U.N's new global goals applauded but now for the tough part: action

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 27, 2015 1:50 PM

By Ellen Wulfhorst

UNITED NATIONS (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - It's taken three years to write the script for the future of the world, but now it's time for the much-anticipated performance to begin.

World leaders have negotiated and agreed an ambitious plan to end poverty and inequality in the next 15 years, adopting 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the United Nations as a roadmap to tackle the world's most troubling problems.

While getting the 193 member nations to agree on priorities, scope and wording of the SDGs and their accompanying 169 targets was monumental, far more daunting is their implementation.

The toughest challenges are the sheer breadth of the agenda, finding ways to monitor and measure progress, and keeping the process transparent and accountable.

Added to those are the reluctance of some countries to address certain issues, with climate change and gender equality high up the agenda, not to mention the enormous trillion dollar price tag, say those involved in the sweeping project.

"Having been in government, I know managing 10 targets is difficult. Managing 169 targets is challenging for the most efficient government," said David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee that runs humanitarian relief operations in more than 30 war-torn countries.

"The great danger is that the breadth of the targets becomes an excuse for not fulfilling the targets," Miliband, a former British parliamentarian, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Echoing that sentiment, Helen Clark, administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, said the role of the 169 targets is to bring the goals down to manageable bites.

The targets range from halting deforestation to raising living standards and reducing child mortality.

"These sub-goals spell out in great detail what we need to do so that every year there is stock taking as to what we've been able to do," said Clark, former New Zealand prime minister.

Implementation will be monitored and reviewed with a set of global indicators to be agreed by next March.

EFFECTIVE MONITORING

"Setting these indicators means striking a delicate balance between what is manageable and what will actually demonstrate progress toward holistic goals," said Susan Brown, global and regional policy director at the World Wildlife Fund-International.

Accountability and transparency are essential to coaxing private businesses to help put the goals into action, said Mogens Lykketoft, president of the U.N. General Assembly.

The private sector is expected to play a major role in enacting the SDGs which will cost an estimated $3 trillion a year at a time when most countries face budget constraints.

"We are far away from reaching the scale required, the trillions of dollars required in the next 15 years to make a decisive impact," Lykketoft said.

With the SDGs relying heavily on the private sector, business will insist on countries having stable regulatory and taxation frameworks, he said.

Kerry Adler, chief executive of SkyPower Global, a Canadian solar developer, said his company illustrates the need for requisite institutions and motivation to fight corruption.

"We will only work in countries where anti-corruption is the first thing that's talked about in conversation before we decide to sell power," he told a private forum of business leaders at the United Nations.

While adoption of the SDGs featured world leaders expounding at length at U.N. podiums on their commitments to lofty aspirations, the fact is plenty of countries cannot or will not meet some of the most critical goals without public pressure or political change, experts say.

The United States, for example, is among nations least likely to meet goals to end poverty and combat climate change, according to a study by Bertelsmann Stiftung, a German social responsibility foundation.

Holding the United States back are such issues as its income gap, consumption behavior and environmental protection, it said.

"Fossil fuels are an economic time-bomb and the infrastructure and investments to support them will become stranded assets," WWF's Brown said.

"What we expect from large economies – like the U.S. and China – is that they should be looking at the long term and making the right decisions in the short-term."

Other nations deemed likely to have trouble meeting the goals were Greece, Chile, Hungary, Turkey and Mexico, challenged by income gaps, lack of education, weak infrastructure, gender inequality, crime or extreme poverty, the German study said.

WaterAid America has identified 45 countries unlikely to succeed on the goal of ensuring water and sanitation "without dramatic change to political prioritization and financing."

"In many cases these are post-conflict states with weak governance, and limited ability to mobilize the methods of financing that are needed," said Lisa Schechtman, WaterAid director of policy and advocacy.

British parliamentarian John Alderdice, who played a key role in the Northern Ireland peace process, said he was concerned that the global goals are not robust enough in promoting peace and good governance.

"At the moment people see themselves as being great leaders because they are conducting conflict, nor because they are solving it and this provides a sense in the global community not of hope but of antagonism," Alderdice told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)