The buzz word in the field of International Affairs today, Sustainable Development Goals, were established in 2015 through a non-binding resolution A/RES/66/288. Popularly known as “The Future We Want”, SDGs were also given a more formal name, unknown to the many. Pompously titled, "Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development" and then shortened to "2030 Agenda", it is important that we analyze these goals beyond their many names.
The set of 17 goals are meant to cover a wide rage of social and developmental issues that affect our societies today, such as poverty, hunger, income inequality, climate change induced vulnerabilities, peace, justice, and strong Institutions, among others. SDGs replaced the early 21st Century Millennium Development Goals and were aimed at more structural reform of our societies compared to what many called an outdated approach to welfare. Under the MDGs, the aim was to deliver specific services, achieve specific targets through the use of specific data points. As MDGs lapsed, SDGs were launched to provide a more holistic standard of well-being. It is important to note here that because of the socio-political capital that the UN has built over the years, standards such as MDGs and SDGs often end up becoming international benchmarks for countries, even beyond the remit of the organization that established them. Many nations begin to internalize these goals into their national policies. Thus, these should not be overlooked as being simplistic affirmations of ideals by an international organization with no realistic impact. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres noted that SDGs have the ability to,
“…mobilize the transformative power of the world’s young people.”
He is not wrong. More importantly, he has highlighted a fundamental truth about development, it is not only a conflict-prevention tool, but one that fosters conditions for resilient societies and a peaceful world.
“Multilateralism is the only way to tackle the complex, inter-connected and long-term challenges we are facing.”
- Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General
Despite their shortcomings, MDGs have clearly laid the foundation for SDGs to be rolled out. They have backstopped the critical developments necessary, to a large extent, for the rollout of a metric that demands more of countries, institutions and people in power. This incrementalism, derided by many as a mark of slow progress of the UN framework, has helped build a consensus around SDGs that would have been difficult otherwise.
SDGs hold relevance today because they act as an umbrella for a wide variety of issues seen as a challenge to socio-economic development. They interlink different priorities such as Gender Empowerment, Education, and Hunger, with larger health and well-being. Given that each of these is in some way related to the other, it becomes difficult for an institution to demonstrate progress on any one front while avoiding it on others – thus preventing obfuscation and statistical trickery that states most often use to defend not acting on politically inconvenient issues. In Jul 2019, the High Level International Political Forum on SDGs (HLIPF), with its mandate to focus particularly on SDG 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions – will be convened at the UN Headquarters in New York City.
In July 2018, prominent experts met in New York to discuss issues related to monitoring and reporting, for proper evaluation of progress on SDGs. A particular concern has been the rights of access to data by national governments, which are, in many cases reluctant to provide inconvenient data.
SDGs have been accepted worldwide across different organisations but they lack a strategic implementation mechanism. ‘Localization of SDGs’ has thus emerged as an idea to ensure their reach at the grassroots level across different sections of the society. The focus has now shifted towards making SDGs relevant for all actors involved, not just for international organizations such as the UN. For instance, The UN Habitat and the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments, has created an interesting toolkit with the aim of localizing SDGs. The platform aims to mediate a set of tools to support local stakeholders and their networks, under the leadership of local, regional and national governments. It also focuses on creating awareness about SDGs among local organizations so as to familiarize them with its aims and increase local ownership of the projects. The hope is that a bottom-up approach would be better at mobilizing funds and resources, rather than sending teams trained in New York. As an advocacy platform, localizing SDGs seeks to create an enabling environment for the localization process, to support local ownership and ensure integration in sub-national strategies and plans. It aims at being a practical support for local stakeholders, in particular, local and regional governments, by pointing out best practices in order to efficiently design, implement and monitor policies in line with the SDGs.
There are other interesting platforms and databases that have been developed to strengthen knowledge about SDGs such as:
These act as knowledge hubs for international relations experts and development practitioners. Besides it helps easily access SDGs and gain insights into SDGs and increase his/her awareness. For the UN and international bodies attempting to enhance public participation as a way of forcing governments to deliver, information is key, and such platforms are changing the narrative.
Comments and suggestions are welcome.
About the Author
Tarana Faroqi is currently a second year Masters in International Affairs student at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva. Tarana holds a graduate degree in Journalism and mass communication from Lady Shri Ram College for women, University of Delhi and a Post graduate diploma in conflict transformation and peace building.She has worked previously with MSF India, Hindustan Times, The Indian express, and The South Asian Human Rights Documentation Center.