Pope Francis said the best and simplest measures to implementing the goals will be “effective, practical and immediate access” for all to housing, dignified work, adequate food and drinking water, education, and religious and spiritual freedom. These pillars of integral human development have a common foundation, which is the right to life and, more generally, what we could call the right to existence of human nature itself.” Governments, then, must do everything possible to provide conditions that allow for people to create and support families, at minimum through access to lodging, labor, land and spiritual freedom. He also spoke against financial agencies that imposed “oppressive lending systems” on people that generate greater poverty, exclusion and dependence.
Political and economic activity, he added, is only effective when guided by the concept of justice and in “constant conscious of the fact that, above and beyond our plans and programs, we are dealing with real men and women who live, struggle and suffer, and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights. “To enable these real men and women to escape from extreme poverty, we must allow them to be dignified agents of their own destiny.” Praising the many humanitarian accomplishments of the UN, the Pope said, “All these achievements are lights which help to dispel the darkness of the disorder caused by unrestrained ambitions and collective forms of selfishness,” Francis said.
The SDGs were adopted following Pope Francis’ address to the 193-member UN General Assembly, in which he said the “‘‘right of the environment’ does exist” and that “Any harm done to the environment…is harm done to humanity.”
ActionAid’s chief executive, Adriano Campolina: “The sustainable development goals are a step forward as they identify the causes of poverty, but unless we change the rules that govern the global system, the same players will keep winning. We need to build a more just future for all people and the planet where it’s no longer just money that talks and the gaps in society are narrower. Inequality is increasing in almost every country in the world, leading to high youth unemployment, poorly paid jobs, and leaving many people without access to basic services like health and education. Attempts by governments to address these problems by encouraging large-scale private sector investment have failed. Large-scale mining and agricultural plantations have instead kicked poor farmers off their land, often with little or no compensation. We need to make sure that people living in poverty around the world benefit from these new development goals. Massive corporate investments alone will not guarantee a reduction in poverty and inequality. Governments must change the rules of the game and stop looking to the corporate sector for all the answers. We urgently need to address inequality if these new development goals are to stand a chance of succeeding in the next 15 years.”
Today, 4.3 billion people live on less than $5 a day. Although higher than the World Bank poverty measure at $1.25 a day, Action Aid’s 2013 report showed that a more realistic poverty measure would be under $10 a day. Yet far from decreasing, since 1990 the number of people living under $10 a day has increased by 25%.
Nafeez Ahmed writes: According to Dr. Jason Hickel of the London School of Economics, this is not surprising because the “claim that growth can eradicate poverty is not scientifically robust.” Hickel told me that this might “sound reasonable if you believe in trickle-down economics” — as do most conventional economists — “but the past forty years have delivered precious little evidence for this paradigm. The only way that the SDGs can claim that growth will eradicate poverty is by pushing the poverty line and the hunger line to incredibly low levels… lower than humans can actually survive on.”
I asked Hickel why, despite so much internal criticism from UN stakeholders within the SDG process itself, these concerns had not impacted on the text of the SDG ‘Zero Draft.’ “In an early version of the Zero Draft, there was a commitment to replace GDP with an alternative measure of economic well-being. But somehow that disappeared from the final text,” said Hickel. “I don’t know what happened behind the scenes.” He refers to an account from someone working with the Brussels-based CIDSE (International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity), a network of 17 Catholic development agencies based in Europe and North America, “who had been involved with the negotiations on the Zero Draft… “She told me that the process was highly compromised, and she quit in disgust — but she told me she was not allowed to share details about what she knew.”
While the GBA’s (business stakeholder group) UN submissions consistently blamed corrupt governments and legal frameworks in poor countries for lack of investment, the UN Major Group for Civil Society pointed out that the real obstacle is tax avoidance by foreign investors and corporate contempt for human rights:
“The notion that we need to unlock the potential of the private sector is fundamentally contradicted by the trillions of dollars currently leaving developing countries through corporate tax evasion and other illicit financial flows. Added to this is a general lack of accountability despite prolific evidence of systemic human rights abuses perpetrated by corporations that undermine development efforts.”
The civil society statement also points to parallel efforts by Western governments to forge new ‘free-trade’ agreements, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) along with proposed Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses.
These new trade and investment frameworks are being negotiated by governments in secret without public accountability. The UN’s civil society group notes that the ISDS clauses “empower corporations to sue governments for reducing the value of investments through regulations that promote human rights, the environment, and labor standards.”
Yet the SDGs offer little to protect vulnerable communities in the face of such corporate encroachment.
Instead, as the UN’s civil society group observes, the SDG process is ignoring “growing evidence that privatisation of essential social services exacerbates inequalities in access and marginalises the poorest.”
A further civil society statement to the UN on the Means of Implementation of the SDG agenda in late July criticised the process for “failing to address” structural and institutional “barriers to people-centred development rooted in an unjust global economic system.”
Such barriers, the NGOs declared, include a global “corporate rights regime” including the creation of “tools to sue governments when public policy threatens profits”; lack of “binding mechanisms to hold corporations accountable for human rights abuses”; “austerity and debt servicing measures, which starve public coffers and restrict public spending on social services and infrastructure”; and the “failure to allocate public resources to the public services and public goods required for healthy and sustainable communities.” In summary, the statement warned:
“The emphasis on private financing and the role of transnational corporations, will further weaken public policy space [for] governments and fails to address the unfinished business of regulating the financial sector despite the extreme and intergenerational poverty created by the global crisis.”
Indigenous stakeholders have objected too. On 25th March, the Indigenous Peoples Working Group told a Major Group dialogue hosted by the Trusteeship Council Chamber at UN headquarters that the SDG process “is in jeopardy of excluding Indigenous Peoples from the agenda.” Both the SDG’s targets and the UN Statistical Commission’s critical review of the targets fail to recognise “the distinct cultural identities and political status of Indigenous Peoples who are rights-holders and agents of change.”
Selling off public assets/further profiting off of public resources? The Major Group for Workers and Trade Unions similarly delivered a statement to the UN as part of the Post-2015 Intergovernmental Negotiations highlighting serious limitations to the proposed indicators to measure progress on attaining SDG targets, especially in addressing education, the right to water, democratisation of work-places, wage disparities, trade unions, and excessive privatisation.
“The proposal focuses on outcome indicators at the expense of structure and process indicators. We want to see more indicators that assess the legal and institutional reforms which are key for sustainable and long-term change.”
The SDGs make no clear reference to the human right to water, for example, effectively providing “an open door for turning water into a commodity.”
The UN workers group particularly opposes the emphasis on public-private partnerships, which it describes as “an expensive and inefficient way of financing infrastructure and services, since they conceal public borrowing, while providing long-term state guarantees for profits to private companies.”
The group concludes to the contrary that: “Public investment in the provision of health, education, social services and water and energy utilities should be encouraged, instead of selling off public assets.”
Excluding children. According to the UN Major Group for Children and Youth, the SDG’s focus on cultivating more “growth, industrialisation and urbanisation” fails to account for “ecological footprints as compared to planetary boundaries.” In their March statement at the UN, the group echoed the criticism from the UN Major Group for Workers regarding the omission of the right to water:
“… why was the term ‘human right to water and sanitation’ not included as an amendment for technical proofing, in spite of it being agreed in a General Assembly resolution 64/292? We notice inconsistencies in the type of reasoning for altering the targets. This is a dangerous precedent and any regression is not acceptable.”
The group also remarked that SDG targets on inequality and health were vague and insufficient. Without “caps on maximum and incomes and specific ratios between the top and bottom quintiles”, the inequality targets would not be impactful. The weakness of the health target was highlighted, especially in ignoring antimicrobial resistance.
Women’s Major Group at the UN praised the SDG process for representing a “significant step,” but issued a report that identified eight major “red flags” where the process had fallen short. Despite endorsing “gender equality,” the SDGs failed to recognise key human rights relevant to women and girls:“… the human right to food, the right to water and sanitation as a goal, women’s rights to decision making on peace and security, the rights of indigenous peoples, and the right for women to control their sexuality free of coercion, discrimination and violence, amongst others are notably absent.”
A corporatist, pro-growth agenda for development? An expert report circulated to UN officials and detailed analysis of SDG documents explains how the entire process has been “fundamentally compromised” by corporations with a vested interest in continuing business-as-usual. “The single biggest problem is the structural absence of any discussion about political agendas,” said Brewer. “As the politics of development are completely removed from discussion in the SDG process, this agenda gets adopted by default without any deliberation or debate. Add to this the myopic focus on growth as the only solution and we get the antithesis of sustainability or inclusive economics as a result.”
In addition to mis-framing the structural origins of poverty, the report shows that the very concept of “development” deployed within the UN’s SDG documents derives from a “specifically neoliberal and corporatist conception of how the world does and should work.” Despite acknowledging “deep problems and contradictions when relying on GDP growth to tackle poverty”, the SDG agenda still leaves “undifferentiated, perpetual growth” as the prime basis of development.
In contrast the Worldwatch Institute’s 2015 State of the World Report concludes that economic growth is the core driver behind “most environmental problems, and it has produced a world in which human activities have grown too large for the planet to accommodate them sustainably… Yet few recognize that growth itself needs to be abandoned as a national goal.” While most governments and businesses still regard unlimited economic growth as indispensable, in reality growth is “barely 50 years old” as a matter of national policy: “An economy that is not driven by growth of material through-put — yet that still offers adequate employment and reduces inequality and environmental impact — is achievable.”
But exactly how unsustainable is the UN’s concept of growth-driven ‘sustainable development’?
A new study in the leading peer-reviewed journal, Sustainability Science, by an interdisciplinary team of Spanish scientists, shows unequivocally that the era of economic growth is coming inevitably to a near-term close, largely due to the “end of the era of cheap and abundant energy flows.”
This forecast is based on the World Limits Model (WoLim) created by the Energy and System Dynamics Group of the University of Valladolid, which models renewable and non-renewable energy sources, demand generated by the socio-economic system, and climate dynamics.
The study, led by Dr. Inigo Capella-Perez of the University of the Basque Country’s Institute for Public Economics, is part of a wider low carbon research project funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation.
In its conclusions, the paper rejects the common assumption within the conventional sustainable development paradigm that “technological innovation will be the main driver to overcome all limits (resources & sinks) and problems if the markets work appropriately and the right investments are made.”
To the contrary, the model results show that “if the growth paradigm is maintained,” renewable energies, efficiency improvements and other ‘sustainable’ development policies will be unable to avert a “systemic energy shortage in the next decades… The results suggest that growth and globalisation scenarios are not only undesirable from the environmental point of view, but also not feasible.”
The ultimate conclusion of the Spanish team is that “prosperity for all the world cannot be based on the current GDP growth paradigm.”
The SDG process is not all bad. More than ever before, it puts people and the environment at the centre of the global policy debate, mainstreaming ecological concepts previously seen as anathema by the business community.
A GBA position paper on resources and materials management, for instance, drafted for the Post-2015 SDG process and authored by the International Council on Mining and Metals, acknowledges that “the consumption of materials and natural resources is increasing, in many cases exponentially.” This is “increasing stress” on the supply of resources critical “to sustain societies, the economy and the environment.”
The paper accordingly advocates a range of environmental techniques including sustainable consumption and production, sustainable value chains, the circular economy, sustainable materials management, life-cycle thinking, and reducing demand for natural resources so as not to “overdraw Earth’s natural capital.” All this is greatly welcome.
According to James H. Brown, a distinguished professor of biology at the University of New Mexico who won the MacArthur Award from the Ecological Society of America for his metabolic theory of ecology, the UN’s sustainable development goals amount to a huge “oxymoron.” Writing in the Oxford University Press journal BioScience a week ago, Prof. Brown
Economic development requires the increased use of energy and material resources to provide goods, services, and information technology.
Existing uses of these resources have already created an unsustainable bubble of population and economy. Unless current trends can be reversed, a catastrophic crash is inevitable… Humans are rapidly depleting the finite reserves of fossil fuels that power the current industrial–technological economy. Resource shortages are evidenced in declines since the 1980s in per-capita consumption of oil, natural gas, metal ores, phosphate (an essential fertiliser), fresh water, arable land, and ocean fisheries.”
Apart from the fact that the SDGs are conveniently designed to “profit individuals and corporations in developed countries that sell goods, services, and information to the developing world,” Prof. Brown further dissects the “biophysically impossible” ramifications of trying to eradicate poverty in the developing world by applying the industrial model of unlimited growth:
“… energy consumption would need to increase more than threefold in China and more than tenfold in the poorest developing countries to attain a US level of economic development and standard of living. This is clearly impossible in the foreseeable future.”
Brown knows what he’s talking about. He is co-author of a startling paperpublished last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which warns of human civilisation becoming completely unsustainable due to its exponentially increasing depletion of biomass energy.
“You can think of the Earth like a battery that has been charged very slowly over billions of years,” said Brown’s fellow author Prof. John Schramski of the University of Georgia. “The sun’s energy is stored in plants and fossil fuels, but humans are draining energy much faster than it can be replenished.”
Over millions of years, the Earth has slowly accumulated approximately 1,000 billion tonnes of carbon in living biomass. Yet in just the last 2,000 years of human civilisation — a tiny blip by comparison — humans have consumed a whopping half of that biomass already, 10% of which has been destroyed in the last century alone.
“If we don’t reverse this trend, we’ll eventually reach a point where the biomass battery discharges to a level at which Earth can no longer sustain us,” Schramski said.
Hidden between the lines of the SDG vision, then, is a great delusion — the unflinching blind faith of the rich industrialised elite in the unquestionable perfection and immortality of neoliberal capitalism as a ‘way of life.’
According to Brewer, by removing all discussions about power from the SDG process, “the increasingly unpopular neoliberal agenda remains fully in place.”
The total omission of corporate and banking power from SDG texts, despite their unprecedented prevalence in the UN process, “is very telling in its own right,” he told me. “We know that multinational corporations are the most powerful political actors, and that they are profoundly concentrated vehicles for wealth consolidation.”
“The logic of neoliberal capitalism is now the water people swim in culturally. It is largely invisible and most don’t realise how their minds default to the dominant commonsense frames of economics discourse.”
Reclaiming sustainable development
Rather than languishing in neoliberal denial — sanitised with comforting sustainability rhetoric — this entails the urgency of embracing the inevitability of the post-carbon, post-capitalist era.
This doesn’t mean we must capitulate to fatalism. The end of capitalism will not automatically usher in the end of prosperity, although it will require a radical rejection of the values of mass market consumerism.
As Dr. Inigo Capella-Perez and his colleagues conclude in their Sustainability Science study forecasting the end of growth, a meaningful sustainable development trajectory would involve the most energy intensive consuming countries reducing their average energy use rate “by at least 4 times”, decreasing their GDP roughly to the current world average.
Rather than involving a regression to an impoverished medieval existence, the combination of high technology, circular economy principles, along with a transition to clean and localised forms of food, water and energy production could more than meet fundamental material needs while permitting a considerable increase in well-being.
Such “reductions through lifestyle and cultural changes oriented towards ‘sufficiency’ might actually be welfare enhancing,” the Spanish scientists conclude. This simplification of industrialised economies “would allow people living in Southern [poorer] countries to increase their per capita energy use by 30%”, translating into “a threefold increase of GDP in the same period.”
Sustainable development, they argue, does not mean relentlessly exporting the broken model of endless industrial material through-put into the developing world. In contrast, it requires a global “convergence” premised on equality of access for all.
Their WoLim system dynamics model shows that this pathway is not a utopian pipe-dream, but an achievable possibility that could avoid some of the worst-case scenarios for climate change.
But to get there, we must use the opportunity provided by the SDG’s mainstreaming of ecological awareness as a cultural springboard to catalyze a public counter-narrative to the prevailing paradigm.
For Brewer, this must involve a “fully systemic” approach to recognising the interdependence of global challenges, employing the tools of “ecological economics and complexity science from the beginning.”
Rather than pretending they don’t exist, he said, agendas of the powerful need to be the “central focus” of this counter-narrative: “There needs to be a truth and reconciliation process before it becomes possible to advance a truly sustainable and equitable development trajectory for our fledgling planetary civilisation.” Dr Nafeez Ahmed
Nick Dearden of Global Justice Now said the SDGs overlook that “people need power over resources to live a decent life – food, water, shelter, access to healthcare, education. If one person – or corporation – controls them, that means others don’t. The SDGs stress the need to provide access to resources for the poor, but fail to mention the need to challenge power relations which allow the elite to monopolise global resources. Unless you understand that the poverty of some flows from the wealth and power of others, efforts to fight poverty will not truly work.
Obviously we all want to get rid of poverty – but we can’t do that by continuing ‘business as usual’ or simply wishing poverty away. Some people are very poor because others are very rich. So challenging poverty also means challenging wealth, challenging power. The obscene levels of inequality and poverty that we see around the world have been driven by the imposition of a set of economic policies, which have benefited some and been disastrous for many others. The SDGs advocate more of the same. Development cannot be separated from any conception of politics or power. Poverty isn’t simply the difference between living on $1.20 and $1.40 a day.” He writes that, “this wish-list comes with no historical background of how we got here, and no political strategy for how we get out. As such it relies on a mixture of more market and more technically competent governments. There’s no sign that the economic model itself is broken – just that it needs some tuning. Take one obvious gap: transnational corporations. They aren’t mentioned in the SDGs, yet the power of corporations is fundamental to the staggering levels of inequality which afflict the world, and are at the centre of an economic model quite prepared to burn the planet in its drive for ever more profit. It is impossible to realise the targets of the SDGs without tackling corporate power.
Nor is there any acknowledgment of colonial history, of slavery, of racism, of desperately unfair terms of trade, of structural adjustment policies which flushed dozens of countries’ economies down the drain only 30 years ago. Far from critiquing the control of the market, the SDGs exhort world leaders to “remove market distortions” and “ensure the proper functioning of food commodity markets.”
The SDGs’ answer to ‘hunger’ is growing more food – despite the fact that we have more than enough food in the world to feed everyone. Technology plays a key role in the targets – for instance in the eradication of epidemics of HIV and malaria – but with no sign of how governments will improve the flow of knowledge around the world without breaking the ever more ferocious intellectual property regime that allows corporate giants to monopolise that knowledge. More foreign investment is encouraged, but without a framework for controlling that investment, how is it supposed to benefit the majority?
In short, power doesn’t exist in the SDGs. The chapter on inequality nowhere mentions that the problem of poverty is inseparable from the problem of super-wealth; that exploitation and the monopolisation of resources by the few is the cause of poverty.
How on earth will the SDGs be financed, especially since a global tax body has already been vetoed by rich countries 3 months ago? By big business of course. With a captured public sector unable to fund the SDG promises, big business will happily come in, with state backing, to run healthcare and education, communications and transport, food and water. The market is the answer.
Perhaps it’s unfeasible to think that the UN could advocate such seemingly radical proposals as democratic control of the world’s resources? Actually that doubt shows how far backwards we’ve gone. Because in the mid-1970s the UN adopted a policy which, while less detailed (mercifully, it fits on a few pages), laid out a far better analysis of the world’s problems, with a clearer set of solutions for moving forward.
It seems incredible now that the New International Economic Order-NIEO (pdf) was really UN policy, but it passed the General Assembly in May 1974 and was regarded as much too moderate by many campaigners of the time. The NIEO declared that “the remaining vestiges of alien and colonial domination, foreign occupation, racial discrimination, apartheid and neo-colonialism in all its forms continue to be among the greatest obstacles to… full emancipation and progress.” in an era when few people knew what a TNC was, Its recommendations included the “regulation and supervision of the activities of transnational corporations,” as well as radical reform of the global trade regime.
The world has changed and the NIEO is not a blueprint for a perfect planet. But it highlights the poverty of ‘development’ thinking, the pinnacle of which is represented by the SDGs. The answer to world poverty can’t be found among the development professional and celebrities in New York this weekend. Rather it will be found among the many thousands of activists, community organisations and social movements who are really confronting power in the world. Let’s join them.
Alberto Aguirre, a Qom Indigenous activist from Argentina, sees the effects of this obsession with endless growth. “In the last 30 years we have seen an unprecedented pillaging of the Earth’s natural resources. This has brought with it hunger and environmental devastation,” he says. “Market economies have caused pollution, hunger and death. In the past, communities lived in harmony with Nature, the rivers were not contaminated, people did not go hungry and species were intact.”
And he should know. Until relatively recently, hunger and poverty as we understand them did not exist in Indigenous communities. We now live in a world where Indigenous Peoples make up only 4.4 percent of the global population, they account for about 10 percent of the world’s poor. The same pattern is evident across continents: evicted from their ancestral lands to make way for industrial development and the “miracle” of economic growth, Indigenous communities suffer some of the highest levels of hunger, illiteracy and preventable diseases.
“It pains us today to see our children go hungry, rivers with so few fish and acres of forest, which provide so much, ravaged in minutes by bulldozers,” says Antonia Zeron, a Guarani Indigenous leader from Boliva. “When my grandmother was a child, she did not go hungry, the land belonged to everyone.”
The SDGs do acknowledge the breadth and depth of the challenge: “Billions of our citizens continue to live in poverty and are denied a life of dignity. There are rising inequalities within and among countries… Natural resource depletion and adverse impacts of environmental degradation, including desertification, drought, land degradation, freshwater scarcity and loss of biodiversity, add to and exacerbate the list of challenges which humanity faces. Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and its adverse impacts undermine the ability of all countries to achieve sustainable development.” The problem is that they then actively sidestep any mention of the root cause of these “challenges.”
The SDGs only response to our polycrisis is for more of the same: more economic growth, everywhere; more industrial production and consumption; and more of the same basic thinking that has brought us to this point.
“Indigenous Peoples’ wisdom – still deeply rooted in their cultures despite over 500 years of colonisation and genocide – should be a source of inspiration and guidance that brings our focus to deep structural and spiritual dimensions of change.”
In their desire to satisfy the demands of a global elite whose only concept of progress is ever more profit, the SDGs have ignored the voices of those who have the clearest insight into type of change needed. “What we need is spiritual and philosophical change,” says Aguirre, “a return to living in harmony and listening carefully to the knowledge of Mother Earth.”
Indigenous Peoples’ wisdom – still deeply rooted in their cultures despite over 500 years of colonisation and genocide – should be a source of inspiration and guidance that brings our focus to deep structural and spiritual dimensions of change.
“The Earth gives us life – that is why for Indigenous People she is Mother Earth. Human beings are not the owners of the Earth – they are another element of it closely interconnected to all other living things from plants and animal to water and air, and we must live in synchronicity with them,” explains Aguirre. “When hunting or gathering we only ever take as much as we need, never more, and we rotate hunting territories to allow the land replenish itself and ensure the delicate balance of the eco-system is maintained. It is no coincidence that 80 per cent of the Earth’s remaining biodiversity can be found on Indigenous territories.”
“Living in harmony also means a society where resources and responsibilities are shared, where no one individual is disproportionately powerful or wealthy. People are valued for their contribution to the community and not for individual personal wealth and power from a rigged game. Resources are shared so that families, communities and the natural environment thrive and survive not just in the present but for generations to come,” adds Seron.
Felix Diaz, one of the leaders of the Indigenous protest camp in Buenos Aires likens this to a fire. “I like to think of a communal fire as a symbol of our humanity,” said Diaz. “One person adds wood, another adds paper and each contribution brings light and warmth to the whole group.”
The SDGs do not represent the flames of change. In fact, they are more of a smoke signal, a mere distraction. The hope now rests in their potential to spark indignation, to help build a movement of people who recognize the true depths of the challenges we face. This emerging movement is increasingly standing with and learning from Indigenous Peoples all over the world in their struggle to protect what we have left, and return to a way of life that is more balanced and in harmony with the living force of the whole planet.
Michael Elliott, president and CEO of the ONE campaign said: The Global Goals will provide a critical set of priorities for global development over the next 15 years. They acknowledge that no person should be forced to live in hunger or die of a preventable disease, and that poverty hits women and girls hardest. The Goals reflect a shared commitment to real partnership — a more sophisticated approach to global development than the world has ever seen.
Oxfam’s Winnie Byanyima said:
The new sustainable development goals are ambitious on paper – and they could be historic in their impact. They seek to go beyond band-aid solutions by setting out to eradicate – not just reduce – extreme poverty and hunger in every country. The key is to welcome the richest people back in touch with the rest of society, rather than allowing them to exist on the margins of privilege.”
Oxfam praised the new focus of “leaving no one behind”, but warned this requires the participation of the most vulnerable and marginalised people so they can hold their governments to account and claim their rights. Women must be central to realising these goals, while at the same time the concentrated power of vested interests must be challenged and those interests held more accountable by governments and citizens.
“With 17 goals and 169 targets, this promise is a necessarily complicated one,” continued Byanyima. “To leave no one behind, we have to understand the many barriers people face, from economic and gender inequality to how the most vulnerable are the most affected by climate change. The goals are achievable, but it cannot be business as usual. Governments – rich and poor – must defy vested interests that seek to maintain the status quo at the expense of people and the planet.”
To meet this shift of power, Oxfam says national and international financing rules must be rewritten, including a clamp down on tax avoidance by multinational companies, and measures by governments to ensure the richest contribute more equally to the rest of society. Additionally, an agreement at the Paris climate talks that delivers for the poorest must be made if “zero hunger” is to ever be achieved
Amnesty International’s Salil Shetty has received a lot of praise for his admirably blunt and passionate speech to the UN general assembly.
At the outset, I congratulate you for the remarkable progress the world has seen through the Millennium Development Goals. But increasingly we hear the question, is our world spinning out of its axis? It can feel that way. Hundreds of millions of people still live in poverty. Too many people, particularly women and girls, routinely suffer violence and multiple human rights violations.
Inequality, injustice, environmental destruction and corruption are a toxic combination. There is declining trust in governments and big corporations and young people across the world are rising in protest. Horrific conflicts are destroying communities and countries and have fuelled the largest global refugee crisis since the Second World War. The appalling story of the three-year-old Syrian child Alan Kurdi, whose dead body on the beach shocked the world, sums it up. We cannot hide the reality of the world we live in.
And then … there is the world we want, the world represented by the Sustainable Development Goals. We cannot blame people for being sceptical when they see yet another Summit Declaration. There is a huge gap between the world we live in, and the world we want. But these goals represent people’s aspirations and rights and they must and can be realised. So I suggest four practical tests to realise the goals and prove the sceptics wrong:
1. First, the ownership test. The key to success is for poor and marginalised people to be primary decision makers at every stage. The Sustainable Development Goals must be resourced and integrated in national and local plans and budgets, and they must be implemented in line with the state’s existing human rights obligations.
2. Second, the accountability test. People should know exactly what governments have promised and what they have delivered – the right to information. And if governments don’t deliver, people should be able to hold them to account through independent mechanisms. It is not enough anymore for governments to say that they are legitimate because they were elected or have a mandate. They have to be accountable to the people directly on an ongoing basis.
3. Third, the non-discrimination test. Let us be clear. Leaving no one behind means challenging power structures and enforcing the rule of law. Inequality is largely the direct result of discrimination and exclusion based on gender, race, descent, religion or other status. Inequality is the consequence of the failure to protect the rights of the marginalised, Indigenous peoples, minorities, migrants, persons with disabilities, children and the elderly.
4. Fourth, the coherence test. We are all aware of countries which performed very well on the Millennium Development Goals . But outrage against persistent human rights violations led to revolutions. Why? Because people’s lives are not divided into development, environment, peace and human rights – only bureaucracies are. Coherence and consistency is essential.
You cannot claim to support sustainable development when you are reluctant to reduce the consumption of the rich or transfer technology. You cannot preach about human rights while practising mass surveillance. You cannot lecture about peace while being the world’s largest manufacturers of arms. You cannot allow your corporations to use financial and tax loopholes while railing against corruption. You cannot adopt the Sustainable Development Goals and at the same time attack and arrest peaceful protesters and dissenters. You cannot launch these Sustainable Development Goals and in parallel deny a safe and legal route to refugees, a life with dignity.
Esteemed leaders, The Sustainable Development Goals present a compass for decent jobs, for justice, for humanity. As civil society, we will stand with the poor and marginalized at all costs. And we will hold governments and businesses to account. Thousands of people marched last night for the Sustainable Development Goals to light the way. They called for authentic leadership from you, leadership with integrity, leadership from the heart. I know that you can live up to their hopes.