The Foundation of the SDGs
Sixty-seven years ago, at UC Berkeley’s convocation, the Second Secretary-General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld stated that “[…] the United Nations was not created in order to bring us to heaven, but in order to save us from hell” (UN Press Release SG/382, 1954). This concluding remark is often regarded as the most straightforward objective that the United Nations aims to achieve.
Following the conclusion of the Cold War, many countries across the world envisioned a renewed focus of the international community on promoting human rights. After several years of lobbying, Secretary-General Kofi Annan created the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) after core principles in the Millennium Declaration (2000). The MDGs were the first time such a large international organization developed clear goals; these goals ranged from eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, reducing child and maternal mortality, and combating infectious diseases. The General Assembly required annual reports to measure the UN’s progress before the MDGs’ self-imposed 2015 deadline. Beginning the final MDGs report, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted, “The global mobilization behind the Millennium Development Goals has produced the most successful anti-poverty movement in history.” He then stated, “Yet for all the remarkable gains, I am keenly aware that inequalities persist and that progress has been uneven.” He noted extreme poverty dropped from forty-seven percent globally in 1990 to fourteen percent in 2015, while childhood morality reduced more than half in the same time. The goals were viewed as an adequate measure of the United Nations’ efforts and sought to be improved.
Starting in 2012, the Post-2015 Development Agenda pursued different methods of pursuing international sustainable development for all countries. After the MDGs’ timeline concluded, negotiations quickly began for another fifteen-year plan. In late September 2015, the United Nations passed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals expanded beyond the eight MDGs into 17 new goals with more targets to achieve each goal with specific definitions/indicators. Focus has increased on addressing inequalities (goal 10), climate action (goal 13), and developing strong institutions to ensure peace and justice (goal 16) that the MDGs did not bring. The SDGs have allowed the organization to be actively criticized and praised for meeting objectives it has set for itself.
The current progress of the SDGs has been significantly affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. According to the original 2015 agreement, twenty-one targets reached maturity, and roughly only five were confirmed to be fully reached by June 2020. Additionally, 2030 targets have become more challenging to achieve, with seventy-one million people entering extreme poverty last year, defined as living on less than $1.25 US dollars a day. Billions lack access to proper sanitized water and sewer systems, over 700 million lack electricity, and one hundred civilians were killed daily on average.
Historically the United States has led international dialogue across countless international issues. With the Biden administration’s pledge for the country to return to the international arena in a proactive leadership role, the country (federal and state) should incorporate the SDGs into policy objectives.