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SDGs, Currently Off-Track, Need Bold Decisive Action

Tariq Ahmad is Senior Policy and Research Advisor – Aid Effectiveness at Oxfam America

WASHINGTON DC, Jun 19 2019 (IPS) - It has been four years since governments agreed on the most ambitious set of international commitments to fight poverty and inequality to date. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), otherwise known as the Global Goals, are ‘a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.’ The goals ambitiously aim to “Leave No One Behind.”

Cecilia, 43, and her grandchildren are pictured amongst drowned maize in the village of Malambwe, southern Malawi, on April 3, 2019. Cecilia farmed 1½ acres, but two thirds of her farmland was flooded, due to Cyclone Idai. Vegetables were washed away, interplanted between maize, which drowned. Cecilia’s house, where she lives with her six children and two grand-children, collapsed with flooding caused by Cyclone Idai. Credit: Philip Hatcher-Moore/Oxfam

Yet, 4 years into the SDGs, we starting to see that we’re quite off-track to achieve the goals and many are being left behind.

We need to see nations, civil society, the private sector and individuals monitor each goal in its own right, without failing to see how the goals – and these actors meant to address them – are all inherently connected.

But focusing just on the implementation of the goals and indicators is technical and only part of the formula needed to achieve the SDGs. More importantly, we also need to be honest about the real political challenges keeping us from achieving the goals.

We need bold, decisive action now – we have run out of time for platitudes and empty promises.

We are approaching a few key moments in the process – the High-Level Political Forum will bring key stakeholders together, July 9-18, and the 2019 UNGA will be a critical moment to check in on progress, and adjust course on the SDGs.

We have a lot of work to do to make sure the SDGs don’t fail – and everything at stake. We need to bring global leaders together to serious consider the commitments we made and ensure that UN forums are strengthened to be places for increased mutual accountability and political agreements.

And we must also watch as movements and issues evolve around us. The SDG’s must follow its track, but it must also be adaptable and react to these dynamic issues and actors driving them.

Oxfam is committed to further all 17 SDGs through its campaigning, advocacy and program work and will continue to challenge the status quo and to work with other CSOs and partners in order to help ensure the global community secures the will, means and mechanisms required to achieve the SDGs.

Civil Society Space

Effective realization of the SDGs depends on a free, vibrant, and protected civil society. Civil society is a key partner in ensuring success for the entire SDG agenda. If civil society is to be called up on to convene, lead and hold this process accountable, it must also be given the opportunities to do so, both in countries and in global decision-making bodies.

In many nations ostensibly signed up to the SDG’s, civil society space is shrinking. Civil society need resources and respect to uphold their crucial piece – without them this process will fail.


Gender issues must be considered in their own right, and they must also be factored in across each of the goals and issues. Women, just as men, must be able to lift themselves out of poverty and this can only happen through a full realization of their human rights and by ensuring gender equality.

The majority of people living in poverty are women and girls; with less income and fewer assets than men, they comprise the greatest proportion of the world’s poorest households, and that number is growing. Women are afforded less opportunities to make decisions about their futures, through policy or even in communities.

Evidence shows that unless the poorest countries can make huge strides in tackling both poverty and economic and gender inequalities, it will be impossible to meet global goals, and the SDGs as a whole will fail. This is yet another example of how all of these goals are inextricably linked – if women and girls don’t have a chance to realize their potential, no one will.

Chhatiya with her baby son at their house in Kaushal Nagar, Patna, Bihar. Her family of 6 belong to a marginalized group and live in a rundown house in Kaushal Nagar, an urban slum in Patna, India, which has no toilet or safe drinking water. The extreme gap between rich and poor is undermining the fight against poverty, damaging our economies and fuelling public anger. Yet inequality continues to grow and all too often it is women and girls who are hit hardest. Credit: Atul Loke, Panos / Oxfam

Tackling Inequality, Climate Change – and How to Pay for it all

In the last several years, inequality has risen on the international agenda, ranking regularly as a top risk in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report. Fighting extreme inequality has become a widely cited cause and symptom of millions of people’s struggles and frustration.

Tackling economic inequality has also become a key principle in the development strategies of major institutions, including the IMF, the World Bank, the OECD and the UN, with a specific SDG 10 targeting inequality.

Oxfam has argued that extreme inequality impedes poverty alleviation, slows economic growth, compounds gender inequality, drives inequality in health and education outcomes, undermines economic mobility over generations, fuels crime, undermines social cohesion, and harms democracy.”

Climate change is another issue escalating in urgency both from institutions and thought leaders, as well as the general public. And, we are seeing more and more the connections being made between climate change, who is affected by it most, and who is contributing.

Climate change is at its core, a consequence of our deeply unequal global economy. The richest countries and people are overwhelmingly responsible for causing this crisis and often feel the least of its consequences.

It’s largely women and minorities on the front lines of extreme weather; with the lowest paid, least secure jobs; in unsafe housing, and without enough information or resources to prepare for or recover from disasters.

Tackling each of the SDG’s takes money, obviously, but four years after the world endorsed the goals and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, there has been very little progress filling the SDG financing gap – leaving us without the resources necessary to achieve what we have set out to do.

But four years into this ambitious vision, financing levels mobilized are totally inadequate to implement the goals effectively. There is a reported gap of $2.5 trillion, and despite this, trends are going in the wrong direction.

Too many of the solutions governments propose, such as the reliance on private sector finance to close this gap, are not being realized. And many innovative financing proposals exaggerate and miscalculate their potential to meet the demands of those who are being left behind by the SDG agenda.

They in fact risk further increasing inequality at the very moment when inequality most threatens humanity’s progress. This financing challenge isn’t just about filling the financing gap. It’s also about taking concrete measures to make sure the right types of finances, the types of finance that help fight poverty, inequality, and gender inequality are being used.

Without financing and actions to improve the quality of that finance, we’re actually pushing some further into poverty, not just leaving them behind.

In order to meet the promises they set out in the SDGs, the world’s governments must use all available tools to mobilize additional resources. Tightening rules to prevent tax dodging at all levels could have a significant impact.

Fairer trade rules and labor rights are also important examples of where global collective action is needed to help rebalance the power and resources.

We must also continue to recognize the significant potential of aid, or Official Development Assistance (ODA), to reduce inequality both between and within countries, which will give countries more resources to meet all of the goals – not just those explicitly calling out inequality. This redistribution is not an act of charity, it’s a matter of justice that will help every country ensure a more stable, equal and safe future.

Looking Ahead

We need all people – wherever they sit on the geographic, gender, economic, age spectrum – to all recognize their role in this crisis and act accordingly. The SDG’s have the potential to be a powerful, game-changing agenda that can change countless lives.

But we can’t let ourselves believe that its current pace and results can have those effects – we need to hold the process and its leaders accountable, and we need this to be helpful guiding principles for real people’s everyday life-changing work to save our planet and give those who need it the tools to lead safe, healthy, fulfilling lives.

During the HLPF, UNGA, other summits and meetings, and every day in between, we need to see sweeping, committed and coordinated action from nations, leaders, companies and individuals to have enough impact to avert a true economic and climate crisis. We need to see action like our planet’s and billions of lives depend on it, because they do.

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