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Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals

4 min read

Scottish National Party MP Patrick Grady describes how the Sustainable Development Goals can contribute to the eradication of global poverty.

"Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings."

Nelson Mandela spoke these words at a Make Poverty History rally in 2005, five years after the United Nations had agreed the Millennium Development Goals – at the time, the most ambitious agenda for tackling world poverty in history.  Since then, the MDGs have provided a framework for national governments, multilateral agencies and even small local charities on which to base their international development efforts.  Progress has been significant, if not complete. 

The negotiation of the successor framework, the Sustainable Development Goals, has been notable for its inclusive and participatory nature – particularly for the role played by civil society and social movements, especially in the global south. 



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The Zero-Draft outcome document for the SDG Summit in September, published on 1st June, is a highly ambitious document, in its own words “a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity which also seeks to strengthen universal peach in larger freedom”. 

It sets out 17 goals and 169 targets, encompassing a broad range of social, economic and environmental objectives – not only those traditionally associated with tackling poverty such as health, education and nutrition, but also tackling equality – including gender equality – as well as climate change and recognising the importance of infrastructure and sustainable consumption.  Most important is the universal aspect of the framework, and the concept of leaving no-one behind – that the Goals and Targets are to be met by all social and economic groupings. 

But the draft is not perfect – it is the basis for further negotiations by UN members states, and I hope that in the remaining months, more can be done to reinforce some of the aims and objectives it outlines. 

There are some broader concerns about the model of development implied by some of the language in the zero draft.  Many NGOs are calling for the promotion of human dignity, rather than ideas of prosperity and economic growth, to be the driver of the development agenda. 

As the final negotiations proceed, I also hope that Scotland’s voice will be heard at the top table.  In Scotland, a Post-2015 Working Group on the SDGs, has brought together civil society, academics and officials from both the UK and Scottish Governments to share knowledge and information about the negotiations and look towards implementation.  I hope the DFID Ministers will invite one of their Scottish Government counterparts, to join the UK delegation to the SDG summit.

And we must also begin to consider how the new framework will be implemented.  The universal nature of the goals place an obligation on all Governments, north and south, rich and poor, to work towards a world free of poverty.   Traditional aid flows are important, but we must also move beyond aid.  Corporate tax dodging is costing developing economies billions each year – money that could be spent on education, healthcare and other vital services. 

Implementing the SDGs will require a whole-of-Government response.  Every decision made by government has some kind of impact overseas – decisions on tax, trade, procurement, energy, education and more all have a global footprint. 

The universal nature of the SDGs means that implementation is both an individual, national and global responsibility.  Each of us should question our lifestyle choices and consumption habits. 

With the right political will, the SDGs can capture the imagination not just of governments and civil society, but the wider public and communities around the world, and together build the better world we all know is possible.

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