Global goals received with rapture in New York – now comes the hard part

Working alongside her male team member, a female employee checks the quality of work at a dam under construction in Sri Lanka. Photo: World Bank/Lakshman Nadaraja

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.”

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the executive director of UN Women, said getting strong targets for women in the global goals was tough, but admitted the process had gone better than she imagined.

“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.

The Commission’s First Vice President Frans Timmermans who is representing the EU executive at this year’s UN General Assembly, said:

"This Agreement is a historic event, and a significant step forward for global action on sustainable development. I am proud to say that from the start, the EU has been strongly committed to reaching an ambitious outcome, with a universal agenda for all countries, rich and poor alike, fully integrating the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainability. The result is a landmark achievement uniting the whole world around common goals for a more sustainable future. We are determined to implement the 2030 Agenda which will shape our internal and external policies, ensuring the EU plays its full part".

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared that the new Global Goals could not be achieved “without full and equal rights for half of the world’s population, in law and in practice.”

“Today, world leaders are signalling their personal responsibility for gender equality and women’s empowerment,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the event. “This is as it should be.”

But, said Ban, while progress has been made in many areas, there was still a long way to go.

“Far too many women and girls continue to be discriminated against, subjected to violence, denied equal opportunities in education and employment, and excluded from positions of leadership and decision-making,” he continued.

“We cannot achieve our 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development without full and equal rights for half of the world’s population, in law and in practice. We cannot effectively respond to humanitarian emergencies without ensuring women and girls are protected and their needs prioritized,” he declared.

French President François Hollande said on 27 September he would give an additional €4 billion in public aid for development in poor countries from 2020.

"France has decided to increase the level of its public aid for development to release €4 billion extra from 2020," he said during a summit at the United Nations General Assembly on global development goals.

Hollande said he had also decided to reform France's public aid agency to link it with a big local financial group to create Europe's largest development bank to ensure that "commitments would be met."

Hollande did not specify whether the money would be used to fight climate change or global poverty.

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said: “The highest leaders in the land are taking personal responsibility for their commitment to gender equality and the empowerment of women.” She added that now, the world looks up to them to lead the game-changing actions that secure and sustain implementation. Today we take the first firm steps towards 25 September, 2030.

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría today called on all countries to fully engage with the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and said advanced and emerging economies had a particular responsibility to translate the global goals into national policy and to support developing countries in doing the same.

As an evidence-based policy lab for the world, the OECD stands ready to help all countries integrate the goals into their agendas drawing on its long experience in collecting data, monitoring performance, and advising on good policies and practices in the areas covered by the goals adopted on Friday, he said.

“These goals are universal, to be embraced by countries at all levels of development. This includes OECD member countries,” Mr. Gurría told delegates at a UN summit on the SDGs. “The commitments made here in New York must lead to action on everything from inequality and jobs to climate change – and advanced economies must show leadership.”

“The OECD will work with the UN and for the UN to achieve the 2030 Agenda,” he added, after renewing a partnership with the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) for co-operation in trade, investment and development. (Read the full speech.)

Yolanda Kakabadse, President of WWF International said world leaders now need to focus on fulfilling that vision.

“Most importantly in the coming months, countries need to figure out how they’re going to contribute to achieving these goals and set benchmarks and indicators so they can report on their efforts. We’re in the race and can finally see the finish line – but we need some runners at the starting line if we’re going to make this happen in 15 years.

“Every country is required to develop national indicators and programmes of implementation through individual development plans. In March, countries will crucially agree a set of indicators that will allow the UN to report annually on global progress in coming years.

“Setting these indicators means striking a delicate balance between what is manageable and what will actually demonstrate progress toward holistic goals,” explained Kakabadse. “For example, for ending hunger it might be tempting for a country to use an indicator like tons of food produced: the data is more or less available, and the statistics are easy to measure. However using only an indicator like this would undercut the linkages built into the SDGs by not tracking the health of soils, genetic diversity and water systems vital for long term food production and issues such as labor conditions, land access and market prices that also influence food security.

“The indicator question will be challenging, but if countries can unite to solve the financial crisis, they can figure this out. The crucial part will be working together and being as transparent with data as possible,” said Kakabadse.

Sally Nicholson, co-chair of the CONCORD-Beyond 2015 European Task Force, said: “After four years of hard work to draw up the framework, now it’s time to put all our energies into making sure every country implements the spirit of the Declaration as well as the letter of the Goals and targets. That means that people and planet must remain front and centre of all implementation efforts”.

Tanya Cox, co-chair of the CONCORD-Beyond 2015 European Task Force, said:

“It’s crucial that both the EU and Member States, now that they are beginning to think about implementation, put in place a truly participatory process to draw up their sustainable development plans. And those plans must be as comprehensive as the framework itself: now is not the moment to start cherry-picking the bits of the framework they like and leave the rest which doesn’t suit them. If they do that, there is no way we’ll ‘leave no one behind’ or start undoing the harm we are causing to the environment”.

Wendel Trio, director of Vlimate Action Network ‘CAN Europe’ said:

"With the adoption of the SDGs, we are moving into the next era of sustainable development where tackling climate change will be a pre-requisite to achieving the SDGs. The ambitions and challenges of Agenda 2030 have presented to the world the sheer urgency to combat climate change.” 

“Our governments need to advance towards the Paris Summit with a clear, ambitious vision for phasing out the main cause of climate change, the burning of polluting fossil fuels, and phasing in 100% renewable energy, while increasing support to poor people to adapt to climate impacts."

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