Sustainable Development Goals – Planning for a Culture of Goodwill

In 2015 the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) come to an end. Governments agreed on a set of eight goals for human development that they could achieve by the year 2015 through cooperation, and they laid out a plan of action detailing how they would achieve each goal and how they would measure the results of their actions. In part this was a result of political negotiation between so-called developed and developing nations and in part it was an expression of the visionary spirit that accompanied the transition into a new millennium.   Images-30

While there are critics of the MDGs as being top down there is no doubt that the goals have mobilized governments to concentrate their energies in development issues around the eight goals. Cooperation has grown since 2000, development initiatives have been more targeted and there have been some significant successes. The Goals do reflect aims that people of goodwill can readily agree to, regardless of their faith or circumstances: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; ensure all people have access to safe drinking water; promote gender equality; and so on. Thanks to the MDGs there is now a momentum in UN affairs for these plans and targets to become the actual, living purposes of peoples and governments rather than just a set of inspiring documents.

 In other words the story of the MDGs is an important part of the story of the awakening will of humanity as a whole. As a species we are in process of developing a common will.   Images-31

Right now there is a process underway to define a new set of goals (Sustainable Development Goals – SDGs) that will focus government and UN development plans for the next 15 year period, 2015 – 2030. Much has been learnt since 2000 and goodwill networks around the world are becoming more actively involved in pushing governments to come up with goals that reflect current human aspirations for a better world.

The discussions and negotiations leading up to the SDGs are unprecedented in history. Never before has there been this level of discussion involving such a variety of actors. 

The General Assembly process is being conducted by a Working Group of 30 members. To date the members have met in 12 sessions, during which they have presented their own position papers around major themes as well as listening to and consulting with civil society groups,professionals, academics, business, religious groups, local government and other stakeholders.   Images-34

Most governments want to have a voice in this process, but with only 30 members of the Group, a new UN model has developed. Countries with similar perspectives join togethe to share a membership, share a seat, at the Working Group consultations. Colombia and Guatemala, for example share one seat – as do Australia, Netherlands and UK; India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka; Denmark, Ireland and Norway; Canada, Israel and USA; China, Indonesia, Kazakhstan. This creates a new dynamic of cooperation requiring countries to agree in advance to share positions so that delegates for one of the countries in the cluster can speak on behalf of all. So while India and Pakistan have a history of conflict, in this important work of shaping a common set of goals for the planet they are working together with their South Asian neighbor, Sri Lanka, striving to sound one voice.

The General Assembly round of discussions is coming to a conclusion as governments negotiate around 17 goals, each with their own set of measurable targets – although, with one more meeting in July, the situation is still fluid. While the MDG goals were defined around key issues (poverty; maternal health; HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases etc) the SDGs focus on broader themes. The main draft under current negotiation includes: Attain a healthy life for all at all ages; Reduce inequality within and among countries ; End poverty in all its forms everywhere; Ensure access to affordable, sustainable, and reliable modern energy services for all; Achieve peaceful and inclusive societies, rule of law, effective and capable institutions; Promote sustainable consumption and production patterns ....  Images-33

Each of the 17 goals under discussion is fleshed out with a series of specific and measurable targets – and these targets are currently under serious negotiation. For example, proposed Goal 10 is to reduce inequality within and among countries. The current document under negotiation includes seven targets for reducing inequality among social groups within countries such as ‘by 2030 eliminate discriminatory laws, policies and practices’ and ‘achieve and sustain income growth of the bottom 40% of the population that is higher than the national average through 2030’. Five targets deal with International Actions to reduce Inequalities among Nations – including ‘improve regulation of global financial markets and institutions and their implementation’ and the general ‘establish measures at global level to reduce inequality among countries’. 

This whole General Assembly series of negotiations are only one track in a wider process which includes a High Level Panel of Eminent Persons (chaired by the Heads of State from Indonesia, Liberia and the UK) which published its report of recommendations last year; a Task Team from over 60 UN agencies and international organizations; national, regional, global and thematic consultations with organizations and people of concern; and an Independent Sustainable Development Solutions Network of research centers around the world – led by Jeffrey Sachs.The process of bringing all these streams together will heat up during the major gatherings surrounding the opening of the General Assembly Session in September this year – this is the time when Heads of State gather. It is a time to hold the process in the light and visualize the steady maturing of the will to good in human affairs.   Images-25

You can read the Zero Draft document used for the negotiations in the Open Working Group meeting in June at: