Why The Global Goals for Sustainable Development Matter

This year marks the close of the UN Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs.

These goals represented a global effort that began in 1990 to radically reduce poverty by 2015 by addressing income, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter, and exclusion-while promoting gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability. MDG #5 specifically targeted maternal mortality and morbidity with the goals of reducing deaths by 75% and providing universal access to reproductive healthcare. On September 25, 2015 193 world leaders will commit to 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development. You’ll hear them called a variety of names from “The Global Goals” to “The Goals” to “The Sustainable Development Goals” or even just the “SDGs” and these goals will shape their agendas and policies over the next 15 years. Previously called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the goals will aim to: End extreme poverty. Fight Inequality and Injustice. Fix Climate Change.

As we near the end of the Millennium Development Goals and look back, we see many successes. Many of those original eight goals have been reached. Between 1990 and 2015, the number of those living in extreme poverty has fallen from 1.9 billion to 836 million and that’s an accomplishment we celebrate. Global maternal mortality declined by half between 1990 and2015, with most of those reductions occurring after 2000. A far higher proportion of girls are now attending primary school and the lives of millions of people were saved thanks to vaccinations.

But, progress has been uneven. Maternal mortality declined, but at a slower pace than it could or should have. Women are still more likely to be poor, make less money for the same work, and have less decision-making power than men. There are still not enough women in positions of leadership and power, and there is still stark inequality. Skilled health workers attend only 56% of births in rural areas, compared to 87% in urban areas. There’s clearly still a lot of work to be done.

That begs the question: Why do we need the new Goals?

  1. They set a common direction for global leaders and bring different stakeholders together under a common umbrella to end poverty and inequality.
  2. They help dictate and organize government and private sector investments and funding streams.
  3. They put public pressure on world leaders to invest in poverty alleviation and sustainable development.

How these Goals are different from the Millennium Development Goals

The MDGs had flaws from inception. For starters they were “top-down” — largely developed by (male) leaders of rich industrialized nations and they generally left the voices of the poor, global south, and women out of the process. They were criticized for being too simplistic, too ambitious, for watering down language on women’s rights, and for being weak on health goals. They did not encourage sustainable development or take environmental destruction into account. So will the new Goals be any different? There’s certainly much reason for optimism.

The process of constructing the new Goals was incredibly transparent and inclusive from the start. Much has been learned since 2000: the world has changed and the Internet and mobile phones have become ubiquitous. Consultations were held with citizens and NGOs all over the globe. And it shows — the MDGs were eight goals with 21 specific targets and 60 indicators; the new Goals are 17 goals currently with 169 targets. They include everything under the sun. It’s a beast of an agenda that’s impossible to recite or remember and almost makes one long for the simplicity of the MDGs. Maternal health, along with many other issues, is buried under an overarching health goal.

This time around though, the agenda is bolder and more rights-based than the previous goals. Significant attention is given toward sustainable development and efforts to fight climate change, end violence against women, and achieve universal health coverage. Climate change and environmental degradation disproportionately impacts the poor, and the new Goals attempt to help address this.

They also try to better address the fact that issues of poverty, inequality, education, environmental sustainability, and health are inextricably intertwined, and they treat the objectives more as interconnected and less as siloed issues.

Finally, the GGs take a departure from traditional aid flows and put higher expectations on governments to cover more of the cost of pursuing the goals. They also rely more on private sector investment and more innovative financing mechanisms.

Achieving these goals is going to take everyone working together. You can join the global effort to reduce poverty, fight inequality and injustice and fix climate change by logging on and partnering with us at Action 2015 and Global Citizen. Every Mother Counts will be paying close attention as the GGs are introduced in September and we’ll keep you updated as to how our grants and programs are aligned to grow in this new and sustainable direction.

These are the proposed Global Goals

  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 well-being for all at all ages
  4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  5. Achieve gender quality 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 industrialization 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
  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 revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
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