The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), have now been agreed by international leaders at a summit in New York and will take effect next year (see page 28). But the new goals are far more ambitious in their range and targets than the MDGs were. There are 17 of the SDGs, each with their own list of targets, which add up to a hefty 169 targets altogether. They cover poverty, food security, housing, health, access to clean water and the environment, including plants and animals. More or less everything you can think of that you would want in a perfect world is in there.
Some countries have baulked at the sheer number of them, suggesting that a smaller, more focused number of targets would be more achievable. Others argue that the goals are all interlinked, meaning that poverty, hunger and ill-health can only be tackled meaningfully by addressing all the other goals too.
Some goals are extremely ambitious, such as the one to “achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities” by 2030. Supporters of the SDGs call the goals ‘aspirational’, critics call them ‘naive’. Certainly, while some targets look realistic, others definitely don’t. Including a target of achieving full employment globally in 15 years – which is clearly impossible, since even the world’s richest countries have not achieved this – could risk damaging the credibility of the whole concept of the SDGs.
Goal 3 covers health and well-being. Some of the mortality targets are a continuation of the MDGs and, while the final data from the MDGs is yet to be analysed, a few countries are certain to fail some of their health targets. Sierra Leone, for example, is nowhere near its targets for child and maternal mortality, so reducing these figures further in the next 15 years is going to be tough for countries like this. The new maternal mortality target is to reduce deaths to less than 70 per 100,000 live births for every country by 2030. Sierra Leone’s maternal mortality ratio stood at 1,100 per 100,000 live births in 2013. Its MDG target for 2015 is 325. The country would need an awful lot of outside support to reduce its 2013 tally so drastically by 2030.
One of the more realistic-sounding goals is Goal 6, which looks to “ensure access to water and sanitation for all”. With enough support from developed countries and charities, there is no reason why this could not be achieved by 2030. It is supported by targets on water efficiency and reduction of the pollution of waterways, which also sound very reasonable.
Perhaps the most salient of all the SDGs is Goal 1, which sets out the aim of eradicating extreme poverty “for all people everywhere”, with extreme poverty defined as living on less than $1.25 a day. This really ought to be achievable by 2030, though it won’t be cheap – in 2013, the OECD estimated the cost of ending extreme poverty as being somewhere around 0.2 per cent of global GDP, or US$150 billion. The goal is backed up by a target aimed at putting policy frameworks in place at national and international levels “based on pro-poor and gender-sensitive development”. If all the countries in the world made this goal a priority, a truly international effort could succeed in eradicating extreme poverty over the next 15 years. Then the SDGs would truly have served their purpose.