Thursday 17 September 2015

Sustainable Development Goals

Image Source United Nations

The List

On 2nd of Aug 2015, 193 countries arrived at a consensus on the following seventeen proposed goals:

  1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation
  10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
  11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
  14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  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
  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
  17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development

As at August 2015, there were 169 proposed targets for these goals and 304 proposed indicators to show compliance

Main positives in the 17 proposed SDGs

  • Comprehensive
  • Not just related to developing world – as many of the concerns in them – education, health, conservation, and rule of law, are shared across the globe. 
  • We can’t combat poverty globally without making states stronger and reducing the likelihood of civil wars, and thus a new focus in goal 16 on building effective and accountable institutions.
  • Integrated vision for sustainable development taking into consideration the three pillars (economy, society and environment) as well as peace and partnership
  • Given the historic separation of the development and environment communities, this is an important gain – not just in terms of the types of goals included for each are, but the integration of elements of the three pillars within goal areas.
  • The goals are also the product of inter-governmental negotiations with inputs from citizens, civil society, academia, private sector, local and regional govt, etc. 
  • COnclusion: They form an important consensus going forward, even if detractors argue they are not ‘neat enough’ and there are ‘too many.’ Sustainable development is complex. The world we live in is complex. The goals go a long way towards reflecting this reality.
  • Cross-cutting indicators and goals  specially related to environment (ie, a goal for cities, which are becoming increasingly important units of environmental policy)

Main omissions in the 17 proposed SDGs

  • LGBT community issue which is politically tricky
  • We might not be able to get everything here, so our attempts to advance some goals might come at the expense of others. 
  • This might be a difficult concept for the public to grasp.
  • The SDGs (and their follow-up and review) could have been strengthened by explicit reference to international human rights law though this was likely impossible from the outset given the preferences of any number of states.
  • 17 goals and 169 indicators are too many issues for policymakers to track. 
  • It is also unclear how many governments will be able to sufficiently monitor and track progress towards the SDGs. Even though the UN called for a “data revolution” to aid in future SDG monitoring, so far the proposals put forth are not revolutionary.
  • there are serious concerns about the ability of governments to actually measure many of the goals concerning social equity, inclusivity, etc.
  • Many also criticize SDG goal 13 on climate for lacking specificity and clear indicators, instead pegging the SDG goal to the UNFCCC and upcoming Paris talks.

Are the goals and targets specific enough? Are they universal enough?
  •  The barrier here is not finding measures. The barrier is about capacity to ensure that national statistical offices survey what we need.
  • Universality is a problem - We need a differentiated approach to how the targets are applied, and correspondingly, who measures them to support global monitoring.
  • Goals and targets – are meant as a starting point but they obviously represent political compromise. 

Finance Issues
  • The SDGs will be financed differently across countries. HICs and many MICs will use domestic public finance. LDCs and other states with limited capacity will rely more greatly on external public finance. Obviously private investment is also important
    • We need to worry about the quality of private finance as much as the quantity, and where it goes to whose benefit.
  • Concrete commitments and support to domestic resource mobilization and institutional strengthening in developing countries would help increase capacities to raise and use domestic resources – which should be our end game as far as the financing discussion is concerned.
Critical Analysis of SDGs
  • Even before the historic 70th United Nations General Assembly meeting later this month formally adopts SDGs, they have become the centre of a raging controversy. At one end, they have been described as “stupid development goals” and dismissed as “worse than useless” and unimplementable. At the other extreme, they’re seen as a formula to end poverty and build global prosperity. The reality lies somewhere in the middle.
  • most ambitious roadmap ever drawn up by the world body. 
  • In contrast, the UN MDGs, adopted by countries in 2000 to reduce extreme poverty by 2015, had a mere eight goals and 18 targets—less than half and around one-tenth—of the SDG goals and targets respectively. Yet, while many countries, including India, made significant progress, they did not meet all the MDG targets. If the MDGs were relatively successful, it is because of the domestic efforts of a single country—China—that pulled more people out of poverty than any other. Similarly, UN experts opine the overall success or failure of the SDGs will also be determined by the results of a single country—India.
  • Today, India is home to more than 30% of the global estimate of over 1 billion people who live in extreme poverty. 
    • In fact, according to World Bank President Jim Kim, a single Indian state—Uttar Pradesh (UP)—accounts for 8% of the world’s population living in extreme poverty. 
    • If UP were to succeed, the world will be on its way to achieving SDG One!
  • The Narendra Modi government has already acknowledged India’s pivotal role and responsibility in ensuring the success of the SDGs. It has asserted that as many as 11 of the 17 SDGs—including “Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower women and girls” and “Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” —are already part of their agenda and Modi will be there at UN when these goals are adopted to underline India’s commitment. It is sensible in being selective about the SDGs that it will focus on.
  • However, even with this focused approach, India will face several challenges
    • Externally, India will have to raise adequate resources and also acquire the necessary technology to help achieve its SDG objectives. While effort has been made in this direction, it is yet to achieve necessary results.
    • The internal challenges for India are even more daunting. While the MDGs were implemented primarily by the central government, there is broad agreement that the SDGs can only be achieved with the help of state and local governments, industry and civil society. This all-of-government, cross-domain approach has not been undertaken before on such a scale. Although the newly constituted NITI Aayog is working towards creating this crucial alliance, it remains a work in progress at best.
    • In particular, the panchayat, which will be crucial to ensuring inclusion at the local level, remains the weakest link. 
    • Similarly, the government’s selective approach in working with civil society is another hurdle to the SDGs’ success.
    • Finally, NITI Aayog, which also has the task of monitoring progress on implementation of the SDGs, will have to innovate to keep track of all 169 targets. 
Why success of SDGs depends on India's success?
  • China has substantially eliminated severe poverty and deprivation whereas India remains as the single country with the largest remaining population of the poor and the deprived 
  • Challenges in relation to particular goals that are greater for other major countries and regions (such as to “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”). 
  • India will also be a very important player in a range of other goals, for example, to “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”, as its footprint in the world economy and environment increases. 
  • Legitimacy offered by India’s endorsement of the SDGs, which has been far more wholehearted than that of the MDGs, which it very largely ignored, has already given a considerable fillip to the SDGs. 
  • Absorption of new ideas and generation of new ideas can be higher in India like solutions that are found to work in practice (for instance, in relation to agriculture, water, education, human settlements, or energy). It will be so because India remains poorer country reflected by its poor economic and soical profile inspite of being classified as a lower middle income country 
These formidable challenges notwithstanding, were India to succeed in addressing them, it will not only help achieve the SDGs, but would also put India on the path of becoming a global power.


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