The Sustainable Development Goals and the Renewed Fight Against Poverty


More than 150 world leaders, including President Obama and Pope Francis, are convening at the United Nations in New York City this weekend to formally adopt a new global agenda to eradicate hunger and extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change. The new Sustainable Development Goals are historic, ambitious and achievable, but not if it is 'business as usual'.

Building on our learning from the Millennium Development Goals, the new Sustainable Development Goals break fresh ground in the fight against poverty because they go beyond Band-Aid solutions and actually seek to address the roots of poverty. They have been painstakingly negotiated and crafted to be all encompassing with input from civil society, academics, scientists and the private sector, and millions of citizens around the world. They seek to ensure that no one will be left behind. And they are for every country - including rich countries like the United States.

There are 17 inspiring goals from ending poverty and hunger to ensuring access to health care, education, clean water, sanitation and energy. Importantly, there are goals focused on fighting both inequality and climate change, as well as achieving gender equality. And there are a dizzying 169 targets. That's a lot of goals, a lot of targets, and a lot of issues. But poverty is complicated and there are no silver-bullet solutions.

Governments - rich and poor - are committing to these goals. In order to make good on their commitments they must defy vested interests that seek to maintain the status quo at the expense of people and our planet. They have to take on the concentrated power in the agribusiness, energy, pharmaceutical, extractives or the financial sectors. Making sure this happens requires all of us to be politically engaged and hold our governments to account.

Achieving the new goals will be expensive, but the world has enough resources. Governments must find the political will to allocate these resources towards ending extreme poverty, realizing human rights, and achieving sustainable development that truly leaves no one behind. Governments can raise the necessary revenue to for such investments by tackling tax avoidance, removing subsidies for the fossil fuel industries, and setting up progressive and sustainable domestic taxation systems. Cracking down on corruption and pressing for progressive politics and inclusive governance will also ensure that political decisions are taken to distribute power and resources in ways that empower poor and marginalized people.

The private sector is going to be an important partner to meet the sustainable development challenge, especially for large-scale infrastructure projects such as roads, railways, power and telecommunications, and the jobs such sectors create. But proper checks and balances must be put in place to ensure public-private partnerships work in the public interest, safeguard people's rights, and best serve local communities.

We can be the first generation to end extreme poverty and hunger. We are the last generation who can avert catastrophic climate change. But we all have to take responsibility for making this happen. Our leaders have set the goals, now we the people must rise to see them met and challenge our governments to keep us all and them on track.