnerships for implementing the goals. In 15 years we will be at our own judgment hearing. How will we fare?

Emmanuel Kwame Mensah, Independent Development Consultant

Emmanuel Kwame Mensah
Emmanuel Kwame Mensah, © 2016

The author has 23 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: EmmanuelKwameMensah

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