Academic journal article Journal of International Business Ethics

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

Academic journal article Journal of International Business Ethics

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

Article excerpt

September 25, 2015, was the day when world leaders set us on a new course by adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The first test of the SDGs came a few weeks after the September UN Summit, when the world gathered in Paris at COP21. SDG13 commits all the world's governments to combat and curb human-induced climate change. Consistent with that commitment, the same governments adopted the Paris Climate Agreement establishing the central objective of keeping global warming to well below 2°C. The Paris Agreement marks the most important agreement on climate change since the adoption of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.

Today, I want to convey one message, one belief of mine, and that is that the new Sustainable Development Goals are important. That may not be self-evident. Many people in the world do not yet know much about these goals. When people in the United States or in other capitals around the world hear about these goals, they may shrug their shoulders and say: "Okay, another UN document. What difference can the goals possibly make?" I want to use this opportunity to emphasize that these goals can make a vital difference indeed. I cannot think of any other way for us to achieve sustainable development but through having globally agreed upon goals such as those adopted on the 25th of September.

I am, in short, a believer in these UN documents. Many people think that UN agreements are just vapor, that it is easy to say things and not really achieve them. What difference can yet another high-minded set of pledges make? However, I am in my fourteenth year of being the Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which have been in operation for fifteen years since they were adopted at the Millennium Summit in September 2000. I do feel that I've had a privileged vantage point to see to what extent high-minded aspirations adopted by the UN General Assembly can make a difference. My verdict is that the Millennium Development Goals have made a difference. They have not accomplished all that they could have accomplished. They have not accomplished all that they should have accomplished. They have not accomplished all that they were promoted to accomplish back in September 2000. However, they've made a real difference in a way that teaches us a lot about how we can use the SDGs for even bigger achievements.

Getting to Know the SDGs

The idea of adopting Sustainable Development Goals came in the Rio+20 Summit in June 2012. June 2012 was the 20th anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit. Major conferences such as the Earth Summit are typically marked by anniversary conferences. In fact, the Rio Earth Summit itself was the 20th anniversary of the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Stockholm in 1972. Then came the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, followed by the Rio+20 Summit in June 2012. The 2012 event was in its way a somber gathering because the high aspirations of the Rio Earth Summit had not been fulfilled. The Rio Summit had adopted the concept of Sustainable Development as the centerpiece for global cooperation. Yet, somehow, the concept had not succeeded; it had not grabbed the global imagination. The outcome of the 1992 Rio summit was the adoption of three major Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs): The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (UN CBD), and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). By June 2012, twenty years after the adoption of the three treaties, it had become painfully clear that they were not delivering the needed results.

The problem is not the treaties themselves. They are wonderful treaties. I have the privilege of teaching them each year to our incoming students in sustainable development. If you read them, you have to be impressed with what the world agreed on and the power and quality of the drafting and the statement of the principles. …

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