The UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

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On 25th September 2015, at an event attended by all of the key world leaders, the United Nations (UN) officially adopted a set of 17 global goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all, as part of its sustainable development agenda. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which arose out of the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development include Climate change; Decent work and economic growth; Responsible consumption and production; Peace, justice and strong institutions; No poverty; Good health and well-being, and Gender equality.

The launch came towards the end of a month focused on promoting the issues through a range of activities such as the International Day of Peace, a World Health Summit, International Literacy Day, and a Climate Change Week in New York. Crucially, it also comes before world leaders are expected to gather in December at the UN climate change talks in Paris, where countries are expected to collectively pledge $100bn a year by 2020, towards tackling climate change.

The SDGs are scheduled to become applicable from January 2016 and will be measured against indicators to be finalised by March 2016. Each goal will have specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years.

These targets replace the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were agreed back in 2001. The MDGs which were focused on Reducing poverty and hunger; Achieving universal education; Promoting gender equality; Reducing child and maternal deaths; Combating HIV, malaria and other diseases; Ensuring environmental sustainability; and Developing global partnerships, were generally agreed to have been much too narrow in scope, failing to address the root causes of the issues, too focused on the so called developing countries and lacking in accountability. Indeed, reports suggest that some 1 billion people still live on less than the World Bank’s threshold measure of poverty ($1.25 per day), and more than 800 million do not have enough to eat. The SDGs therefore seek to broaden the scope and focus, with accountability for all countries.

These ambitious SDGs therefore offer hope for improved policies and practice. However, as the UN itself notes, for them to be reached, everyone needs to do their part and that includes governments, the private sector, civil society, as well as you and I.

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