Global Sustainable Development Goals: One year until launch

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The life of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), launched in 2000, officially draws to a close in 2015. To establish a new set of goals ready for adoption in September 2015 during the 70th UN General Assembly, the UN Secretary General has already initiated several processes to ensure substantial global engagement on the undertaking. With only a year until the new goals go before the UN for review and adoption, it is a useful time to take stock of developments in the goals’ crafting and of the implications the goals will have for multilateral governmental organisations like the Commonwealth of Learning (COL).

Developing the draft set of goals

The new draft set of goals has been created largely from a merging of goals developed through two initiatives.

  • In July 2012, the UN Secretary General convened the High Level Panel to determine what the post-2015 global development agenda should focus on. The High Level Panel was co-chaired by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (Liberia), President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (Indonesia) and Prime Minister David Cameron (United Kingdom). The report issued by the panel – A Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies Through Sustainable Development identified 12 goals that focused on sustainable development. The goals included tackling poverty, gender equality (especially empowering women and girls), education, health, food security, access to water, sustainable energy, jobs and livelihood, natural resource management, and good governance, in addition to ensuring peaceful societies and creating a global enabling environmental for long-term economic development.

All of the goals, with their targets, are aimed at helping five key transformations take place: leave no one behind; transform economies; implement sustainable development; build effective institutions; and forge new partnerships. As well, the goals address several cross-cutting issues, including inequality, climate change, urban and rural growth, meeting needs of young people, girls and women, and sustainable consumption.

  • In June 2012, at the Rio +20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, delegates agreed to the establishment of sustainable development goals (SDGs). The Open Working Group that was established to develop these goals was co-chaired by Kenya and Hungary.

Given the processes within the High Level Panel and the Open Working Group, there was a call to have both sets of Goals merge. In 2013, the Open Working Group released a “zero draft” of its report, which was based on the panel’s report but outlined 17 goals with sub-targets.

The 17 SDGs illustrate a more ambitious approach to sustainable development than that proposed by the High Level Panel. Each goal and its targets and deadlines are designed to tackle new and emerging global challenges that have arisen since the MDGs were created in 2000. Such challenges include urbanisation, the global financial crisis and climate change.

Eliciting wide engagement in the goal review process

Other processes underway are ensuring that a wide spectrum of nations and agencies has the opportunity to review the draft goals and how these have been developed.

  • Within the UN, the UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda was established in January 2012 to analyse and comment on the reports and processes. The team consisted of 60 UN agencies and other international organisations. The UN also led country- and thematic-based consultations on the post-2015 processes. This included a global survey on key issues that would make a difference to people’s lives. As well, regional UN bodies have been engaged in consultations.
  • A range of non-governmental and civil society groups responded to the High Level Panel report. The UN Non-Governmental Liaison Services has compiled these responses on a single site.

Closer to the education and training environment, UNESCO has conducted extensive preparatory work in crafting its own post-2015 programme. Its Education for Development – Beyond 2015 report outlines UNESCO’s framework for learning in the 21st century and focus on an inclusive lifelong learning system. Underpinning the approach is the principle of sustainable and inclusive development and the belief that education is a fundamental human right that “contributes to economic growth, improved health, women empowerment, gender equality and strengthened social cohesion as well as [mitigating] inequality and the reduction of poverty.”

UNESCO’s Position Paper on Education Post 2015 takes into consideration: the High Level Panel and Open Working Group reports; the progress made in achieving the Education for All (EFA) goals; changing contexts and trends in terms of the knowledge, skills and competencies required for the modern knowledge-based economies, technology developments, widening inequalities, and high unemployment (especially amongst youth). The recommended overarching goal of the paper is to “ensure equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all by 2030.” The paper also identifies as priority areas of focus: basic, post-basic and tertiary education; youth and adult literacy; skills for work and life; quality and relevant teaching and learning; and financing of education.

COL has contributed to the post-2015 education discussion through the Commonwealth Ministerial Working Group, which has developed a number of recommendations for education post-2015. In its submission to the working group, COL highlighted the importance of ensuring greater involvement of national governments, regional organisations and multilateral agencies in the development of the Post-2015 Development Framework for Education.

COL also: emphasised the need for a good mix of quantitative and qualitative measures for assessing the progress in education; pointed to the need for a greater percentage of national GDPs to be spent on education; noted the progress in universal primary education, which in turn has put the secondary education system under pressure to accommodate students; raised the issue of how to increase access to, and quality of, secondary education; underscored the need for well-trained teachers; and noted the important role that non-formal learning plays in supporting lifelong education.

Deciding on the most effective and relevant goals

Which of the various SDGs and education-related goals proposed make sense for individual nations or nation groups? A policy brief issued in July 2014 by the Centre for International Governance Innovation offers some guidance with broad applicability.

In a review of the African Union discussions, titled “African Common Position (CAP) on the Post-2015 Development Agenda” the author suggests that the African Union consider applying four “filters” when reviewing its own list of 29 goals and negotiating within the UN system on the final set of SDGs. First: Identify which of the African Union’s goals are already priorities for the major players (those goals don’t need to be debated). Second: Remove any goals that cannot be quantified with the use of indicators to measure progress. Third: Identify goals that have continent-wide relevance and that are highly significant. And fourth: Choose goals that realistically have some prospect of gaining global acceptance through consensus.

Recognising the challenge of financing the SDGs

As was the case for the MDGs, a critical issue will be how to finance the new SDGs. The conventional route of official development assistance (ODA) will not be sufficient to meet the expected support required.

Increasingly these days, many governments, agencies and organisations argue that a mix of public, private and joint (public and private) financing is required. For example, a 2014 briefing note by the Brookings Institute, based in Washington, DC (“Mobilizing Private Investment for Post 2015 Sustainable Development“), calls for increased public investments in identified target areas, supported by both regulatory frameworks that enable private capital to be invested and new instruments that enable public funds to leverage private capital as part of a joint public-private partnership.

According to the authors, the development benefits from such investments include creating jobs, improving incomes, increasing government income through taxes and other means, ensuring infrastructure and social services are available and supporting innovation and competitiveness within a country. The authors also identify five categories applicable to the SDGs in which private investments could be made: infrastructure; agriculture and food systems; extractive industries; the social sector; and the service sector of the formal economy.

What are the implications for COL?

The SDGs, which will stand for the next 15 years, represent an important framework that will shape how COL develops and implements its strategic plan for 2015-2021. Important to note, however, is that much of what COL does now already aligns with the SDGs. So, for example, COL is currently contributing indirectly through: its development of models and processes; policies (at national and institutional/organisational levels); its work to build the capacity of partners; and its initiatives to support the use of appropriate content and media/technology.

COL will also be able to contribute directly to several of the goals being proposed, such as those that focus on:

  • education and training – COL supports inclusive and equitable quality education, and promotes lifelong learning opportunities for all.
  • food security, improved nutrition, sustainable agriculture, gender equality and empowerment of women and girls, and sustainable economic growth – COL has programmes that address healthy communities, lifelong learning for farmers, post-school education and training, gender equality and eLearning.

COL’s work in open, distance and technology-enabled learning also offers models for increasing access, reducing costs, ensuring quality, and enabling sustainable lifelong learning systems. These models can be applied to both formal education and non-formal learning.

Next steps

Several issues in developing the SDGs still need to be addressed between now and September 2015. For example, the final set of goals must be decided (which ones to add, remove or amend). As well, the goals must be fine-tuned so they are clear, measurable and easily adaptable to a country context and national priorities and plans.

Consultations and discussions are continuing, to ensure that the final SDGs reflect the objectives of the individuals and organisations that will be working the hardest to see this new set of global goals achieved.

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