For anyone interested in international development, the announcement was exciting. The enthusiasm, however, was not limited to a niche sector reading about the free-trade argument in Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid, or issues with globalisation and how far our possessions have travelled in Caroline Knowles’ Flip-Flop. The summit was a global event, widely reported in the media, and followed by a celebratory Global Citizen Festival with performers including Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and Coldplay. This will be a yearly event bringing the focus back to SDGs and their progress.
One only needs to look at what is going on around us to see that we have far to go. One very current example is the result of over four years of armed conflict in Syria, where more than 50% of the population has been displaced either within Syria or in other countries. The UN Refugee Agency has 4,052,723 registered Syrian refugees (as at 1st October 2015).
What at least is positive is the overwhelming response of empathy and compassion to the crisis. While EU leaders prepared to meet and plan a response in mid-September, thousands of people marched in support of refugees in London, with additional marches in other cities, including Belfast, Glasgow, Cardiff, Manchester and York. My local charity supporting refugees in our city has been overwhelmed with donations and interest in volunteering. The SDGs do have a lot to achieve in 15 years, but hopefully a similar global effort will follow the global celebration.
Ambitious and wide reaching
Some, including Prime Minister David Cameron, said 17 goals was too high a number to be achievable, but the SDGs go further than their predecessors, the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Clearly included are goals to achieve gender equality, peace and an end to conflict, a productive economy, water conservation and combat climate change. The MDGs were not nearly as all encompassing.
That brings us back to the inevitable. It is a huge task to achieve the SDGs, but it is a good start to recognise a need for change and a need for action. Governments and authorities, policy, development and charity sectors will have a huge part to play, but so will the individual. President Obama has come forward and said that we are the generation that needs to turn the tide on climate change and preserve the planet for generations to come. A similar sentiment could be applied to the full range of sustainable development targets.
Take the view that we are the current custodians of the people, communities and planet that we live with and on. Today, about 1 billion people still live on less than $1.25 a day; 8 million children live in institutions worldwide, and more than one in three women has experienced either physical or sexual violence. Is that really good enough?
The SDGs announced this September are ambitious and wide reaching, and, if successful, could really make a difference. It is everyone’s business to maintain the momentum of the goals and take part in whatever way they can, be it campaigning, fundraising or simply sharing information. A collective voice can hold authorities to account and keep these core values at the forefront of the decision-making. If we are to achieve radical change and improve the lives of the most vulnerable, discriminated against and suffering people, then we need to come together to do it.
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