The Manila Times

Unsustainable development goals


WHEN somebody tells me that he has good and bad news for me and asks me what I want to hear first, I usually start with the bad news. I read the United Nations story about the 17 wide-ranging goals or the 2030 agenda being in trouble as bad news. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are in peril. We still have to wait for the good news, even as the UN opens its session this week.

According to the Sustainable Development Report, we were on track from 2015 to 2019, albeit grippingly slow, but the Covid-19 pandemic halted progress altogether.

This means that extreme poverty, malnutrition, lack of education, joblessness, climate change, civil unrest, inequality and other grave concerns across the globe are far from being resolved. Worse, debt has crippled the developing countries that are trying to keep their heads above water.

The year 2015 was a hopeful year. “Leaving no one behind” may be a lofty goal, but it is noble.

However, experts at the UN saw some flaws in the mechanisms to achieve them. They will be back on the drawing board with various stakeholders — the “High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development” — where they aim to renew commitments to the SDGs and propose to re-engineer the existing financial architecture.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres proposes that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, collectively known as the Bretton Woods institutions, must be reformed to better respond to the changing world.

When that is done, however, we still need to get all hands on deck in committing to the SDGs, especially major economies. It is unfortunate that the United States, a global superpower, is notably failing its scorecard and is among the worst performers, according to the Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Most of the time, developing nations bear the brunt of the suffering due to developed nations’ utter disregard for these agreements.

Rich nations refuse to be held back from further growth and profit because of their own interests, even greed. It’s always about getting ahead of the capitalist rat race.

But we live on a finite planet with limited ecological and natural resources. The head of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Achim Steiner, said: “In thriving economically in the 21st century, you cannot any longer try to do so at the expense of nature, or at the expense of people who are left behind.”

Nowadays, you’ll find more and more news about ecological disasters hitting countries left and right.

These calamities seem to have become the new normal. Droughts, famine and the breakdown of social fabric are common. Greta Thunberg stresses: “Our house is on fire.” We have been preoccupied by domestic problems and geopolitics. But where is the sense of urgency on concerns affecting the whole of humanity?

I would like to invoke Yuval Noah Harari. In his book “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” he said that national identities were forged because humans faced problems that only countrywide cooperation could possibly handle. Humans expanded beyond tribes as concerns grew bigger. Harari suggested having a “new global identity because national institutions are incapable of handling a set of unprecedented global predicaments.”

To achieve this, he tells us to look beyond nationalism and globalized politics: “To globalize politics means that political dynamics within countries and even cities should give far more weight to global problems and interests.”

The UN and multilaterals can only do so much. If nations, especially major powers, keep throwing their weight around and go about business as usual, the next generation will never know what a livable planet feels like. There’s a growing trend of nihilism among the youth of today because their predecessors have failed them.

Harari says: “Though the challenges are unprecedented, and though the disagreements are intense, humankind can rise to the occasion if we keep our fears under control and be a bit more humble about our views.”

Do we have the courage and humility that can keep hope alive?

Front Page




The Manila Times