To cheers, applause and probably a tinge of relief, the 17 global goals that will provide the blueprint for the world’s development over the next 15 years were ratified by UN member states in New York on Friday (25 September).
After speeches from Pope Francis and the Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, and songs from Shakira and Angelique Kidjo, the ambitious agenda – which aims to tackle poverty, climate change and inequality for all people in all countries – was signed off by 193 countries at the start of a three-day UN summit on sustainable development.
But beyond the fanfare there was a quieter recognition that without adequate financing, strong data collection and the political will to implement the goals, 2030 will not deliver the transformative agenda desired.
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said the true test of commitment to the new global goals will be implementation.
“We need action from everyone, everywhere. Seventeen sustainable development goals are our guide,” he told delegates.
“They are a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success. To achieve these new global goals, we will need your high-level political commitment. We will need a renewed global partnership.”
He added: “The 2030 agenda compels us to look beyond national boundaries and short-term interests and act in solidarity for the long-term.
“We can no longer afford to think and work in silos. Institutions will have to become fit for purpose, a grand new purpose.”
Speaking on behalf of civil society, Salil Shetty, the head of Amnesty International was blunter in his address to the UN general assembly.
“You cannot claim to support sustainable development when you are reluctant to reduce the consumption of the rich or transfer technology,” said Shetty.
“You cannot preach about human rights while practising mass surveillance. You cannot lecture about peace while being the world’s largest manufacturers of arms. You cannot allow your corporations to use financial and tax loopholes while railing against corruption. You cannot adopt the sustainable development goals and at the same time attack and arrest peaceful protesters and dissenters. You cannot launch these sustainable development goals and in parallel deny a safe and legal route to refugees, a life with dignity.
“The sustainable development goals present a compass for decent jobs, for justice, for humanity. As civil society, we will stand with the poor and marginalised at all costs. And we will hold governments and businesses to account.”
Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda, one of the speakers who opened the summit, told delegates that the goals sent a powerful message to people in every village that “we are committed to taking steps to change their lives for the better”. But he added that long-term finance for infrastructure projects were essential to support poorer countries’ development.
The prime minister of Denmark, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, told member states: “[The goals are] a vision of the way the world should be in 2030. History will judge us and hold us accountable to achieving results.”
Britain’s international development secretary, Justine Greening, who earlier in the day announced a new economic empowerment programme for women, said the goals are a landmark in the fight against global poverty.
“The world now has the chance to end extreme poverty in the next 15 years. We know what works. The last goals drove some of the most dramatic improvements in living standards the world has ever seen. Countless families have had their lives transformed. A child in the developing world is now much more likely to be in school and much less likely to die before their fifth birthday.
“We must now continue to play our part in helping the poorest and most vulnerable people to find stability, prosperity and opportunity. This is not just the right thing to do. It is firmly in Britain’s own long-term interests.”
Françoise Girard, president of the International Women’s Health Coalition, said the goals recognised that women and girls are central to sustainable development.
“Finally, women and girls have a global agenda that considers their rights and matches their needs. From that perspective, the sustainable development goals do away with the ‘business as usual’ of development,” she said.
“Women’s groups were deeply involved in shaping the 2030 agenda every step of the way, because we know how urgent it is that we transform our world. Today, we embark on a journey to put action behind this promise and to ensure our governments fulfil these profound commitments. In the end, it will be up to each and every one of us to make the 2030 agenda a reality.”
“There really were moments when I thought the thing was going to collapse because it was so inclusive, and views were so divergent and everyone felt so strongly about what they wanted to see [in them]. But in the end a common agenda emerged.
“If you look back at the millennium development goals, we didn’t achieve everything, not every country has done as well as we would have liked … [but] gaps have been identified and we know the areas where we have not performed well … Experience has been built.”
However, Loretta Minghella, the chief executive of Christian Aid, said that while Christian Aid welcomed the goals, they would only be realised if governments were fully committed to their financing and implementation.
“The star-studded events this weekend in New York must be just the start of determined effort in every country – not the point at which we can congratulate ourselves and feel our work is done.
“These new goals apply in every country, including the UK. They will need to be translated into detailed and fully-costed action plans, if they are to amount to more than mere words on a page and help to secure the just, sustainable and peaceful world we long for.”
Barry Johnston, head of advocacy at ActionAid, added: “Today one of the largest ever gatherings of world leaders met in New York to adopt a new set of goals that will shape the next generation’s fight against poverty and inequality, and attempts to save the planet. The seeds of a brighter future may have been sown today.
“But politicians making these pledges today won’t be judged for the fine speeches they make here at the UN. What is needed now is action to implement these goals. That begins with tackling the root causes of poverty and reducing the soaring gap between the richest and poorest.”
The global goals summit continues until Sunday, after when all eyes will be on the UN climate talks in November.
Asked if the goals will be scuppered without a strong deal in Paris, Mogens Lykketoft, the president of the UN general assembly, was hesitant, saying leaders were making more commitments than they were in previous COP meetings. “From what we know and hope for, we will be approaching a better deal.”
Addressing the UNGA earlier on Friday, Pope Francis stressed the importance of protecting the environment and called on the international community to work harder for peace and justice.