The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet
Synthesis Report of the Secretary-General On the Post-2015 Agenda
The Synthesis Report of the Secretary-General On the Post-2015 Agenda "The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet" was released on 4 December. It is worth looking at this report in some detail, since it aims to provide the vision, one might even say the ethical foundation, for the community of nations for the next 15 years to 2030.
One remarkable statement at the beginning, that corresponds also to the recent direction in the Baha'i community, is that "young people will be the torch bearers" in the coming years, with the "first truly globalized, interconnected, and highly mobilized civil society, ready and able to serve as a participant, joint steward, and powerful engine of change and transformation." The report refers to "the power of the new agenda to inspire and mobilize essential actors, new partnerships, key constituencies, and the broader global citizenry," requiring an agenda that resonates with the experiences and needs of people, that can be understood, and embraced. Volunteers are needed "to localize the new agenda by providing new spaces of interaction between governments and people for concrete and scalable actions." It concludes that the new agenda must be embraced by people everywhere. The United Nations thus acknowledges the need to reach far beyond governments to solve our problems.
The report concurs with many other observers that a fundamental transformation is needed in society and the economy, and lays out the broad lines of a participatory, responsive and transformational course of action. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) define a paradigm shift for people and planet, with a sustainable development that is inclusive and people-centred, leaving no one behind. The Secretary-General emphasizes the need to integrate the economic, social and environmental dimensions in a spirit of solidarity, cooperation, mutual accountability, and the participation of governments and all stakeholders. He refers to the trust deficit between governments, institutions and the people, and calls for rebuilding institutions at the country level, and the transformation of the world economy. The report calls for transformative partnerships built upon principles and values, a shared vision, and shared goals, with the participation of all relevant stakeholders, and mutual accountability at the center.
The report also calls for unity in diversity. "We must also mobilize the power of culture in the transformative change we seek. Our world is a remarkable mosaic of diverse cultures, informing our evolving understanding of sustainable development. We still have much to learn from cultures as we build the world we want. If we are to succeed, the new agenda cannot remain the exclusive domain of institutions and governments. It must be embraced by people. Culture, in different aspects, will thus be an important force in supporting the new agenda."
The heart of the report is the six essential elements that underlie and regroup the Sustainable Development Goals. It is worth quoting that part of the report in its entirety.
"Dignity: to end poverty and fight inequalities
"Eradicating poverty by 2030 is the overarching objective of the sustainable development agenda. We live in a world of plenty, and in a moment of enormous scientific promise. And yet, for hundreds and hundreds of millions across the globe, this is also an age of gnawing deprivation. The defining challenge of our time is to close the gap between our determination to ensure a life of dignity for all on the one hand, and the reality of persisting poverty and deepening inequality on the other.
"While we have made important progress in recent years, addressing gender inequality and realizing women’s rights remains a key challenge in all regions of the world. It should by now be recognized that no society can reach its full potential if whole segments of that society, especially young people, are excluded from participating in, contributing to, and benefiting from development. Other dimensions of inequality continue to persist, and in some cases have worsened. Income inequality specifically is one of the most visible aspects of a broader and more complex issue, one that entails inequality of opportunity. This is a universal challenge that the whole world must address. The agenda must accommodate the voices of women, youth and minorities, seek the prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples, remove obstacles to full participation by persons with disabilities, older persons, adolescents and youth, and empower the poor. It must not exclude migrants, refugees, displaced persons, or persons affected by conflict and occupation.
People: to ensure healthy lives, knowledge, and the inclusion of women and children
"Millions of people, especially women and children, have been left behind in the unfinished work of the MDGs. We must ensure women, youth and children have access to the full range of health services. We must ensure zero tolerance of violence against or exploitation of women and girls. Women and girls must have equal access to financial services, and the right to own land and other assets. All children and adolescents have a right to education and must have a safe environment in which to learn. Human development is also the respect of human rights.
"The agenda must address universal health-care coverage, access and affordability; end preventable maternal, new-born and child deaths and malnutrition; ensure the availability of essential medicines; realize women’s reproductive health and rights; ensure immunization coverage; eradicate malaria and realize the vision of a future free of AIDS and tuberculosis; reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases, including mental illness, nervous system injuries and road accidents; and promote healthy behaviours, including those related to water, sanitation and hygiene.
"Today, more than ever, the realities of 1.8 billion youth and adolescents represent a dynamic, informed, and globally connected engine for change. Integrating their needs, rights to choice and their voices in the new agenda, will be a key factor for success. It is essential that young people receive relevant skills and high-quality education and life-long learning, from early childhood development to post-primary schooling, including life skills and vocational education and training, as well as science, sports and culture. Teachers must be given the means to deliver learning and knowledge in response to a safe global workplace, driven by technology.
Prosperity: to grow a strong, inclusive, and transformative economy
"Economic growth should lead to shared prosperity. As such, the strength of an economy must be measured by the degree to which it meets the needs of people, and on how sustainably and equitably it does so. We need inclusive growth, built on decent jobs, livelihoods and rising real incomes for all and measured in ways that go beyond GDP and account for human well-being, sustainability and equity. Ensuring that all people, including women, persons with disabilities, youth, aged, and migrants have decent employment, social protection, and access to financial services, will be a hallmark of our economic success.
"Innovation and investments in sustainable and resilient infrastructure, settlement, industrialization, small and medium enterprises, energy and technology can both generate employment, and remedy negative environmental trends. An enabled, properly regulated, responsible and profitable private sector is critical for employment, living wages, growth, and revenues for public programmes. Transforming business models for creating shared value is vital for growing inclusive and sustainable economies.
"The world’s richness of natural resources also provides a formidable economic opportunity, if it is translated not only into GDP growth but into shared prosperity. Sustainable approaches to landscape management (including agriculture and forests), industrialization (including manufacturing and productive capacities), access to energy and water and sanitation, are key drivers of sustainable production and consumption, job creation, as well as sustainable and equitable growth. They drive sustainable management of natural resources and tackle climate change.
Planet: to protect our ecosystems for all societies and our children
"To respect our planetary boundaries we need to equitably address climate change, halt biodiversity loss, and address desertification and unsustainable land use. We must protect wildlife, safeguard forests and mountains, and reduce disaster risk and build resiliencies. We must protect our oceans, seas, rivers and atmosphere as our global heritage, and achieve climate justice. We must promote sustainable agriculture, fisheries and food systems; foster sustainable management of water resources, and of waste and chemicals; foster renewable and more efficient energy; decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, advance sustainable industrialisation and resilient infrastructure; ensure sustainable consumption and production; and achieve sustainable management of marine and terrestrial ecosystems and land use.
"Sustainable development is at risk as evidence proves that warming of the climate system is now undeniable and human activities are its primary cause. We must limit global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Carbon dioxide is the largest contributor to human-induced climate change. Fossil fuels usage and deforestation are its two main sources. Increasing warming will make severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts more likely. The longer we wait to take action towards sustainable production and consumption, the more it will cost to solve the problem and the greater the technological challenges will be. Adaptation can reduce some risks and impact of climate change. Most urgently, we must adopt a meaningful, universal climate agreement by the end of 2015.
Justice: to promote safe and peaceful societies, and strong institutions
"Effective governance for sustainable development demands that public institutions in all countries and at all levels be inclusive, participatory, and accountable to the people. Laws and institutions must protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. All must be free from fear and violence, without discrimination. We also know that participatory democracy, free, safe, and peaceful societies are both enablers and outcomes of development.
"Access to fair justice systems, accountable institutions of democratic governance, measures to combat corruption and curb illicit financial flows, and safeguards to protect personal security are integral to sustainable development. An enabling environment under the rule of law must be secured for the free, active and meaningful engagement of civil society and advocates reflecting the voices of women, minorities, LGBT groups, indigenous peoples, youth, adolescents and older persons. Press freedom and access to information, freedom of expression, assembly and association are enablers of sustainable development. The practice of child, early and forced marriage must be ended everywhere. The rule of law must be strengthened at the national and international level, to secure justice for all.
"We need to rebuild and reintegrate societies better after crises and conflicts. We must address state fragility, support internally displaced persons and contribute to resilience of people and communities. Reconciliation, peacebuilding and state-building are critical for countries to overcome fragility and develop cohesive societies, and strong institutions. These investments are essential to retaining the gains of development and avoiding reversals in the future.
Partnership: to catalyse global solidarity for sustainable development
"A revitalized global partnership for sustainable development must be built on the foundations agreed in the Millennium Declaration and in Monterrey and Johannesburg. It must be effective in mobilizing the means and in creating the environment to implement our agenda. Mobilizing the support to implement the ambitious new agenda will require political will and action on all fronts: domestic and international, public and private, through aid and trade, regulation, taxation and investment.
"Implementation is not just about quantity. It is also about doing things together, uniting around the problem. Inclusive partnerships must be a key feature of implementation, at all levels: global, regional, national and local. We know the extent to which this may be transformative. The sustainable development goals provide a platform for aligning private action and public policies. Transformative partnerships are built upon principles and values, a shared vision, and shared goals: placing people and planet at the center. They include the participation of all relevant stakeholders. Mutual accountability is at the center. This means principled and responsible public-private-people partnerships.
Integrating the six essential elements
"Sustainable development must be an integrated agenda for economic, environmental, and social solutions. Its strength lies in the interweaving of its dimensions. This integration provides the basis for economic models that benefit people and the environment; for environmental solutions that contribute to progress; for social approaches that add to economic dynamism and allow for the preservation and sustainable use of the environmental common; and for reinforcing human rights, equality, and sustainability. Responding to all goals as a cohesive and integrated whole will be critical to ensuring the transformations needed at scale.
"The agenda itself mirrors the broader international human rights framework, including elements of economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights, as well as the right to development. Specific targets are set for disadvantaged groups. Indicators will need to be broadly disaggregated across all goals and targets.
"The essential elements are further integrated by the application of the principle of universality. In addressing them to all countries and all people we take account of environmental, economic, and social interdependence, while also recognizing the realities of differentiated national needs and capacities.
"Finally, the new framework provides a much-needed opportunity to integrate the broader United Nations agenda, with its inextricably linked and mutually interdependent peace and security, development, and human rights objectives."
From an IEF perspective, most of the report and the whole UN process is basically, and by necessity, top-down, setting an agenda but very weak on implementation. It is necessary and highly desirable to have this global vision, but not sufficient. If it is not supported by a bottom-up process from the people most directly concerned, which is all of us, governments will not move, vested interests and inertia will slow or block progress, and we shall as usual do too little, to late. Trickle down does not work in the economy, and it will not work here either.
A much greater effort is needed, by the UN and all the partners in this process, to publicize this challenging and inspiring post-2015 agenda, to make it relevant to and accessible by people everywhere, to build public buy-in and ownership, and to motivate ordinary people to start applying the six essential elements in their own neighbourhoods and communities without waiting for governments to act. This process can start now, and does not have to wait for the decisions to be taken by governments this year.
One action component must be education as a key to encourage bottom-up initiatives and awareness. There is a goal with targets for education, but this should not be interpreted as only dealing with "education for all", or that "quality education" is only improving employability and not necessarily developing character and a sense of global solidarity. Education for a more responsible and sustainable future is easily fragmented when absorbed into curricula as an extra item rather than a core skill. The emphasis should be on ethical or moral principles that motivate action. If young people are to be mobilized, they need capacity building and training. A particular emphasis should be placed on pre-adolescents 11-15 years old in their morally-formative years, who have idealism and capacity and can learn the bounty of being of service to society. The IEF is part of the Partnership for Education and Research about Responsible Living (PERL) preparing values-based educational materials in support of education for sustainable development and the 10YFP on Sustainable Consumption and Production. Efforts along these lines should be expanded in the post-2015 process.
IEF has suggested to the UN that they build a wide partnership with organizations of civil society, the media, youth, and the grassroots, to take the key messages from the Secretary-General forward through other than its usual channels. This is what UNDP did in 2008-2009, in partnership with the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), to request all the major religions to prepare Action Plans on Climate Change, which were presented to the Secretary-General at Windsor Castle in November 2009, a month before the Copenhagen Climate Summit. The UN could similarly request all the religions to explore how the six essential elements of the Secretary-General's report are reflected in their own scriptures and traditions, giving their followers a scriptural basis and a spiritual motivation to put this agenda into action. Thematic alliances could also be built around specific goals and targets, with the potential to reach beyond the traditional constituency of organizations directly involved with the United Nations.
The post-2015 agenda summarized by the Secretary-General is too important to be left only to governments. The Peoples' Climate March showed that there is a latent desire for mobilization. We hope that the Secretary-General will reach out in the coming months to a much wider constituency to build momentum for the necessary transition to a just and sustainable society. The members of IEF should consider what they can do in their own small way to take these values forward and to apply them in their own communities.
The SG's Synthesis Report is available at: https://www.un.org/disabilities/documents/reports/SG_Synthesis_Report_Road_to_Dignity_by_2030.pdf
Last updated 17 October 2023