BY ALEX BALUKU
NEW YORK, September 19, 2023 – Global leaders and policymakers gathered at the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Summit, where a dual narrative emerged, emphasizing the pressing need for accelerated progress towards the 2030 deadline and a simultaneous reevaluation of strategies to overcome these ambitious goals’ challenges.
Facing the Reality of Slow Progress
The SDGs, consisting of 17 goals and 169 targets, were introduced in 2015 to drive global development, fostering equitable, just, safe, and healthy societies. However, as leaders acknowledged, progress has been sluggish, with only 15 percent of the goals met. Factors contributing to this slow advancement include the COVID-19 pandemic, global warming, and geopolitical conflicts, including Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Leadership Acknowledges Pre-Pandemic Stagnation
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar emphasized that while recent crises have exacerbated the SDGs’ setbacks, leaders must recognize that stagnation was evident even before the pandemic. He argued that the drive to achieve these goals had not been as robust as necessary, highlighting the need for stronger focus and commitment from governments worldwide. Ireland and Qatar took the lead in negotiating a political declaration with fellow member states to reignite progress over the next seven years.
Youth Voices Demand Inclusion
Mayada Adil, an SDG youth leader and Sudanese activist, pointedly labeled the current state of the SDGs as a “failure” and questioned leaders about their inclusion of young people in decision-making processes. She emphasized the crucial role that young people, who comprise half of the global population, must play in shaping policies and decisions to effectively address the SDGs.
Positive Impact Amid Slow Progress
Despite the overall slow progress, there have been significant positive impacts since the inception of the SDGs. Over 800,000 people have gained access to electricity, 146 countries are making progress in reducing child mortality rates, advancements have been made in HIV treatment, and more individuals now have access to the Internet. These successes underscore the importance of continued commitment to these global goals.
UN Secretary-General’s Optimism
UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed optimism regarding the adoption of the political declaration during the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. He highlighted the potential game-changing impact of the document in expediting SDG progress over the next seven years. The declaration’s commitments, including increased access to financing for developing countries and an SDG stimulus of at least $500 billion annually, represent a significant step forward.
The SDGs Summit served as both a call to action and a moment for introspection. While the world leaders rallied for accelerated progress, the recognition of past shortcomings and the demand for increased youth inclusion underscored the complexity of the challenges ahead. The political declaration, once formally approved, holds the promise of revitalizing global efforts towards achieving the SDGs by 2030.
Simultaneously, in his closing remarks at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued an impassioned call for immediate global action on the SDGs. He outlined seven key areas of focus to expedite progress, emphasizing the urgency of lifting the words of the political declaration off the page and investing in development at an unprecedented scale.
These narratives underscore the critical juncture at which global leaders find themselves, balancing the need for swift action with the acknowledgment of the challenges that have slowed the progress of the Sustainable Development Goals.