Sustainable Development Goals: are we making progress?
Eight years ago in 2015, all 193 member states of the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2030 Development Agenda, otherwise known as Agenda 2030. Part of the agenda outlined the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Covering 169 targets, 232 indicators and 39 key topics, the SDGs serve as a “an urgent call for action by all countries - developed and developing - in a global partnership.” They have informed government policy, fostered global partnerships and generated research. With 2023being the mid-point of implementing Agenda 2030, and the 2023 SDG Summit scheduled for September during the UN General Assembly high-level week, 2023 is an opportunity to examine the progress of SDG implementation, and what (if any) hurdles are yet to be overcome.
It is helpful to look at the origins. The SDGs were designed as a successor to the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) which in themselves were part of the 2020 Millenium Declaration. The aim was for the eight MDGs to be fully realised by 2015, a target that the MDGs did not fully reach. Building on the successes and spirit of the Millenium Declaration, the SDGs are more ambitious and cover a wider range than the MDGs.
There have been positive milestones since the creation of the SDGs. The SDG tracker shows that there has been progress with SDGs 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), 10 (Reduced Inequality), 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) and 17 (Partnership for the Goals). However, momentum behind the SDGs has been hampered by a series of crises. Conflict, disease, global inflation and the effects of climate change have shifted focus away from the SDGs. With seven years to go to achieve Agenda 2030, will the SDGs achieve their targets? Or will history repeat itself as with the Millenium Development Goals?
The 2022 Sustainable Development Goals Report paints a bleak picture. The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out over four years of progress on eradicating poverty, access to education and improving health services. In 2020 alone, 93 million were pushed into extreme poverty. The world is set to miss the 1.5°C target set by the Paris Agreement. In terms of global conflict, we are living through the most violent era since the end of World War II, with at least 25% of the global population living in a conflict affected area.
In a time of multiple crises, the SDGs are faced with two problems: maintaining their relevance and ensuring their future success. The solution is to regard the 17 goals as solutions to the crises, not a distraction from them. The European Union’s Recovery and Resilience Facility is an example of using the SDG blueprint as a solution for recovery and resilience building. The Facility is part of NextGeneration EU, the organisation’s €750 billion package to assist member states in COVID-19 recovery. The Recovery and Resilience Facility goes beyond the immediate effects of the pandemic and lockdowns to include green transitions, digitisation, social cohesion and planning for future generations. Austria’s contribution to the Facility is a recovery plan, the majority of which (58.7%) is geared towards the green transition. The plan covers investing in clean net-zero transportation services, increasing CO2 pricing, expanding renewable energy and eco-social tax reform.
It’s not the end for the Sustainable Development Goals. Pre-Covid progress indicates that it is possible for public and private stakeholders to cooperate on the goals and targets. While current crises have compromised progress and gains made, they are an opportunity to put the goals into use and adapt them to individual scenarios.
Clark, H. (2017). What Will it Take to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals? Journal of International Affairs, 53–59. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44842600
Sustainable Development Solutions Network. (2020). Sustainable development policy in crisis mode. Sustainable Development Solutions Network. http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep25837
United Nations. (2023). The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022. Retrieved March 2, 2023, from https://www.un.org/development/desa/dspd/2022/07/sdgs-report/