Image credit: United Nations - Photo: 2023

Development Goals Need a Rescue Plan, Warns UN Chief

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS. 20 September 2023 (IDN) — When the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by the 193-member General Assembly back in 2015, they were hailed as a panacea for some of the world’s economic, social and environmental ills.

The SDGs were aimed at eradicating extreme hunger and poverty, ensuring a clean global environment, providing quality education and eliminating gender inequalities, among others. The targeted date for achieving these goals was 2030.

But with seven years to go, the SDGs “are in trouble”, says Secretary-General António Guterres.

Addressing the two-day—September 18-19—SDG summit of world leaders, Guterres did not pull his punches.

“The SDGs are not about checking boxes. They’re about the hopes, dreams, rights and expectations of people and the health of our natural environment. They’re about righting historic wrongs, healing global divisions and putting our world on a path to lasting peace.”

“But as we gather (for the summit) this weekend”, he warned, “the Goals are in trouble.”

Today, only 15 per cent of the targets are on track, with many going into reverse.

The SDGs need a global rescue plan, he declared.

The rescue plan, as some leaders of developing nations pointed out, should include new commitments to fulfill the billions of dollars promised by rich nations, additional financing from international monetary institutions and a pledge to adhere to the Official Development Assistance (ODA) targets by the rich.

Seven-point plan

Guterres’ proposed plan included the following:

1-transform support of the SDG Stimulus into real investments in developing countries, with at least $500 billion per year for sustainable development, including through multilateral development banks and other mechanisms.

2-the formation of a Leaders’ Group to deliver a set of clear steps that enable the $500 billion to start flowing before the end of 2024.

3-translate the commitments made at this Summit into concrete policies, budgets, investment portfolios and actions.

4-shift the focus of Voluntary National Reviews to advance accountability and catalogue progress made against this week’s commitments.

5-strengthen support for action across the six key SDG transitions—food, energy, digitalization, education, social protection and jobs, and biodiversity.

6-start planning for massive increases in investments in social protection, bringing to life the Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection to cover one billion additional people by 2025 and four billion by 2030.  

7-a pledge to meet the Official Development Assistance (ODA) target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income.  

Guterres said next month’s meeting of the IMF and World Bank must not be “business as usual.”

“In addition to recapitalization, we need to see an urgent additional re-channeling of $100 billion in un-used Special Drawing Rights”.  

Guterres also said government delegations should arrive with specific proposals to massively leverage private funding in support of developing countries.  

This should include proposals around innovative financing mechanisms like blended public and private finance and the use of debt swaps called for in the political declaration.


Meanwhile, the President of the 193-member General Assembly, Dennis France of Trinidad and Tobago, said in terms of ambition, “I welcome new commitments that have been announced, as well as dynamic new modalities for cooperation”

But ambition alone is not enough, he warned, “It must be backed and buttressed by action.”

“We need to mobilize the necessary financial resources, ensuring that they are accessible, timely, and on reasonable terms, especially for countries that are already in debt distress and those experiencing multidimensional vulnerabilities.”

“In that respect, we need to ensure that the international financial system serves all countries, responding to today’s needs and flexible enough to respond to tomorrow’s challenges.”

 “We have made a commitment to the peoples of this world to work toward delivering the SDGs by 2030. As I have also repeatedly said, for me my every morning starts with a reminder of the preamble to the UN Charter—We the Peoples”.

“The peoples do not want our excuses. What they want is decisive action and meaningful progress. So, let us step up, rise to the occasion, and do our utmost best for the sake of the Peoples of the United Nations,” he declared.

Meanwhile, more than 500 activists met in New York  to participate in the Global People’s Assembly, the culmination of 40 national-level assemblies, four regional assemblies and thousands of decentralized, local actions.

The Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) coordinated the two-day event on 17-18 September with the support of more than 60 organisations, including Amnesty International, CIVICUS, Greenpeace, Oxfam International and Save the Children.

In a statement issued ahead of the SDG summit, the GPA said: “As the world marks the halfway point for the SDGs—adopted in 2015 to end poverty, reduce inequalities and ensure action on the environment—the United Nations estimates that only 12 percent of the targets are currently on track. Thirty percent of the indicators are actually worse now than they were eight years ago”.

“The debt crisis is killing the SDGs,” said GCAP Director Ingo Ritz. “Financial systems, dominated by rich western nations, are not creating global prosperity. We need new solutions, starting with debt cancellation and new funding that enable communities to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, without creating new debt traps”.

“We strongly believe that the world can change for the better if leaders listen to people’s voices and concerns, rather than racing to protect the interests of the affluent. We must move beyond empty rhetoric and prioritize concrete actions to implement the SDGs,” he added.

Sixty countries are currently facing debt crises, amid skyrocketing interest rate charges. Austerity programmes, which hit impoverished and marginalised communities hardest, have been implemented in many countries, as they struggle to pay international debts, according to the statement.

“The world is facing massive challenges, but too many governments are choosing to crack down on the rights of their people and civil society rather than bringing about meaningful change,” said CIVICUS Secretary-General Lysa John.

“It is essential to hear diverse voices and ensure that the concerns of those who face discrimination are addressed. The world is way off track. Alarm bells are sounding. Now is the time for a new generation of leaders to step up and turn the tide of action to achieve the promise of the SDGs.”

Call to Action

In the face of these pressing challenges, the Global People’s Assembly issued a call to action to global leaders to set a clear path to achieve Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals, starting with a solution for the debt crisis including a reform of the international financial architecture, and a concrete agreement to establish social protection floors for all by 2030.

Development and climate financing must be implemented in a manner that does not increase the debts of countries and communities struggling to achieve the SDGs.

“As part of the Global People’s Assembly, we stand with those on the frontlines of the climate emergency and demand a new deal that delivers justice for people and planet,” said Mads Flarup Christensen, Executive Director of Greenpeace International.

“The fossil fuel industry is keeping the world dependent on a failed energy system. Climate justice means an urgent fossil fuel phase out and making polluters pay for the loss and damage their decisions have caused,” he added.

Local participation and the inclusion of communities that have traditionally been left at the periphery—including indigenous groups, LGBTQI+, communities discriminated by work and descent (CDWD) and people with disabilities—is essential to any development effort.

“Intimidation, inequalities and marginalisation is silencing key voices, rendering sustainable development impossible,” said Mavalow Christelle Kalhoule, the chair of Forus, an innovative global network supporting civil society for effective social change.

“Sustainable development is a collective effort. Everyone, from grassroots organizations to community leaders, contributes to societal progress. There is no development without civil society, local actors, social movements and citizen expression.”

Thalif Deen is Editor-at-Large, In-Depth News (IDN) service based in Berlin, and author of the book on the United Nations titled “No Comment and Don’t Quote Me on That,” available on Amazon. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Image credit: United Nations-

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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