Realizing the ambitious 2030 Agenda will depend primarily on whether the necessary financial and non-financial resources are made available for "Transforming our world".
There are three key differences between the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and their successors, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). First, the SDGs concern all countries – in both North and South. They also cover two fields that hitherto have been dealt with separately by the UN, namely the North-South divide and "sustainable development", to which the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit was devoted. Lastly, the SDGs were formulated in an open process in which developing countries also participated.
Observers agree that civil society too played an important part in this process. Alliance Sud participated in both the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa in July 2015 and the special Sustainable Development Summit held in New York in September 2015.
The 2030 Development Agenda comprises 17 Sustainable Development Goals as well as 169 targets. It embodies the previous MDGs but expands them with higher qualitative ambitions. And it incorporates the three dimensions of sustainability, namely the social, environmental and economic.
In the social field, the fight against poverty remains central. The SDGs cover access to water, health, education, work, income, gender equality as well as sustainable energy supplies.
As pertains to the environment, the SDGs encompass nine sensitive areas where the planet's limits have already been overstepped (climate change, loss of biodiversity) or threatened (fresh water, soil degradation, ocean acidification, overfishing, and deforestation).
Four SDGs address the paradigm shift needed in economic development, in particular the promotion of decent work for all, ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns as well as reducing inequalities.
Goal 17 deals with the means of implementing the SDGs, including the provision of financial and non-financial resources, technology transfer and reform of the rules of world trade.
The pivotal role of funding
"We are the first generation that can put an end to poverty and we are the last generation that can put an end to climate change." With these words, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has repeatedly underlined the great significance and urgency of the SDGs. "But developing countries also need the wherewithal to implement the SDGs," says Mark Herkenrath, Director of Alliance Sud.
"The lack of resources creates the risk of the 2030 Agenda becoming a shopping list from which cash-strapped developing countries simply pick out goals that they have already achieved. But in such a case, their hopes would remain just that."
If the SDGs are not to become a paper tiger, several measures are needed – including for Switzerland. First, a timeframe should at last be set for industrialized countries to deliver on their promise to raise their official development assistance to 0.7% of their gross national income. Besides, new funding sources must be tapped – a financial transaction tax, for example. Also needed is a globally coordinated fight against illicit financial flows, and against tax evasion and profit shifting by multinational enterprises, which is costing developing countries billions every year. This will call for the creation of an international tax authority in which the countries of the South too have a say.
Changing our lifestyle
On these various points as well as the implementation of the SDGs at national level, progress will depend on whether civil society and progressive forces can successfully exert pressure on their governments to honour their commitments by 2030. Like the Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs are also non-binding, but they bring all countries together in a UN process that is generating a public debate and a kind of beauty contest among countries. Switzerland should draw up an SDG implementation strategy both at the international and domestic levels. This should include halving the number of people living below the poverty line as well as ensuring that the incomes of the poorest 40% of the population grow faster than the national average income.
The 2030 Agenda thus becomes a priority for a large number of Swiss NGOs. As the framework for a "new world domestic policy", the SDGs call for a clean break with the asymmetric pattern of donors and recipients. To this end, not only must more be done to save the planet, but we also need to consume less and adopt a lifestyle that is respectful of and in harmony with nature.