Sustainable Development Goals and their status in society today

In 2015 it was reported that the United Nations Members are expanding on their Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). MDGs are universal sets of goals, targets and indicators that the UN Members have used to frame their policies over the past 15 years.

These SDG goals were designed to provide a focal point for governments and a framework in which they could use to develop policies and oversee aid programmes designed to end poverty and improve the lives of poor people – as well as a rallying point for NGOs to hold them to account. Over time it was argued that the MDGs were too narrow and needed some expansion as they did not cater to sustainable growth. Although there was growth, most of it was not sustainable and created some dependency on different levels, from people at the ground all the way to top levels of government. We also saw that some countries were becoming more dependent on others.

The 8 MDGs were:

• achieve universal education
• reduce poverty and hunger
• promote gender equality
• reduce child and maternal deaths
• combat HIV, malaria and other diseases
• ensure environmental sustainability
• develop a global partnership for development
• Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

Most of these goals have currently not been met by the world at large; a lot of factors can contribute to the reason why this is. One of the main reasons may be the sheer vagueness of the goals themselves.

Consequently, the UN has since released a list of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are meant to guide policy and funding for the next 15 years. These are:

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 wellbeing 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 (taking note of agreements made by the UNFCCC forum)
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

So what are the fundamental differences between MDGs and SDGs?

We first note that we have moved from 8 goals to 17 and that the 8 core goals have been kept. There is a recurring theme of sustainability in the SDGs. The major social issues have been identified and the sustainable development goals seem to be drafted in a way that acknowledges these challenges and the aim is to address them. However, the goals are not clear in what they mean.

Let’s take “Reduce inequality within and among countries” for example. There is a lack of clarity as to the key areas that should be addressed within this. Inequality in and of iteself exists in a lot of areas such as in business all over the globe (in demographics, race, gender, disability). So, then, the question is, what does it mean to reduce inequality? What would a benchmark look like and which indicators can be agreed on globally? The SDGs also fail to address economic development and how we could employ progressive economic strategies.

While the MDGs, in theory, applied to all countries, in reality they were considered targets for poor countries to achieve, with finance from wealthy states. Conversely, every country will be expected to work towards achieving SDGs within their own nation. Still, there has been no mention of how the said targets will be measured. But beyond having clear measurements alone, a more important question is, how are poor countries expected to attain some of these goals? And, especially in environmental goals, where pollutants may be a bi-product of another country, how can a poorer nation begin to tackle the goal itself? As much as the sustainable development goals preach sustainability they should also advocate for responsibility.

With all the questions of how to properly implement an actionable plan to tackle these issues, it should not be forgotten just how groundbreaking some of the sustainable development goals are. Gender equality has made the list as an important issue that must be addressed. So too, has economic growth finally linked with sustainability. We’ve come a long way since the MDGs were first announced. We have a long way to go. But this at least gives us a list of items that every nation should look to, in order to build a more fair and inclusive society within their borders.

Written by:

Cindy Dlamini

Cindy, an Analyst,  joined Simanye on a half-day basis in January 2015 as an analyst.  She spends the rest of her time working as for Behold South Africa as a junior researcher and social impact consultant.

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