Why are Sustainable Development Goals Important?

News | FIGHTING CORRUPTION | Publications | Blog Post 15 June 2017

Author: Marina Gurbo - Independent Consultant, Supporting the Implemention of UN Sustainable Development Goals in Georgia project



Why are Sustainable Development Goals important?


One of the frequent questions about the SDGs – why we need one more framework when there are international conventions, national level policies and strategies that address issues targeted in the 2030 Agenda. Despite the continuous dispute around the preceding Millennium Development Goals and whether they were feasible and relevant for all countries (not just poorest), the important lesson learned derived from their implementation is that having time-bound, universal goals result in greater mobiliza­tion of the global community, strengthen collaboration and networking of stakeholders across the sectors, countries and regions, and promote innovation and sharing of expertise and best practices. Examples of impact of such mobilization of resources may include achievements in the health sector, such as reduction of child mortality and universal access to healthcare.


Another important argument for the SDGs is that they promote a long-term approach to addressing global challenges that are not typical just for some countries but are faced by most and require joint actions. Most governmental programmes have a rather short life spanof about 4-5 years and sustainability of these programmes is often challenged by changes (sometimes, too frequent) in the government and political agenda. The SDGs set targets for the next 15 years meaning that most governments that are in power now will not be there in 2030. Having a long-term agenda and targets that has been agreed upon by 193 countries, promotes sustainability of actions and reinforces commitment of the states regardless of changes in the national political context.



How are Sustainable Development Goals different from Millennium Development Goals? 


It would not be correct to think that the SDGs replace the MDGs. There are many dimensions of poverty and inequality taken over from the MDGs such as low incomes, gender inequality, lack of schooling and education, lack of access to health care, deprivation of clean water and sanita­tion, and others. The major difference is in the emphasis on sustainable development; the defini­tion of sustainable development [1] has evolved to capture a more holistic approach, linking the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic development, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability.


Moreover, Sustainable Development Goals address not only the measurable changes in the well-being of people, economic development of countries and better environment on the planet, but also the means of how these changes shall be induced. If we look at the SDG 16 and SDG 17, [2] these are all about enabling environment of peace and security and rule of law and conditions for inclusion and participation, i.e. inclusive institutions and decision making. In this sense, the SDGs are going beyond the MDGs by addressing the root causes of poverty and inequality, such as weak rule of law, corruption and traditions and norms that enforce discrimination whether by sex, cultural identify, or social status.


Without addressing these root causes, it is impossible to achieve all other Goals, since they are all interconnected. For example, as the experience of the MDGs demonstrated, economic growth by itself does not ensure social justice and inclusion for all; but justice and inclusion, meaning equal access to means of production and participatory decision making, are contributing to more cohesive societies, human capital development and economic growth.


Finally, the SDGs are focusing on people who were “left behind” and their inclusion. Participatory processes will allow stakeholders to give voice to the needs and interests of the people they represent, enabling better-planned and better-informed initiatives. No one is left behind or left out, as “governments, international organizations, the busi­ness sector and other non-state actors and individuals must contribute.” [3] Most developed, developing countries, poorest countries – all have some work to do to improve inclusion of disadvantages or marginalized groups (in their contexts) and promote social cohesion which is a pre-requisite for stable and prosperous societies.



What will change for the World and for Georgia if the targets are achieved?


Achievement of the quantitative targets set in the 2030 Agenda is important but not the ultimate objective why the Agenda was proposed. The SDGs put strong emphasis on the process of collaboration – globally, nationally and locally - that is to be fostered during the next 15 years and with everyone expected to contribute to the achievement of the targets. And this is the most exciting change to be a part of.


Building understanding and capacity of governments, private enterprises and civil society about SDGs will be a challenging but, in many ways, enriching experience. Over the last couple of years, civil society organizations operating in Georgia are more and more encouraged to think about the contribution they make to the SDGs and the ways how they monitor what has changed for their beneficiaries in relation to achievement of SDG  targets.


The “data revolution”, as proclaimed in the 2030 Agenda, will dramatically change how we think about the data and statistics and its use for monitoring and decision-making. This is already happening and many countries are testing new ways i.e. mobile technology, GIS, and other tools, to collect “real time data” and involve people into participatory monitoring of the SDGs and make their voice count when taking decisions that affect all, including those “left behind”. 


[1] The phrase “sustainable development” was adopted and popularized in 1987, in the report of the United Nations Commission on Environment and Development. This report provided a definition of sustainable development that was used for the next 25 years: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromisingthe abilityof future generations to meet their own needs”. This definition evolved linking the threedimensions of sustainabledevelopment: economic development, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability. This three-part vision of sustainable development was emphasized at the 2012 Rio+20 Conference.


[2] Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels; Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development


[3] The United Nations. (2015). Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Available at https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld

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