Upcoming UN Summit: agenda, goals and financing for sustainable development

More than 150 world leaders from the 193 United Nations (UN) member states will convene at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York next week, from September 25 to 27, to formally adopt a new Sustainable Development Agenda focused on people, the planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership. Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development outlines 17 goals with 169 targets towards achieving 3 outcomes over the next 15 years: ending extreme poverty, fighting injustice and inequality, and fixing climate change.

The 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)are:

1) End poverty in all its forms everywhere

2) End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture

3) Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages

4) Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

5) Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

6) Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

7) Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

8) Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all

9) Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, and foster innovation

10) Reduce inequality within and among countries

11) Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

12) Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

13) Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts (taking note of agreements made by the UNFCCC forum)

14) Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

15) Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss

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

17) Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development

The agenda is intended to bring together the international community and national governments to promote shared prosperity and well-being, and member states are expected to use this universal set of goals, targets, and indicators to frame their own agendas and policies.

The new SDGs will become applicable in January 2016, with a deadline of 2030, as they will replace the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), adopted in 2000 and set to expire at the end of 2015. The agenda and new SDGs have been drafted by an open working group representing 70 UN member counties, established at the 2012 Rio+20 Summit, which called for post-2015 goals. Member states negotiated the final wording and agreed on the goals, targets, preamble, and declaration in August 2015. Indicators to measure goals will be finalized in March 2016.

Once adopted, the source of funding to implement and achieve the new goals is still unclear. A conference on financing the SDGs, held in Addis Ababa in July, failed to provide an answer, despite political leaders and government representatives promising their “strong political commitment” to make sustainable development not only a top theme on the global agenda, but also a financially viable goal. According to UN estimates, global investment requirements amount to $5 to $7 trillion annually in the infrastructure sectors alone.

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda represents the plan to finance the post-2015 development agenda and end poverty by 2030. The core element of the document is a list of over 100 “concrete policies and actions”, together with recommendations and considerations in 7 action areas: public resources; private business and finance; development cooperation; international trade; systemic issues; debt sustainability; and science, technology, innovation and capacity-building.

The Action Agenda also identifies 7 cross-cutting areas where “considerable synergies” can help fill gaps remaining from the MDG process and support the achievement of post-2015 SDGs. These include delivering social protection and essential public services to all; scaling up efforts to end hunger and malnutrition; establishing a new forum to bridge the infrastructure gap; promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization; generating productive employment and decent work for all; promoting micro, small and medium-sized enterprises; protecting ecosystems;  and promoting peaceful and inclusive societies.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has endorsed the Addis Ababa Action Agenda as “a major step on the path towards sustainable development and ending extreme poverty in all its forms” and has said it will help turn “needs into investment opportunities”. It is generally seen as a significant step in shifting global development finance from the current aid-centered “charity paradigm” to a new global framework that would include other sources of finance, such as private sector funds, while keeping public finance as the fundamental basis for achieving sustainable development targets. Critics argue that the document lacks concrete solutions, and the idea of scaling up existing resources and tackling structural problems is insufficient.

Addis outcomes set an optimistic mood for the UN Sustainable Development Summit and adoption of the SDGs, which can potentially add momentum to the UNFCCC COP21 in Paris this December. However, as the objectives at the core of the post-2015 development agenda, “to end poverty and hunger” while “promoting inclusive economic growth, protecting the environment and promoting social inclusion”, are as ambiguous as they are essential to a sustainable future, their implementation will be a great endeavor.

Coinciding with the UN Summit on SDGs,  Climate Week 2015 will take place in NY from 21 to 28 September 2015, providing a complementary view on climate and low carbon actions. ICCG founding member Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei will host 2 side events on SDGs and financing the low carbon transition. Additional information is available here.


(Image: UN logo for SDGs Summit New York 2015. Credit UN website on sustainable development)