We need a win of ideas to achieve the Sustainable Development

We need a win of ideas to achieve the Sustainable Development

The United Nations has set a bold agenda: to transform the world by 2030. Are member states in a good position to use the Sustainable Development Goals more than a full year after the UN announced them?

SDGs are made up of 17 targets, goals, and indicators. They range from ending poverty and hunger to ensuring equal education. The SDGs follow the Millennium Development Goals, which were established in 2001 and expired by the end of 2015.

Jeffrey Sachs, one of the leading experts in the world on global macroeconomics, economic development, and poverty reduction, is a member of the prestigious American Academy for Economic Development. He is a Special Advisor to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on Sustainable Development Goals. He previously advised Ban Ki-moon on the MDGs.

The road to achieving the SDGs will be difficult. We asked five scholars to ask Sachs questions about how we can get there.

M Niaz Asadullah, University of Malaya: While the Millenium Development Goals produced a successful anti-poverty movement, our search for silver-bullet solutions, such as micro-credit, proved futile. Looking forward, which do you consider more important to ending global poverty by 2030: innovative and scalable poverty programmes or inclusive growth?

Both. Both.

Growth is essential for jobs, skills and export earnings. It also contributes to the national income. It is important to make targeted interventions to ensure that everyone has access to social services, and to provide resources to those who are unable to do so themselves.

We will both need and have the chance to innovate, because we are able to benefit from the global revolution in technology. This will increase productivity throughout the economy.

Some of the MDG success stories in the developing world involve countries without the basic rule of law and that spend only a small portion of their GDP on education and health. How optimistic are you that the SDGs will be achieved in your region of South Asia by 2030, now that good governance, quality education, and skills have been included as targets?

South Asia is a region with the potential to grow rapidly and allocate incomes for health, education, and infrastructure.

To achieve this, South Asian nations should increase their efforts to promote peace. The distractions of war, military spending, and terrorism drain energy and revenue. South Asia can become a center for advanced information technology, eGovernment, and renewable energies with cooperation.

Foreign workers in Kuala Lumpur live in poor conditions. Bazuki Muhammad/Reuters

Harini Amarasuriya (Open University of Sri Lanka): I’m becoming increasingly cynical when it comes to the ability of universal goals and targets (such as SDGs), such as SDGs, to make a positive difference in the lives of people. Sri Lanka is often praised for its “achievements.” The education sector has been in a crisis for 30-40 years. How can we expect that universal goals and objectives will address the concerns of various countries?

The achievement of sustainable development is not possible without universal goals and targets. Local activism and real politics are required.

You complain about Sri Lanka. I could say the same thing about my country, the United States. It is corrupt politically and has a huge military budget.

The goals provide a framework to improve politics and policies. In order to turn the SDGs into national action, we must do several things. We need to press governments to declare plans for achieving the SDGs and measure them annually; engage key stakeholders such as universities, businesses, and civil society in proposing ways to meet the SDGs and monitor progress; mobilize political actors who use the SDGs to appeal to voters and public support.

It’s not easy. However, I do not see any other alternative.

You assume that those in positions of power, both economically and politically, will consent to reforms that would weaken their dominance. This seems naive.

Three approaches have helped me to see progress.

We need to win the battle of ideas based on sustainable development.

We need to encourage governments to keep their promises.

Thirdly, we must mobilize political and social actors to fight for social justice and sustainability. We need to connect SDG leaders from different countries in order to achieve success. The UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network has this as one of its main goals.

The education sector in Sri Lanka is in crisis despite some successes. Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

Maty Konte from the United Nations University says that several Sub-Saharan African nations will require a large amount of funding to achieve many Sustainable Development Goals before 2030. Many of these countries lack the funding needed for this. In recent years, Official Development Assistance has declined. This raises the question of how Sub-Saharan African nations will meet their 2030 targets.

The development aid has stagnated and not decreased. We must reinvigorate the development aid program by bringing new governments in (China, Korea, and the Gulf States) and pressing the US government to redirect its massive military budget to development assistance.

We also need to find creative ways to finance development, take advantage of the low-interest rates on private capital markets, and link private capital with long-term investment in infrastructure in developing countries.

In contrast to the industrialization of Western countries and many Asian countries, in Africa, it has been very weak or even non-existent. What are some of the best examples of policies from developing countries that can be used as a benchmark to encourage industrialization in Africa?

Africa offers great potential for industrialization, especially in areas that are populated and coastal (Accra and Dakar) and those with high labor intensity (Addis Ababa and Dar es Salaam).

Africa will still grow in the next decades largely through the production of primary commodities and the diversification of services. Information and communication technologies aid the latter. Automation and robotics in manufacturing will lead to a global decline in jobs.

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