SDGs: Five Thoughts on the Zero Draft

Written by Martin S. Edwards, director of the Center for United Nations and Global Governance Studies at Seton Hall University on the Center for United Nations and Global Governance Studies blog

“The UN General Assembly’s Open Working Group recently released the ‘zero draft‘ of the Sustainable Development Goals. These are the follow-ons to the soon-to-be completed Millennium Development Goals. With informal discussions among the OWG members slated for next week, and the next formal meeting of the Open Working Group scheduled for mid-June, it’s a good time to offer some observations. For readers desiring an overview of the 21 page document, IISD has provided one here. Charles Kenny at the Center for Global Development has some thoughts on the zero draft posted as well.

1) Priorities are power.

The zero draft proposes 17 SDGs. Some of these are extensions of the Millennium Development Goals: hunger and poverty are decoupled in this draft so that each is a standalone goal. Biodiversity loss and access to secure water and sanitation, which were both part of MDG7, are now also standalone goals.

It would be a mistake to think that the OWG just took the existing goals and split them into smaller elements, though. There are new goals as well: on sustainable industrialization, access to energy, and inequality. These proposed goals reflect changes in global priorities. For a world recovering from a global economic crisis, there’s a lot here not only on how to ensure the global economy keeps moving forward, but also on how we better insulate groups from the consequences of economic integration.

2) Bridging the gap between the developed and developing world.

The SDGs are meant to be a global statement of priorities. There are certainly issues in these goals that should be priorities in the developed world. Goal 3 on health is framed as “attain healthy life for all at all ages. As such, there are targets that the public health community in the developed world will surely jump on, including promoting mental health and achieving universal coverage. Similarly in Goal 4, increasing the number of youth with vocational training and STEM skills reflects an ongoing priority in Washington as well as a consistent shortcoming in the OECDs review of the US economy.  These inclusions are no accident, as we can’t have a global document without addressing different priorities in different countries. This is essential to produce buy-in moving forward.”

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