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HARD on the heels of the hardly successful United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), come the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a raft of propositions that seek to take humanity to a new level of sustainable development.

Though the sustainable development agenda presents an opportunity for the world to continue from where it left off with its MDGs, the SDGs present their own new challenges.

Framed through wider consultations, the SDGs, to be agreed at the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September, are an ideal chance to re-think on a global approach to issues affecting the world with more concentration on conventional approaches on issues of health, education and climate change.

Sustainable development, defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, are in fact the next generation of MDGs that political leaders initially agreed to in 2000.

Despite the MDGs’ undeniable link to poverty, they have been largely described as a flop in the third world which has failed to identify with them.

Ultimately, last year, leaders of UN member states began talks on 17 new SDGs, and, this new set of goals will now guide the efforts of governments, international organisations, non-governmental organisations and others on some of the world’s largest collective challenges of reducing poverty and disease, and protecting natural resources and the environment up to 2030.

Critics have, however, argued that the current draft SDGs are not fit for their purpose to influence future decisions and mobilise actions for the next 15 years.

There is limited time to fix them too, which is an obligation, for in just four months, the 70th UN General Assembly will approve the final set of goals.

The biggest criticism of the draft set of SDGs has been that they are complex and need to be simplified.

According to the United States-based International Institute for Sustainable Development, the 17 goals have 169 targets, most of which are a reproduction of the MDGs under which the world has failed to meet its principal goal – eradicating poverty.

Another major aspect on which the SDGs, much like the MDGs, are silent on is that of peace and security, which is fundamentally key to any development initiatives.

“While the new goals do need to fill some glaring gaps in the MDGs, which did not address hunger and nutrition, peace and security, or threats to the global environment, they do not need to be so complicated,” said Admire Mare, a development consultant and sociologist.

One glaring gap in the MDGs was that of lack of a global by-in because there was not enough consultation.

While in coming up with the SDGs, there has been commendable consultation efforts, many still feel a lot more should have been done, and could still be done to come up with concrete all-encompassing goals that are workable and measurable.

The Rio+ summit of 2012 sought to address that by establishing what is known as the UN High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, co-chaired by former Indonesia president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Liberia President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and British Prime Minister, David Cameron.

Since then, an open working group including diplomats from 70 countries has worked on successive drafts of the SDGs. The voices of many governments — with balanced representation across regions of the world — as well as inputs from many organisations and the general public, are reflected in the SDGs.

While for the very first time since UN formation so many nations seem to be generally agreeing on the ambitious and comprehensive agenda to improve human lives without endangering the ecosystem, the SDGs remain largely very difficult to grasp for the ordinary man and woman. And if they remain so, critics say, they run a real risk of speaking only to experts and activists.

Others have gone to the extent of suggesting that the SDGs, in their current form, are not in sync with the letter and spirit of the Rio+20 summit.

The Future We Want – an outcome document of Rio+20 bearing agreements by all countries of the world – stated that the SDGs “should be action oriented, concise, easy to communicate and limited in number”.

The draft goals, on the contrary, are complex, very difficult to communicate and far too many.

Like the fate that met the MDGs, without adequate funding, the SDGs will remain a pie high in the skies for many countries.

Yet, while the fact that funding needs to be availed is no subject for dispute, there are more other issues to do with accountability given that many African countries suffer from such vices as corruption.

For example, in Zimbabwe, global development partners pooled resources to be channeled towards maternal care in order to achieve the MDG on improving maternal health, but most of the money never reached its indented beneficiaries, the housewives and pregnant women, as senior government officials reportedly feasted on it. Government has since opened investigations into the case.

Fundamentally, however, the success of the SDGs lies with the youths, who are largely the ones expected to steer the programme and stand to benefit from its success and bear the consequences of its failure.

“It’s young people who will implement the new SDGs and make or break their success. Now, it’s time to turn rhetoric about their importance into hard policy and practice by empowering youths,” said Lisbon Chigwenjere, spokesperson of a local youth empowerment lobby group, the Youth Empowerment and Transformation Trust.

For the so-called high level panel of eminent persons in the weeks to come, it will be a challenge to strike the right balance between that which is a mere aspiration – as the bulk of the SDGs suggest – and the real achievable targets while at the same time trying to minimise the danger of overpromising and under delivering – which is again the fear of many a skeptic.

Seventeen SDGs are:

1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere.

2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.

3. Ensure health and promote well being for all ages.

4. Ensure inclusive and equitable 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 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 all its impacts.

14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

15. Protect, restore and promote 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.

Source : Financial Gazette