In January 2016, “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Project. We are one year in and we intend to highlight three important challenges in the implementation of the Agenda.
The SDGs originated when people from all walks of life came to RIO+20 in 2012 to produce a UN outcome document “The Future We Want”.A three-year plan was developed to have the Sustainable Development Goals a UN Agenda by the end of 2015. The post-2015 process had both government and non-government inputs. The most notable governmental contribution was that of the Open Working Groups (OWG) which recommended the 17 Goals and 169 Targets that were largely unchanged during the negotiations and adopted by heads of states in September 2015. The most notable non-governmental contributions came from the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda and The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN).By the end of 2014, all government and non-government inputs were collected and summarized in a UN Secretary General Synthesis report. One important feature of the negotiations, which began in earnest in early 2015, was the participation of the UN Major Groups representing women, children and youth, indigenous people, trade unions, local authorities, science and technology, business and farmers’ groups, among other stakeholders. UN Major Groups had a seat at the table alongside diplomats from 193 nations. The UN Secretariat and Member States stated that UN Major Groups and other stakeholders had made enormous contributions to the UN 2030 Agenda, making it truly an Agenda of the people, by the people and for the people. This Agenda is now a moral compass for the world in the 21st century, a policy blueprint outlining a pathway to sustainable livelihoods, inclusive societies and sustainable environments. At the core of the Agenda is a universal set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets to end poverty in all of its forms, in all nations, by 2030.
We are currently a witness to growing economic and social inequalities, a prioritization of security over sustainable development, and a change in air, water and land quality that is endangering human life. While this agenda was negotiated at the global level, the responsibility for implementation has been given to multi-stakeholder partnerships, led by governments of nation states.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, paragraph 52, states: ‘We the peoples’ are the celebrated opening words of the Charter of the United Nations. It is “we the peoples” who are embarking today on the road to 2030. Our journey will involve Governments as well as parliaments, the United Nations system and other international institutions, local authorities, indigenous peoples, civil society, business and the private sector, the scientific and academic community – and all people. Millions have already engaged with, and will own, this Agenda. It is an Agenda of the people, by the people and for the people – and this, we believe, will ensure its success.’
People make up governments, international institutions, civil society, the private sector and scientific and academic communities. People are at the centre of everything– people need to work together in partnership and peace, at local, national, regional and global levels to eliminate harm on and promote the wellbeing of nature and humanity, for current and future generations. One year on, we highlight three challenges that presented themselves.
Getting Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships Up and Running
The first challenge is putting in place government lead multi-stakeholder partnerships that can integrate economic, social and environmental development into one sustainable development pathway. The UN Agenda entails having global partnerships that mitigate cross border spillovers from financial markets, trade, foreign direct investment (FDI), migration, climate, disease and conflict, to name a few. In addition, OECD countries should continue giving Overseas Development Aid (ODA) to facilitate partnerships in the developing world to come to terms with this integrated economic, social and environmental agenda. Finally, nation states have the responsibility to set up partnerships to take on this agenda as part of its domestic policy between now and 2030. Nation state lead partnerships will need to find the means of implementing the UN 2030 Agenda at home and abroad across these three interrelated dimensions of the agenda. There a number challenges that many nation states have being scoping out during this first year. The work plan for the UN 2030 Agenda is quite comprehensive but here is a brief list that most governments, multi-lateral organizations, universities, civil society and companies are making progress on;
2) New Institutions for the Partnerships to facilitate partnerships for Sustainable Development:
3) There is a lot of work being undertaken by statistical offices across the
world on a common set of global indicators for the SDGs.
4) Finance for partnerships for Sustainable Development, which requires a new financial architecture. The agenda needs mixed public and private finance in partnerships at home and abroad:
5) SDG Technologies, SDG Technology transfer and an SDG Science Policy Interface,needed for a successful technological intensive transition to Sustainable Development:
6) The need for training Young Professionals in Sustainable Development Practice to be able to work across the SDG Partnerships:
While progress is being made, there is a realization that it may take many years to have multi-stakeholder partnerships operational on the scale that is needed. Reform of institutions, new data requirements,staff training, new technological and financial requirements are all important to have in place but are not easy to put in place. Yet, the only real barrier is an entrenched mind set of people in government, households and companies. The later makes Sustainable Development education very important and this challenge is addressed by the SDG Academy.
7)SDG Academy provides us with all the educational resources needed to understand the importance aspects of the UN 2030 Agenda.
Secondly, we need to redirect our focus away from security issues towards Sustainable Development. This is proving to be difficult even within the UN system itself. Governments need to invest heavily in global sustainable development as a means of preventing future conflict. The route to security is not investment in weapons but investment in the SDGs across all nations. 2016 will be remembered for a conflict induced refugees crisis and a plan for a global compact to deal with migration and refugees of the future. Yet, investment in the SDGs, particularly in fragile states, is the best way to prevent future flow of people from political, economic, social and environmental crisis’s of the future.
Thirdly, the main objective of the UN 2030 Agenda is to end poverty in all its dimensions. This year is proving that the environmental pillars need a higher priority to ensure that we have a safe operating space for humanity, in terms of land, air,and water quality, to achieve any of our economic and social goals. Climate change, degradation of land, bio-diversity loss (in land and water), air pollution and acidification of the oceans are proving to be interrelated and hugely problematic for the success of the Agenda. There is a lot of good work done to identify how they will achieve each of the 169 global targets contained in the SDGs by identifying key synergies across the goals. These linkages were highlighted by David Le Blanc, using text in each target to link to another target within and between the 17 SDGs, “Towards integration at last? The sustainable development goals as a network of targets”, UN Department of Economic & Social Affairs. Yet “Mapping the interactions between Sustainable Development Goals”, Måns Nilsson, Dave Griggs and Martin Visbeck, (June 2016, Nature), show us the linkages are indeed more complex that first realized. In particular, the linkages within the environmental goals are proving important, for example, the role of oceans on the management of CO2 emissions. Despite momentum, 2016 also showed that the world is not on track to meet the global climate and biodiversity goals. The 2016 edition of the UN Environment Program’s Emissions Gap report finds that the emissions level resulting from full implementation of all unconditional national pledges made by Parties to the Paris Agreement, or intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs), would lead to a temperature increase of 3.2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. It thus urges enhanced pre-2020 action to achieve the agreed objectives of the Agreement, which specify limiting the increase in temperature to 1.5°C. In addition, most countries are not on a path to meet the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) promoted mainstreaming the Aichi Targets across closely related sectors of agriculture, fisheries, forestry and tourism as a way to advance consideration of biodiversity issues and focus on tangible actions to spur achievement of the Targets. Nonetheless, the UN Biodiversity Conference in Mexico showed that most countries are not on a path to meet the Aichi Biodiversity targets.Humanity has to understand that long term damage to our ecosystem may not be possible to fix. We see natural resources and the environment as a service to us. We are starting to pay attention to the health of the ecosystem as a result of undesirable changes in our economic and social outcomes caused by human induced changes in nature. The medium to long term decline in the health of the ecosystem is more serious than first estimated. The decline in biodiversity is at the centre of this. All life is interdependent. The Environmental Goals of the SDGs need to be given a higher priority if we are to have a safe operating space to achieve the economic and social SDGs, and SDG 1 in particular.
We need to work harder on SDG 16 and 17. Peace and Partnerships are the key instruments of this agenda. In terms of Planet, we need very visible hands of government to work on protecting our ecosystem to achieve SDG 13 to 15 to have any hope of achieving our People and Prosperity targets, embodied in SDG 1 to 12. All SDGs are interrelated and achieving them jointly will be the key to success. This means moving beyond Human Development in peace and partnership in harmony with nature.
 UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 (Earth Summit) recognized that achieving sustainable development would require the active participation of all sectors of society and all types of people. Their Agenda 21 formalized nine sectors of society as the main channels through which broad participation in UN activities related to sustainable development would be facilitated, called "Major Groups": women; children and youth; indigenous peoples; non-governmental organizations; local authorities; workers and trade unions;
business and industry; scientific and technological community and farmers. The Rio+20 outcome “Future we Want” (2012), emphasized the importance of Major Groups and invited other stakeholders to contribute to UN processes related to sustainable development including: local communities; volunteer groups and foundations; migrants and families; older persons and persons with disabilities. This is echoed in the resolution on the format and organizational aspects of the HLPF (A/RES/67/290) which encourages the engagement of major groups identified in Agenda 21 and other stakeholders, such as private philanthropic organizations, educational and academic entities, persons with disabilities, volunteer groups and other stakeholders active in areas related to sustainable development.
Negotiating the Sustainable Development Goals: A Transformational Agenda for an Insecure World, Felix Dodds, David Donoghue, Jimena LeivaRoesch, Taylor & Francis, 2016, ISBN: 9781138695085.
Cover Image: Sustainable Development Goals
DISCUSSION: How do you see the current state of implementation of SDGs and the key challenges ahead? Leave your comments and contribute to the discussion below.