The world agrees on a better future… just not yet on how to get there
By Roberto Bissio
Last August 2 in New York, the United Nations agreed on the new sustainable development agenda as the guide for their global, regional and national policies over the coming fifteen years.
At the core of this new global consensus, seventeen “sustainable development goals” (SDGs) spell out a vision for a better future where poverty everywhere will be eradicated, inequalities within and between countries will be substantially reduced, and current unsustainable consumption and production patterns will be transformed.
Contrary to the “Millennium Declaration” of the year 2000 and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) derived from it, this new strategy is the result of an open and transparent discussion with unprecedented participation from civil society. Instead of summarizing the “lowest common denominator” of many consensus resolutions, the document that was endorsed by heads of State and governments in September raises the level of ambition. Instead of focusing exclusively on achieving minimum social standards in the poorest of countries, the SDGs are now “universal”. No country can consider itself to be sustainably developed and all governments will be requested to report on how their policies are performing domestically and impacting abroad.
It is a promising start, but the glass is still only half full. At the third international Financing for Development conference, last July in Addis Ababa, the same governments that agreed on raising the bar of expectations failed to produce credible means to implement those outcomes other than hoping that private investment will work for the common good.
Further, the details on how exactly progress is to be measured will only start being discussed next March. Countries have agreed, for example, on improving essential social services everywhere, but the proposed indicator for that target measures the percentage of women that have to walk more than fifteen minutes to get drinking water for their families. If this ends up being the only yardstick, many governments that are still far from guaranteeing universal access to services will be left off the hook.
At the turn of the Millennium, the atmosphere of optimism at the end of the Cold War and the confidence that globalization would “lift all boats” led to the belief that extreme deprivation could be overcome without any major change in global economic governance. Now, after two decades of increasing inequalities and having reached or surpassed many of the planetary boundaries identified by science, it is extremely difficult to argue that the SDGs can be achieved without affecting some privileges of the rich and powerful. And this won’t happen without social and political struggle. The good news is that the emerging global consensus is not any more on the side of plutocracies.