it is easy to feel afraid for the future of our world. We are emerging from a global pandemic. We face extreme weather and natural disasters brought on by climate change.
Wars, trade wars, and geopolitical tensions threaten our livelihoods, our peace and security.
Occasionally during the pandemic, the hope was expressed that it might provide the occasion for a global “reset”. Where might a plan or programme be found that would enable a global “reset”?
I suggest that one already exists. It has been in place for more than five years. Indeed its precursor was instituted at the turn of the millennium. I am referring to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were preceded by the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The 17 sustainable development goals encompass a wide range of issues that, among others, include addressing poverty, ensuring access to education for all, addressing gender equality and the empowerment of women, providing productive employment and decent work for all.
A number of the goals address climate change and conservation measures (including creating healthy seas, clean waterways, and sustainable land use). Underpinning all is the important seventeenth goal which aims to strengthen and promote a global partnership for sustainable development.
The advantage of these sustainable goals is that they have been agreed to and endorsed by all 193 member nations of the United Nations. They also have within them targets that are measurable and time-bound. Overall, the aim is to achieve these goals by 2030 (also called the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development).
When the Millennium Development Goals were agreed to, the national director of a charity described them as ”an exceptional set of ‘advocacy levers’” by which to hold leaders accountable and insist that they fulfill their promises. I believe that the sustainable goals are more than “advocacy levers”. They also contain sources of hope.
As the sustainable goals provide global goals, they can provide us a sense that we are “all in this together” as a human community. As they direct nations to attend to achieving the goals according to their own priorities and needs, they provide a focus of attention upon fixing domestic problems. They also direct attention to challenges that can only be solved by cooperation among nations. They encourage the nations of the world to work together on achieving these goals.
Imagine political leaders and their civil societies determinedly focused on achieving these goals. Imagine that the sustainable goals were prioritised to the extent that attention was directed positively towards them, rather than towards wars (hot and cold), trade wars, superpower rivalry, and the rhetorical ramping up of tensions.
Is such a world possible? There are certainly many substantial challenges and difficulties standing in the way. But if civil societies and populations were to get behind these goals, support them and insist that their leaders worked towards achieving the sustainable goals, progress would be made.
Climate change is an existential crisis. So there is great attention given to it. Public awareness is high, and popular pressure to combat climate change is strongly and widely expressed. Politicians and governments are increasingly feeling the need to respond and to act.
The same sort of public awareness, attention, and pressure needs to develop in support of all the sustainable goals to enable some chance of being attained. In New Zealand, and elsewhere, good things are happening within civil society towards achieving the sustainable goals. As far as New Zealand is concerned, some of these were reported by the Government in its first National Voluntary Review of progress on the sustainable goals in 2019 – He Waka Eke Noa: Towards a Better Future, Together.
The world gave itself a gift in the sustainable development goals. The greatest gift is the potential for a united global focus on development. Greater awareness and support for them are needed, if the gift’s potential is to be realised. This could be achieved if non-governmental organisations, charities, and other groups, which work to address many of the issues addressed in the sustainable goals, advocated for these goals, perhaps even working together to do this.
Media could pay more attention to reporting on the sustainable goalss: progress made, goals achieved, and initiatives taken. The Editor-in-Chief and CEO of Time magazine, Edward Felsenthal, noting in an editorial that the goals were “adopted in a rare moment of global consensus by every member state of the UN, wrote: “By 2030, we will know whether we’re on the path toward a better planet…We are all, as we say in journalism, on deadline.”
Above all, the more that civil societies, and national populations are aware of, and support, the sustainable development goals, the more governments and politicians will take notice and act. The plan is in place. We should not miss the opportunity provided.
- Derek Tovey, now retired, is a former lecturer in the New Testament at St John’s Theological College.