“Today might just be the most important day of our lives – it’s certainly the biggest turning point for our futures.” Blog by Richard Branson, Global Alliance, regarding the launch of the goals on 25 September
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have now been adopted. They provide a critical framing for transforming development like never before, tackling poverty and inequality and promoting integrated policy, planning, and governance for the achievement of equitable and sustainable development. But now that this historic agreement has been reached, what next?
At the UN, in collaboration with Project Everyone, Global Goals Alliance, and other campaigns we are aiming to reach all people on the planet to tell them about the SDGs agenda. The goals will need to be brought down to the regional, national and local level to be implemented within cities, states, and rural areas. This campaign is necessary to make people aware of what is at stake, of the commitments world leaders have made this week, and to raise their expectations that these ambitious and far-reaching goals will be translated in to action over the next 15 years. Public participation was key to developing this agenda and it will also be crucial to ensuring its implementation by holding governments to account.
The public and civil society will play an important role as actors, advocates and as a watch dog for the SDGs. The implementation arrangements should include technical support and institutional backing for both governments and civil society to prepare and present reports on progress on the SDGs. However, as we learned from the MDGs, the quality and accessibility of data is not always sufficient to effectively take on this role. Discrepancies between national and international reports and patchy data lead to a lack of reliable knowledge on the status of indicators overall.
With 17 goals, 169 targets and X number of indicators still to be decided, the data burden is an ambitious task in itself. Support and resources will be needed from the UN to strengthen national and regional data systems and improve tools to measure and monitor progress on the SDGs. For an agenda that promises to leave no one behind, reliable, disaggregated data will be of the utmost importance. This will mean reaching the most disenfranchised, rural, migratory and hard to reach people – and it is not a challenge that is unique to the developing countries. One study to test country preparedness for tracking key SDG areas like education, poverty and environment found that Canada lacked data on its Aboriginal people – or 4.3 % of the population.
But tracking the progress is only a small part of the agenda ahead. To achieve the transformation necessary to make true progress on the goals will take new ways of working. Many governments have not been set up to address the three dimensions of sustainable development through integrated policy, planning, implementation and monitoring, particularly for tracking and addressing inequalities. Governments at the municipal, state, and national level will need to be supported with tools, instruments, methodologies, and evidence of policies and practices that can work for making economic growth compatible with social and environmental imperatives.
In support of this endeavour, we must make the latest scientific knowledge and technological innovations available to all countries on favourable terms, as mutually agreed, as outlined in SDG 17. Transformative technologies, mechanisms and policies can lead to advancement beyond traditional paths, leap frogging to cleaner, less expensive, more accessible options, and academia and the private sector will play a critical role in this.
Lessons from the MDG agenda have demonstrated that technical solutions will not suffice to reverse trends of unequal and unsustainable development pointing to the need for strong political will, persistent evidence-based advocacy, and the promotion of human rights and dignity. Through SDG 17 the global partnership for development will be revitalized, including the continued efforts to design financial tools to effectively respond to developing country needs.
In an increasingly multi-polar world, the universality of the SDGs, which make them applicable to rich and poor countries alike, holds the potential to blur traditional North-South dynamics that have framed development practice for decades, and promote South-South and triangular cooperation in various areas covered by the SDGs. Against this backdrop, the RIO+ World Centre for Sustainable Development will support this agenda with the overall mission of Achieving Sustainable Development for the “Bottom Half” (roughly defined by those living on less than $8.00/day), inspiring policies and practices that lead to increased social, economic, and environmental justice for sustainable development.
Credit: Projection of a 10-minute film onto the UN Headquarters introducing the Sustainable Development Goals. UN Photo/Cia Pak