At 70, UN sets 17 goals: To be achieved in less than 17 years.

UN General AssemblyJust imagine, that when you enter the age of 71, you dare an adventureby declaring   your resolve to achieve the 17 new goals by the time you become 85.
You do not just proclaim them but also show an extraordinary determination by providing 169 quantifiable targets for these goals to prove that you mean business. Further, you venture into great festivity by displaying those 17 goals by illuminating your own huge building on the banks of Hudson River of New York. You do not stop at that and invite all your high level friends to demonstrate your strong will and garner their support to achieve these social and environmental goals Global community is provoked to acclaim your resolve. News is spread across the globe.

Sounds strange? Not for United Nations (UN), which did exactly that last week on the occasion of its 70th anniversary. The 193-Member United Nations General Assembly on 25th September 2015, formally adopted 17 bold new global goals as part of transformative, universal and integrated visionary framework on ‘2030-Agenda’ for Sustainable Development. Indeed, it constitutes a daring challenge and clarion call to the world leaders. Announcement of SDGs with 169 quantifiable and qualitative targets, to be achieved by 2030, comes at the time when the world is grappling with earth shaking terrorism, life-threatening climate change, sickening corporate corruption, unprecedented inequality and global slow down of major economies. Aimed to end the poverty and hunger amidst such atmosphere is like old man resolving to scale a Himalayan summit even when glaciers around are melting, treacherous winds are blowing across, visibility is extremely poor, and above all, the  life-line resources are dwindling.

These bold goals are built on its earlier 8 historic Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and its 18 targets formulated way back in year 2000 slated for its finish line in 2015. For the first time, since its inception in 1945, UN had engaged head-on, to link the poverty reduction and development imperatives as sine qua non of peace making.

For last three years, beginning with, the global meeting of Rio+20 in 2012, the process of formulating SDGs as follow- up to MDGs, spread across the continents, and engaged the broad cross-section of civil society.

However, acerbity and cynicism were expressed in abundance by the elite media. Many, particularly from the developed countries reported on the SDGs with extreme sarcasm and even decrying the whole exercise as usual UN jamborees. Some even called it ‘ Stupid Development Goals’. Others derived vicarious pleasure by   calling   it ‘ Senseless, Dreamy and Garbled Goals’.

SDGs and its formulation process cannot be referred to the jury box without looking at the report card of the MDGs and the hands-on and concrete global experience that was gained by the global community over last 15 years. It is largely true that awareness about MDGs never reached the poor and hungry for whom the MDGs were designed. They remained unknown to women and children for whose empowerment, mortality-reduction and health-improvement, the MDGs were targeted. However, by any standard, MDGs can be termed as mixed success across the globe. Report card of MDGs in 2015 reveals that the number of people living in extreme poverty declined by more than half, from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015, number of out-of-primary school children of primary school age fell by almost half, to 57 million in 2015, from 100 million in 2000 and gender parity in primary school has been achieved in the majority of countries.

Over 6.2 million malaria deaths, 37 millions of tuberculosis deaths have been averted between 2000 and 2015. 147 countries have met the MDG drinking water target, 95 countries have met the MDG sanitation target and 77 countries have met both.

UN-sneering economists and development specialists attribute reaching the targets of the MDGs mainly to the progress in emerging countries like China and India. UN-watchers also criticize, and they are right, that the whole process of formulation of MDGs, which, according to them, parachuted by few consultants of UN. Indeed, MDGs had their weaknesses. SDGs have taken note of those lessons learned over 15 years and strengthened the resolve for post-2015 agenda. MDGs, though simple and straightforward were not really mainstreamed in the national policy and budget documents per se, but their intents were.

MDGs were not a legally binding. They were meant only for the developing countries and relied on financial and technological assistance from developed countries. For nearly half of the duration of implementation of MDGs the developed countries buckled under their own economic and growth crisis. In this context the positive outcomes of MDGs stand out even more distinctly.

UN is a unique movement of multilateralism and is also a campaign for the global peace and well being of the people and planet. MDGs and SDGs are not just about poverty, hunger, disease, unmet schooling, gender inequality, and environmental degradation as such. SDGs represent the seminal movement that recognizes that global peace would be the dream without sustainable development, responsible business and social inclusion. They are, therefore innate part of historic, worldwide and unprecedented mobilization to address a set of important economic, environmental and social primacies.

SDGs apply to all the countries, developed and developing and heralds the era of global partnership. Their apparent unwieldy number of goals and targets are needed to cover overlooked but now critical challenges like Energy to complete the sustainable development agenda. The trillions of dollars needed to complete SDGs are not tied yet but that has not deterred the world leaders in unanimous launch.

 

The MDGs squandered the opportunity of mass awakening on the goals and targets, particularly among the schools and universities. They hardly percolated down to the bottom of the pyramid. It would be gross amiss if the youth of today who will be managing the future are not engaged early on in SDGs. The grand 70 years old movement of United Nations needs due engagement of 17 years young operators to drive the transformation with 21st century technologies towards peaceful world without overshooting planetary boundaries.END

By Rajendra Shende, IIT-Alumni , Chairman TERRE Policy Centre, former Director UNEP.

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