UN Launches Sustainable Development Goals Today

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After a decade of dramatic global health and economic advances, world leaders, led by the United Nations (UN) are today, September 25, set to adopt a new sweeping global development agenda under the theme, ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ to eradicate extreme poverty and child mortality and spur efforts to slow climate change and preserve the environment.

The SDGs are expected to be formally approved today at the ongoing UN General Assembly in New York.

The SDGs succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted during the turn of the millennium. This came as a result of the endorsement of the Millennium Declaration, which was signed by more than 180 countries and translated in 2002 into quantifiable and time-bound goals to end human suffering from poverty, hunger and disease, to ensure environmental sustainability and to form a new global partnership. The MDGs constituted a 15-year agenda of deliverables, which deadline elapsed this year.

Three years prior to the MDGs coming to its end, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, appointed a High Level Panel of Eminent Persons to consider what might constitute a successor framework to the MDGs.

The panel, chaired by President Sirleaf alongside United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, David Cameron and Indonesian President, S. Banbang Youdhoyono, together with 24 other eminent members, worked over the last three years to formulate the contents of the new agenda.

Their work, coupled with numerous consultations conducted across the globe, ushered in the SDGs. The Panel put forth a set of 12 potential development goals, summarized into the report: “A New Global Partnership,” she said.

The new global agenda is being perceived globally as a blueprint that could build on an unexpectedly successful MDGs campaign which saw improvements in health and education, as well as declines in child and maternal mortalities, illiteracy and poverty in the developing world over the last 15 years.

Pope Francis is expected to officially open the summit today, with an address to the UN General Assembly. The Pope is in the US on his first official visit, delivering several lectures since his arrival on Monday, September 23. He has already addressed gatherings at the White House as well as a joint chamber of the US Congress – the first Pope to do so – which took place yesterday.

The SDGs contain 17 new goals and a multitude subset of specific targets. Within the new global agenda, world leaders are pledging to, among other things, “end hunger, make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable and conserve and sustainably use the oceans,” all by 2030.

President Sirleaf called on participants at the International Conference on Sustainable Development to become part of a global partnership and strive to support the SDGs, which she termed as a more sustainable, just and inclusive world. In her keynote address to the ICSD on Wednesday, she stressed that the world has traveled to reach an historic moment with the endorsement of the Millennium Declaration.

Unlike many previous U.N. efforts, however, the new initiative builds on what some consider the most successful global anti-poverty and public health campaign in history, an effort known as the Millennium Development Goals.

Since 1990, the number of people worldwide in extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.25 a day, has fallen from nearly 2 billion to about 1 billion, according to World Bank estimates. At the same time, major health advances have dramatically reduced child mortality and extended life expectancies worldwide. In the last 25 years, the number of children dying each year before their fifth birthday has also declined from nearly 13 million to less than 6 million, a recent U.N. report showed.

And though progress has lagged in some countries, two dozen developing nations, including Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Yemen, reduced mortality rates for young children by more than two-thirds, the target set in the Millennium Development Goals.

It is these gains that the SDG seeks to build upon, UN SG Ban Ki-moon said upon appointing HLP in 2012.
The SDGs have been termed as substantially more ambitious than the MDGs. This is because rather than simply reducing extreme poverty and child mortality, for example, countries are now pledging to eliminate them altogether. However, as with the previous goals, there is no penalty for missing the mark. At the same time, the new goals include many more environmental targets that link economic development and health to preserving water resources and habitats, cutting waste and slowing global warming.

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