World poised to kick sustainability can further down the road

World poised to kick sustainability can further down the road

The biggest hurdles to attaining the SDGs remain the lack of money and the lack of political will. (Reuters)
The biggest hurdles to attaining the SDGs remain the lack of money and the lack of political will. (Reuters)
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The UN will this week unveil its latest update on where the world stands in terms of attaining the Sustainable Development Goals, which the international community had committed to completing by 2030.
The annual report, due to be launched on Thursday, is set to confirm what many have long observed: that the world is still far from meeting almost every goal and that most of the crucial goals, such as the elimination of hunger, poverty and inequality and increased access to healthcare and gender equality, are set to be missed by a wide margin.
Under the aegis of the UN, the 17 SDGs were adopted in 2015. They were created as a face-saver after the global community failed to achieve some of their previous goals, known as the Millennium Development Goals, which were due to have been attained by 2015.
Every year since 2015, the UN has studiously released updates on the progress — or, more aptly, lack of progress — that the world has made toward these goals. Over the past few years, and notably since 2020, the tone of these reports has turned harsher and more desperate. Despite the warnings, there has been hardly any movement toward achieving the majority of these goals.
In key areas like tackling hunger, the creation of sustainable cities and the protection of biodiversity on land and water, instead of moving forward, there has been considering backsliding, with conditions worsening. Humanity is falling further away from achieving these basic goals, which are actually the right of every human being and even every lifeform on Earth.
The reasons for the failure of the global community to attain these goals are not at all different from what is happening in the more high-profile and visible issue of climate change. They include a lack of funding, a lack of political will, the absence of international cooperation and, of course, rising geopolitical tensions, as well as, to a certain degree, the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yes, the pandemic did set the world back in an unprecedented manner, while severely hitting the poorest countries, most of which are yet to fully recover. And the rise in prominence of conflicts, notably those of Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Palestine, has led to not only thousands of deaths but also the spread of hunger, misery and disease. Beyond the regions where conflicts are raging, the world has also been torn apart by rising geopolitical tensions.
Yet, despite these obvious issues, the biggest hurdles to attaining the SDGs remain the lack of money and the lack of political will.
For both, the blame clearly lies with the rich nations, which have repeatedly committed to financing the developing world’s efforts to deal with all sorts of challenges, including climate change and access to health and education. They have also promised to help with access to technology and products that can help the poor countries advance toward their targets. Unfortunately for the global community, the rich nations have repeatedly failed to honor their commitments on both counts, pushing the world to the position where it currently finds itself.

The biggest hurdles to attaining the SDGs remain the lack of money and the lack of political will. 

Ranvir S. Nayar

In terms of international cooperation in achieving these goals, the UN is laying the blame squarely where it belongs. The report is expected to show that the US ranks at the bottom of the list of 193 countries that were assessed on their willingness to cooperate globally through the institutions of the UN.
Certainly, being the largest economy in the world, a self-proclaimed superpower and a country with access to both technology and finance, which could go a long way toward helping the poor nations to advance, the US has failed miserably to live up to any of its commitments, including on climate change.
But it is not just the US that is to blame. It must be shared by almost every developed nation, notably the members of the EU and Asian nations like South Korea, Japan and Singapore.
The low level of seriousness with which these countries take their commitments was evident in three meetings that took place in the last month. In each of them, the rich world failed to act, not just as it had promised but as it should, both morally and by taking a long-term view of the crises that the world is facing and which will soon catch up with them, at least in climate change, inequality and health.
The latest of these three meetings ended last week. As the leaders of almost two dozen nations and global institutions headed back home after three days of deliberations as part of the G7 Summit in the Italian resort town of Fasano, they had little to show for their discussions.
Unlike most other topics discussed by the leaders gathered in Fasano, climate change impacts every single nation in the world in a terrible manner and is not a zero-sum game, as other issues — notably the Russia-Ukraine war — may be construed by some.
Just before the G7 meeting was the latest round of discussions under the aegis of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany. But just like every other climate change meet, this round of negotiations proved to be a catastrophic failure, with absolutely no progress reported after the week-long discussions.
The Bonn meeting was preceded by the 77th World Health Assembly that convened in Geneva from May 27 to June 1. With a focus on pressing issues like climate change, pandemic preparedness and health equity, the assembly represented yet another opportunity for countries to make significant strides on climate change and the future of public health. Yet they failed to go beyond vague promises and commitments, which seem to have emerged as the standard, prerecorded message that the rich country leaders parrot at each global gathering.
Now, the latest UN report is set to confirm that maybe it is time for the world to kick the ball, or more likely the time bomb, further down the road. And who would bet against the SDGs being put back to 2050, much like the tackling of many other existential challenges, notably curbing greenhouse gas emissions, which have been put in a deep freeze, to be seen only 25 years from now?

  • Ranvir S. Nayar is the managing editor of Media India Group and founder-director of the Europe India Foundation for Excellence.
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