The summit of world leaders that took place at the UN General Assembly in New York at the end of September marked an unusually harmonious moment in international politics. In the summit 193 countries acted in concert to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are set to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the beginning of 2016.
The new development agenda builds on the MDGs, and its Preamble declares that the SDGs are to complete what the MDGs failed to do. The final MDG report, which was released a week before the summit, shows that while progress has occurred in many spheres of global development, there have also been plenty of uneven achievements and shortfalls. These range from the world’s poorest remaining very unevenly distributed across regions and countries, to targets in improving maternal health not being fully met.
The SDGs reach far beyond MDGs in terms of their ambition, and they come with enormous potential. For example, instead of aiming to reduce extreme poverty rates the SDGs have set the bar higher with the aspirational target of eradicating extreme poverty everywhere. The new development agenda is also of unprecedented scope. While the MDGs comprised of 8 goals and 18 targets, the SDGs have 17 goals and there has been a nearly ten-fold increase in the targets to 169. The new agenda also recognises that some important development challenges, such as gender equality, are crosscutting issues that need to be taken into consideration in the implementation of all goals.
There are also positive developments in relation to human rights. Historically the relationship between MDGs and human rights has been tenuous, and the link between the two has been mostly implicit and under-developed. The MDGs have been criticised from a human rights perspective – among other things – for their non-participatory design process, for providing a ‘fig leaf of legitimacy’ to authoritarian regimes with poor human rights records, for enshrining goals that are less ambitious than those present in the human rights paradigm, and even for undermining international human rights law standards. The new agenda is more explicitly tied to international human rights instruments. The agenda states that the SDGs are grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights treaties, and that they seek ‘to realize the human rights of all’ (Preamble, Paragraph 10). In other words, human rights can be understood as both the foundation and the aim of SDGs. Read the rest of this entry…