Now that we’ve agreed to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), our path to a fairer and more sustainable world, it is time to get moving.
If you haven’t heard of the SDGs, also known as the 2030 Agenda, they are worth looking into. These goals, broken into 140 targets, were agreed to at the United Nations last September and cover everything from reducing inequality to protecting life below the oceans.
More than 70 international participants, representing governments from eight developing countries and five multilateral agencies, met last week at the BRAC center, Savar for this year’s Poverty Environment Partnerships conference.
How to implement the 2030 agenda?
Unlike its predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs are universal. They apply to poorer countries in the Global South as much as they do to richer countries in the Global North.
Every country has a lot they can learn from each other, which makes forums like the Poverty Environmental Partnerships (PEP) conference crucial.
It was clear from the start that many countries represented at the conference had already committed to national development plans with little reference to the 2030 Agenda.
This is not too surprising since it has been less than a year since the goals were formalised: Governments already have had their own development plans well underway.
Fortunately, it generally appears that national development plans often overlap with what’s in the 2030 Agenda.
For many, the SDGs represent a new paradigm for development. Shifting away from prior efforts, the new UN plan combines social, environmental and economic goals into a single agenda. It is important that the 2030 Agenda is implemented in the same integrated fashion they were designed:
“While these international agreements are promising,” explained Steve Bass from the International Institute for Environment and Development, “the way they are implemented too often has a history of marginalising poor people and the environment.”
If nations are serious about tackling poverty and addressing environmental degradation, it is important for countries to integrate these goals into their own national agendas, to ensure no aspect of the global plan is forgotten.
As proposed by Dr Saleemul Huq, Director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development, the separate goals should be imagined as individual strands that need to be interwoven into a unified rope -- with no strand left behind.
To prioritise or not to prioritise
A recurring theme at the conference was whether countries or institutions should prioritise certain goals to work on? Would this defeat the “integrated” premise approach of the 2030 Agenda? What potential trade-offs could arise?
Participants decided that some prioritisation of the SDGs is necessary: every goal is not equally relevant for every country.
Germany for instance will put more emphasis on SDG12: Responsible Consumption and Production than, say, goals having to do with health and education for obvious reasons.
Bhutan will address SDG1, 13 and 15, which cover poverty, climate change, and life on land respectively.
Many also pointed to the fact that if you look at the 140 targets, you’ll soon find many commonalities (known as “linkages” in the jargon-filled industry) between the goals. When you attempt to build more sustainable cities and communities as in SDG11, you are also taking climate action like in SDG13.
Clear water and sanitation, described in SDG6, also leads to better life under water for marine creatures covered by SDG14.
The whole premise of the PEP conference is that tackling environmental issues -- covered by several of the goals -- and poverty, SDG1, can be done together in a “win-win” fashion. Even if you prioritise, you will inadvertently make progress towards some of the other goals.
Zeenat Niazai, vice president of the Development Alternatives in India, stressed this might not always be the case:
“Unless you are able to look at all the goals together, they are going to conflict with each other,” she said.
This is probably most true for the goals that have to do with energy and infrastructure, and the environment.
The coal-fired Rampal Power Station in Bangladesh will meet the first target of SDG7 in helping “ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services” but falls short on SDG13: Climate Action by contributing to global CO2 emissions.
If we want to reduce the possibility of trade-offs, we need to improve the coordination between different parts of the government and development agencies that traditionally may have worked in very different areas.
This is as true for Bangladesh as it is for Finland. Governments, development agencies, civil society and the private sector will now have to come together and work in very different and new ways if we are going to implement the SDGs.
Even if certain goals are prioritised, everyone is going to have to see the bigger picture when it comes to the 2030 Agenda.
2015 was a landmark year for global development with the agreement of the new global sustainable development plan as well as the Paris Agreement, which addresses climate change.
While Bangladesh was fairly successful in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, we will have to do much more to implement the 2030 Agenda.
It is now high time for all countries to translate what has been agreed to on paper into actions on the ground -- after all, how else are we going to create a more just and sustainable world?
Meraz Mostafa is a Visiting Researcher at the International Center for Climate Change and Development.