As 2015 came to an end, and with it the 15-year cycle of the anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the United Nations officially ushered into more ambitious set of goals to banish a whole host of social ills by 2030.
“The seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are our shared vision of humanity and a social contract between the world’s leaders and the people,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted unanimously by 193 Heads of State and other top leaders at a summit at UN Headquarters in New York in September.
“They are a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success,” he added of the 17 goals and 169 targets to wipe out poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change over the next 15 years. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls on countries to begin efforts to achieve the 17 SDGs over the next 15 years. The goals address the needs of people in both developed and developing countries, emphasizing that no one should be left behind. Broad and ambitious in scope, the Agenda addresses the three dimensions of sustainable development: social, economic and environmental, as well as important aspects related to peace, justice and effective institutions.
The mobilization of means of implementation, including financial resources, technology development and transfer and capacity-building, as well as the role of partnerships, are also acknowledged as critical. The 17 SDGs build on the eight MDGs, which specifically sought by 2015: to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development.
Not all the MDGs were met globally, depending on regions and the state of a country’s development, but significant progress was made in several areas: In November, global leaders, diplomats and health experts gathered at UN Headquarters in New York to celebrate progress against one of the world’s leading killers with the announcement that the target to halt and begin reversing malaria incidence had been met. Progress since 2000 averted over 6.2 million malaria deaths, 97 per cent of which have been among young children.
Globally, the number of those living in extreme poverty declined by more than half, falling from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015, with most progress occurring since 2000. Net primary school enrolment in developing regions has reached 91 per cent, up from 83 per cent in 2000.
Many more girls are now in school compared to 2000, with developing regions as a whole achieving the target to eliminate gender disparity in primary, secondary and tertiary education. Global under-five mortality has declined by more than half, dropping from 90 to 43 deaths per 1,000 live births between 1990 and 2015, from 12.7 million in 1990 to almost six million despite population growth in developing regions.
Maternal mortality has declined by 45 per cent worldwide since 1990, with most of the reduction occurring since 2000. In Southern Asia, it declined by 64 per cent between 1990 and 2013, and in sub-Saharan Africa by 49 per cent. New HIV infections fell by approximately 40 per cent between 2000 and 2013 from an estimated 3.5 million cases to 2.1 million, and by June 2014, 13.6 million people living with HIV were receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) globally, an immense increase from just 800,000 in 2003. ART averted 7.6 million deaths from AIDS between 1995 and 2013.
Official development aid from developed countries grew by 66 per cent in real terms between 2000 and 2014 to billion.
But progress has been uneven across regions and countries, leaving millions of people behind, especially the poorest and those disadvantaged due to sex, age, disability, ethnicity or geographic location. Targeted efforts will be needed to reach the most vulnerable people.
This is where the SDGs are expected to play a part. They stress everything from zero poverty, zero hunger, good health, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, and affordable clean energy, to decent work and economic growth, innovation, reduced inequalities, sustainable cities, responsible consumption, climate action, unpolluted oceans and land, and partnerships to achieve the goals.
The official ushering in of the 15-year cycle will take place over a 24-hour period, coming into effect in each region of the planet as the clocks strike their midnight peal on 31 December. The Paris Conference on climate change in December is seen by many as the first test of political will to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
“The Paris Agreement is a triumph for people, the planet, and for multilateralism. For the first time, every country in the world has pledged to curb their emissions, strengthen resilience and act internationally and domestically to address climate change. By addressing climate change we are advancing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” Ban said. Turning this vision into reality is primarily the responsibility of countries, but it will also require new partnerships and international solidarity. Everyone has a stake and everyone has a contribution to make. Reviews of progress will need to be undertaken regularly in each country, involving civil society, business and representatives of various interest groups.
At the regional level, countries will share experiences and tackle common issues, while on an annual basis at the UN, the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), will take stock of progress at the global level, identifying gaps and emerging issues, and recommending corrective action. The SDGs will be monitored and reviewed using a set of global indicators. These will be compiled into an Annual SDG Progress Report.