The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals were first introduced in the Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 with the objective to produce a set of universal goals in order to combat the various economic, social and environmental challenges. They were based on the Millennium Development Goals of 2000 which drove progress at the start of the decade. The MDGs were arguably considered a success since they made huge strides in curbing poverty, the battle with HIV/AIDS, child mortality and free primary education. The job, however, remains unfinished and the SDGs were brought into effect to guide the world down the last lap.
The 17 Global Goals are all interconnected and are focussed on creating a peaceful, prosperous, safer and sustainable planet for all of humanity. Even though there has been considerable progress on these goals in the past 5 years, 2020 ushered in the last decade to make way for accelerated change around the world in order to achieve the goals. In light of this, world leaders at the SDG Summit in September 2019 called for a Decade of Action to expedite the process. COVID-19 has thrown a major wrench into this since each Goal has seemed to slip further away as the world as economic systems crash and supply chains are disrupted. However, work towards the Goals continues as the UN has built an online “SDGs Accelerations Actions” database which houses over 200 initiatives by governments and organizations.
Many people have questioned the effectiveness of the UN SDGs. Since the SDGs are not legally binding, it is impossible to hold governments and countries responsible. A sizable investment into these goals is required and it cannot be determined whether countries are doing their most, nor can the United Nations hold them accountable (in a legal manner) if they are not. Governments and world organizations can, however, leverage political pressure against other countries who might not be holding up their end of the bargain. For many of the Economically Less Developed Countries (ELDCs), it is difficult to measure up to the demanding standards of the SDGs due to a lack of physical and human resources. Therefore, international aid in the form of foreign direct investment and technology sharing is required.
The Agenda 2030 is obviously quite ambitious and the pandemic has pushed the world off the tracks, but having a clear vision and laid out goals on a global level is necessary in order to encourage international partnerships and boost transformative solutions.