[This text was published simultaneously in Spanish the blog 3.500 Millones of El País]
After almost one year since the international community buried the Millenium Goals and launched the Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDG), one may wonder if all this may result in something more than empty rhetoric. Unless urgent measures are taken to implement these commitments, the idea of replacing a handful of limited but relevant, understandable and feasible goals with this kind of “development self-service" without immediate obligations could have consequences for millions of people.
The SDG pick up the challenge and raise the bet to unprecedented levels
Consider the case of health. The MDG agenda was focused on a series of goals related almost exclusively to child, maternal and reproductive health, malnutrition and infectious diseases. It was maybe limited in terms of priorities, but did it lack ambition? One should ask the 6 million children whose lives were saved each year as a result of the decisions derived from this agenda. Globally it represents 17,000 deaths less each year as compared to 1990 and an immense progress in regions such as Latin America and East Asia.
The SDG pick up the challenge and raise the bet to unprecedented levels. For the first time and for all of the world’s regions, humanity sets its sights on achieving universal health coverage that protects against financial risk, tackling chronic diseases and addressing the socioeconomic and environmental determinants of health, among other goals. Each one of these issues is relevant by itself and by the way in which they interact with the others to create vicious circles of disease and poverty.
The value of a process of this kind comes down to its feasibility
You may be thinking that it would be folly to keep only one part if we can work on everything, but this is only true if in the process the priorities and responsibilities are not diluted to a point where the commitments become a simple declaration of intent. The value of a process of this kind comes down to its feasibility. In other words, to the governments’ will to present specific action plans that include political goals and the budget to fulfil them. In this regard, the High-Level meeting that took place in New York last week was highly disappointing. Out of 193 countries that signed the SDG, only 24 presented a first voluntary action plan.
Out of 193 countries that signed the SDG, only 24 presented a first voluntary action plan
True enough, this small sample offers a foretaste of the possibilities of the agenda. Germany, for example, presented a 60-page document that reviews the challenges related to the agenda within and outside the country, and addresses politically prickly issues such as the fight against tax evasion or revision of the minimum wage. If other key global players like USA or Great Britain follow this example, these action plans will be as popular and widely read as erotic literature.
Only an urgent, decisive and sustained effort will manage to set the complex SDG machinery in motion
Of Spain, alas, we could not even manage to know its choices for the cafeteria menu. The writer of this blog was unable to find out whether anyone in charge from the Foreign Affairs Ministry took a moment to stroll through the meeting but, if that was the case, there was not much he/she could have said since there is no national plan in sight. And this is a problem. If we are to heed the new system of indicators on SDG progress presented last week by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the Bertelsmann Foundation, only an urgent, decisive and sustained effort will manage to set the complex SDG machinery in motion. Otherwise, we should have better stuck to the utilitarian one.