World leaders have adopted a new set of Global Goals ‘to end poverty, fix climate change and put us on the path towards sustainable development’.
Three years in the making, the new goals set an ambitious agenda to apply to every country over the next 15 years. Now the hard part – implementing the 17 goals and 169 targets in 193 countries.
The new agenda moves us on from Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire at the end of the year, and which were essentially a tool to focus aid delivery. This time, every country will have to apply the new goals to their own national context. Funding the new agenda will be a mix of domestic resource allocation and new development partnerships.
For small countries it will mean prioritising, without cherry picking, goals. What that means in reality is unclear as we are all charting new territory when it comes to implementing this agenda. What we do know, and the new agenda recognises, is that development is a continuing spectrum – not something that can be achieved by merely copying the practices of others. And history tells us that imposed solutions rarely get traction – no matter how well intentioned or how deep the evidence base may be. So the fact that the new agenda is founded on country stewardship is to be celebrated.
Unlike the eight MDGs, which were conceived behind closed doors, the new agenda is the product of exhaustive intergovernmental negotiations, which included extensive consultations with civil society and business groups. Given the competing national and issue-based interests, it is unsurprising then that the list of new goals is vastly expanded from their predecessors. There were many vibrant debates among UN member states and across civil society about what should and should not be included. Not all ideological differences were settled, and perhaps for the first time the agenda was not dictated by a small group of powerful nations. In fact in some cases, it was a small group of small countries that held sway.
The Pacific bloc in the United Nations (the Pacific Small Island Developing States – PSIDS) championed a goal on oceans, and as part of the Alliance of Small Island States (which was chaired by Nauru throughout the 2014 Open Working Group) led the call for a goal to tackle climate change. For our countries, perhaps more aptly referred to as large ocean states, these two goals are essential elements of sustainable development.
Our regional neighbour, Timor-Leste, defied ardent opposition to be the primary proponent for a goal on peace, justice and strong institutions. Drawing on the reality of building a nation state from scratch, Timor-Leste’s recent experience of peace-building and state-building has demonstrated that without sustained peace there can be no sustainable development. Without capable and accountable institutions we cannot make the leap from goal setting to managing our economies to deliver the services and build the infrastructure our people need. Goal 16 on peaceful, inclusive societies is now widely viewed as being the ‘powerhouse from which all other action will flow’ and underpins the success of the whole agenda. Perhaps not surprising given the state of the world, most recently exemplified by the massive displacement and migration of people from Syria.
Our governments will be the primary custodians of this new agenda, but they cannot operate in isolation of national, regional and international partners. If we are serious about being the first generation to eradicate extreme poverty and the last to suffer the scourge of climate change, then we must hold our leaders to their national and international commitments to properly resource the implementation of this agenda. We will have to track our progress, and share our learning at home and abroad. More than ever, we need an active civil society to be actively engaged in renewed national conversations that will chart our own development pathways.
To start these conversations in the Pacific, PiPP has teamed up with RMIT University to launch a short survey that will tell you about the goals and what they seek to achieve, and give you the chance to rate the relevance of the goals and how your country is fairing against the targets. We aim to continue this survey (both online and offline) over the coming years and to periodically extract information in public reports to national governments and regional organisations. The aim is to get a broad understanding of the goals and how best to prioritise actions in our region, and to provide feedback to our policymakers and implementers on our progress.
We should be very proud of the achievements of our representatives in New York. The contributions from the PSIDS and Timor-Leste were instrumental in ensuring the transformative nature of this agenda. Not only for the inclusion of the goals on peace and institutions, oceans and climate change, but by ushering in a new era of global engagement. By showing that no matter how small and under resourced, small island countries can shape the international agenda.
Now all of us at home need to take the lead and actively shape the means of implementation. Otherwise the hard fought gains will be lost, and it will be back to business as usual – leaving others to determine our fate for us.