2030: Let’s Hope It’s Half This Awesome

Written by Charles Kenny, senior fellow and Casey Dunning, senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Development (CGD) on  CGD’s blog.

The UN Open Working Group has just come out with its zero draft of Sustainable Development Goals. The transmittal letter from the co-chairs of the Open Working Group notes:

“We would like to reiterate the importance of enumerating sustainable development goals in accordance with para 247 of the Rio+20 outcome document which, inter alia, states that the SDGs should be action-oriented, concise, easy to communicate, limited in number, aspirational, global in nature and universally applicable to all countries…”

The chairs are right: the MDGs were about poetry – a broad vision, elegantly laid out in a few choice words (for a UN document, at least). Concise and easy to communicate. Simple, numerical, time bound. That’s what gave a bunch of non-binding targets their power.

So, how does the zero draft do on these measures?  It is certainly not short on aspiration.  According to the list, in just sixteen years’ time we can have: ended poverty in all its forms everywhere; achieved full and productive employment and decent work for all; ended hunger and malnutrition alongside the problems of obesity and overweight; attained universal health care and a healthy life for all at all ages; wiped out HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and neglected tropical diseases; provided universal secondary education and universal access to tertiary education; achieved gender equality everywhere and eliminated all forms of violence against all women and girls; ensured adequate and affordable housing, water, sanitation, reliable energy, and ICT access for all; addressed climate change and attained sustainable use of marine resources, oceans  and seas and; halted all biodiversity loss.  If that’s not enough, we will have also eliminated all discriminatory laws, policies and practices.

What about concise and limited in number? There are 17 goals and 212 targets spread over about 18 pages.  In fairness, some of the targets appear more than once, and there’s a line space between each target.  Add in the impact of a smaller font, and you could probably get a concise version down to ten pages.   Compare it to the Rio + 20 declaration of 2012 —49 single-spaced pages on The Future We Want—and this zero-draft is the epitome of distillation.

And it covers a lot of different topics in those 18 pages.  It wouldn’t be right to describe this as a Christmas tree. It is perhaps closer to a plantation of Christmas trees.  Some might unfairly argue there’s enough tannenbaum there to meet the forestry target all by itself.  But powering all the tree lights would probably doom the sustainable energy goal.”

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