Is 17 Too Many?

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By Elaina Estrin

Every year while the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meets, the Social Good Summit brings together global leaders, activists, and average citizens for a global conversation where anyone can have a voice. The theme of this year’s Social Good Summit was, “What type of world do I want to live in by the year 2030?” And the speakers demonstrated how each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will bring us into that world.

However, critics of the SDGs believe 17 Goals to achieve by 2030 is just too much. They say that this agenda is so inclusive that it will be impossible to implement, that the goals should be cut shorter, or made less general. Well, to these critics I say, which goal should be cut out? Maybe goal 4 for quality education? Or maybe goal 10 can be cut out and we can allow inequality to continue spreading? All 17 goals and 169 targets are absolutely necessary, none of them can be removed, and they can be successful.

We started our morning on day two of the summit discussing why the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), that preceded the SDGs, succeeded and why they failed. The MDGs were a way that donors and developing countries could organize their progress; they were an agreement for development that was easy to discuss with 8 goals. However, who created this development agenda? Laila Darabi of Planned Parenthood, a speaker at the summit, explained that the MDGs were drafted by a small group of representatives. The SDGs on the other hand, were created by 193 states and nongovernment actors. They were drafted by those who would be implementing development, actors that know what their specific region needs to thrive.

When looking further to see if the MDGs were a success, the results vary among each goal and each country. However, overall the goals made huge strides in reducing the number of people living in poverty by cutting more than half the amount of people living on under $1.25 a day, increasing the number of women and children receiving an education, increasing access to safe drinking water, and decreasing infant mortality rates. Of course domestic policies in each of these countries played a role in making this agenda successful, but the MDGs provided a framework for those governments to follow. 

The SDGs are able to take the MDGs to the next level by making the goals inclusive and transparent. These goals aim to fight the root causes of poverty, inequality, and climate change and create a development framework that is applicable to everyone, not just developing countries. So although these goals may seem like they are too ambitious or difficult to implement, in reality this high ambition is what will allow domestic governments to use these goals as the international norms to create change.

Another speaker at the Social Good Summit, Mara Van Loggerenberg from the UN Foundation, made a great point saying that most countries are already working towards the SDGs in a fragmented and non-inclusive way. This agenda allows countries to integrate these issues and get more support and coordination to make these goals a reality. The SDGs are a template for governments in all countries alike to follow when creating their policies.

Undoubtedly, we need more than just creating norms and hoping they are executed. We need ways to measure each of these goals which is not an easy task. Every country is not going to focus on every goal right away. To implement these goals the international community will have to come together and coordinate between different actors, while still giving each country the ability to prioritize each goal. 

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