Every other week, major research reports warn of the growing impact on our planet of climate change. This week, President Obama has been in Alaska warning about the warming of the Arctic regions and the likely consequences.
Global authorities are taking concerted action. More than 150 leaders will attend the UN Sustainable Development Summit 25-27 September in New York to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to eradicate the worst poverty, increase the sharing of prosperity, and tackle climate change.
UN member states agreed on 2 August on an outcome document for the summit, with the title Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, said this heralded “an historic turning point for the world”, aiming to end poverty everywhere, and leaving noone behind.
We heard this rhetoric fifteen years ago in relation to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were somewhat oversold at the time. The Goals aimed high, intending to galvanise global efforts on lifting human wellbeing for poor and developing countries.
Though many countries fell short of various goals and targets, others made significant advances. Globally, the extent of severe poverty was halved, and the campaign to inoculate children against the major childhood diseases achieved significant results, cutting the number of deaths among children under five from 12.7 million a year in 1990 to nearly 6 million in 2015. Some countries have cut the child mortality rate by more than the target of two-thirds, but most are still on the way.
Targets were reached for providing access to clean drinking water and gender equity in primary and secondary schooling. But, globally, although significant improvements were made in these areas, we did not reach targets set for gender equity and empowerment of women, sanitation, reducing the extent of severe hunger, and maternal mortality.
Bear in mind that the MDG campaign was undermined by the Global Financial Crisis, which severely limited the financial support from international funding agencies and sources. Civil wars and conflicts in a number of countries also hampered efforts to implement the Goals, particularly in parts of Africa and the Middle East.
The Sustainable Development Goals intend to marshal renewed efforts to extend international cooperation to eradicate hunger and the grossest poverty everywhere, lift living standards, and at the same time introduce urgent measures to sustain the environment. They have been designed after looking closely at the MDGs, to see what worked and what did not, to learn from them and extend them.
The number of Goals has increased from the eight of the MDGs to 17 in the SDGs. These now give increased attention to the consequences of climate change and how to alleviate its impact, as well as renewed efforts in peacemaking, justice, and capacity building. The SDGs also include measures in developed countries, not just in sustainability issues, but concerning social equity.
Encouraged by the economist, Joseph Stiglitz, the SDGs include a new goal to ensure that the proportion of income growth of the bottom 40% of a population increases more strongly than the national average in each country. Goal 10 to “Reduce inequality within and between countries” is aimed at reversing the further concentration of wealth in the hands of the top percents.
According to a recent report by Oxfam, 80 billionaires control as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion people on the planet. This is simply an astonishing affront to common sense, as well as to our instinctive convictions that the earth belongs to everyone and should be shared reasonably equitably.
The Sustainable Development Goals, with 17 goals and 169 specific targets, highlight that we are all in this together, and include measures to modify unsustainable production and consumption, attend to inadequate infrastructure, moderate the growth of cities, and increase worthwhile employment. They stress the need for increased international collaboration among everyone involved in all the related areas.
If we are to save our planet and our peoples from unprecedented cascading disasters, the Sustainable Development Goals are pointing the way forward, as well as providing a detailed roadmap. We all have work to do.