Sustainable Development Goals
In September 2015, the member states of the United Nations gathered at the New York headquarters for the Sustainable Development Summit and adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
For the fifteen years ahead of this historic summit, the 2030 Agenda has appointed an ambitious, global, plan: end extreme poverty, fight inequality, fix climate change. This vision will be put into practice through the achievement of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Learning from the Millennium Development Goals, which covered the years 2000-2015, the SDGs further build on the momentum of global partnership and consist of a set of 17 wide-range objectives: 1 No Poverty; 2 Zero Hunger; 3 Good Health and Well-being; 4 Quality Education; 5 Gender Equality; 6 Clean Water and Sanitation; 7 Affordable and Clean Energy; 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth; 9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; 10 Reduced Inequality within and among countries; 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities; 12 Responsible Consumption and Production; 13 Climate Action; 14 Life Below Water; 15 Life on Land; 16 Peace, Justice and strong Institutions; 17 Partnerships to achieve the Goal.
Despite the rhetoric often associated with the concept of sustainable development, the idea at the base of the SDGs is innovative for two main reasons: it’s intersectional and universal.
More than a 17 bullets list, the goals are intended to be interconnected. The approach towards future development must be holistic: poverty cannot be fought if access to basic health is precluded; innovation will not take off whereas peace is at threat; sustainable cities are unreal if industry practices jeopardize the air and soil quality. Even climate change and gender equality are connected. In fact, much of the displacement associated with global warming - i.e. people having to abandon their houses as a consequence of flooding - is so far happening in poor countries where, for the need of relocating and providing livelihoods, girls are pushed into prostitution.
As opposed to a logic where help is either given or received, the SDGs apply to all countries, poor, middle and high income. The 2030 Agenda motto “Leave no one behind” is a call for action in which each nation has potentials for improvement, for partnership, and for addressing global challenges. It’s now (finally?) clear that at the root of the world’s current inequalities lies a disproportion which requires the efforts of all sides involved in order to be tackled.
Like philosopher Zygmunt Bauman asserted - in fact, predicted since it was the beginning of 2000 - we live in a world where global interdependence is a matter of fact, therefore we mush push towards global interactions. Nothing we do is irrelevant to the destiny of the others, we are and must behave like a global community.
As a result of being intersectional and global, sustainable development must integrate, everywhere, all these goals. Truly sustainable development will entail and guarantee Equality (goals 1-5-10); Health and accessibility to services (goals 3-4-6-7); Responsible growth (goals 8-9-11-12); Environmental protection (goals 13-14-15); Inclusive Institutions and intergovernmental network (goals 16-17).
How will the 17 goals be achieved?
The definition of the SDGs is, by itself, clearly not enough to drive the Road to 2030 by an autopilot. Neither these goals are intended to be merely crossed out from the Agenda at the end of the planned 15 years. As said, they are complex and connected to deep-rooted social behaviors. Yet, the SDGs are an indispensable compass to orient the progress along a shared path in an ethical and effective way. They are a tool, that will become powerful when used at many levels, particularly locally.
The very first step to actively practice the 17 SDGs is the awareness of them. The sustainable agenda must be discussed: it must go from the UN tables to local conferences, to the screens of our laptops, and to the choices that each one of us makes every day. As much as possible, we should all be familiar with the Agenda 2030 and the sustainable development goals, so that the alignment to these principles can happen. Here two example from my personal experience.
A few months ago, I was at the Athens’ airport, transiting towards my flight and passing through the typical retail area in between controls and gates. At the side of a cafe, I noticed a billboard which was not for the promotion of the cafe itself, but indeed for another kind of advertisement. It was an infographic depicting the 17 SDGs icons with titles and brief explanations. Like myself, some other hundreds of thousands of people would come across this image. At that moment I wasn’t quite aware of the sustainable development goals, so I just wondered what that billboard - with the United Nation logo on it - was for. This very brief experience turned on the lightbulb sometime later, when I joined a local event about zero waste and social responsibility where extensive material about the UN Agenda 2030 was given. And that was when I connected and reframed the sustainable development goals with all that.
From awareness to action, together with the definition of the 2030 Agenda, a High-Level Political Forum has been identified. This global forum is open to Ministers, civil society, the private sector, academia, and other stakeholders, and it’s intended to guide the international community, provide political leadership, promote accountability, and - most importantly - to serve as a shared tank of best practices. On a voluntary basis, all countries are invited to conduct online national reviews to track progress and potential issues related to the SDGs implementation and these audits will contribute to the discussion at the high-level political forum meetings. Every year, a progress report is issued by the UN secretary-general, if you are curious here is the one of 2018.
In order to translate such a shared vision into national development plans, strategies, and to permeate locally, the essential role of the High-level Political Forum is evident. Since 2016, around 113 countries have been published their ongoing reviews. Because reviews are voluntary, this proves and encourages peer commitment towards achieving the goals. On the other hand, having national leaders endorse a non-mandatory reviewing system is risky and arguably insufficient. For this reason, the importance of first-row participation of people and local communities is as paramount as high-level agreements.
During the 2018 Political Forum held last summer in New York, the spotlight of discussion was particularly on Goals 6, 7, 11, 12, 15, 16. The number 11 is the goal addressed to Sustainable Cities and Communities. Cities are hubs for culture, science, production, and development, therefore Goal 11 conveys the idea that better urban planning and management are essential to make the world’s urban spaces more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
We will deepen Goal 11 in the next article.
United Nations, Sustainable Development Goal 11
United Nations, The Sustainable Development Agenda