Sustainable Development Goals: The road ahead


The 70th regular session of the General Assembly (UNGA 70) is scheduled to open at the UN Headquarters in New York from Tuesday, 15 September 2015. From 25 to 27 September, the summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda will convene, with the aim of achieving a consensus among member states on the modalities for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In the full report of the Open Working Group of the General Assembly on Sustainable Development Goals, the group stated that the SDGs build on the foundation laid by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), while equally responding to new challenges. The SDGs constitute an integrated, indivisible set of global priorities for sustainable development. Targets are defined as aspirational global targets, with each government setting its own national targets guided by the global level of ambition, but taking into account national circumstances. The goals and targets integrate economic, social and environmental aspects and recognise their interdependence in achieving sustainable development in all its dimensions.

For Africa, which comprises mostly developing nations, the vision of the UN, though compelling, would be one that calls for a new way of thinking in development practices.The focus on sustainability in this new course of action would influence how development projects are financed, the conditionality for donor funding, trade practices that relate to climate change, environmental protection and a greater focus on global partnerships and influence.

One of the shortcomings of the MDGs was that,while they were successful in generating global concern and financial commitments from developed nations at an unprecedented scale, they failed in dealing with the internal operations of donor recipients.Simply put, while they helped generate a lot of money, it was obvious that the answer to the world’s problems was not just money – developing nations have to be competitive, and developmental plans have to be sustainable. That is the new language at the United Nations – achieving sustainability and global partnerships.

Apart from the issue of a greater focus in the internal operations, another focus is the thorny issue of climate change. We say climate change because of the practical ramifications of a global focus on reducing pollution. For fossil fuel-dependent nations like Nigeria, “sustainability” in this case would include issues like reduced carbon emissions, reduced global demand for crude oil, as well as increased focus on alternative energy and the likes.

The United States, at the end of 2014, had over 20GW of cumulative solar electric capacity, roughly the same amount that is expected to be installed from 2015 to 2016. In Germany, solar and wind energy sources combined generated about 15 per cent of the country’s energy in 2014.Even in developing nations like India, the targets for renewable energy sources are quite ambitious – the country plans to add about 100GW of solar power capacity by 2020, which is five years from now.

Considering that Nigeria currently has less than 5GW of total electricity capacity, one begins to get an idea of the size of the changes already made. These developments, to us, constitute the language of sustainable development and it is hinged on global partnerships focusing on environmental protection. Our concern is whether Nigeria and the rest of Africa are prepared for such ramification of development.

Our concerns aside, it is worth noting that eradicating poverty and hunger are some of the chief targets of the SDGs (Goals One and Two); same as the promotion of healthy lives and wellbeing (Goal Three). However, achieving environmental protection and sustainable economic development constitute the greater bulk of the proposed 17 Goals. For us, in the health care industry, we must prepare for a greater focus on national health insurance. Similarly, the in-coming government in Nigeria must know that the country’s health targets – which are in line with the global agenda on health – would only be achievable through the instruments of a well thought-out health insurance system. The one per cent dedication of consolidated revenue to primary health care, as enshrined in the new National Health Law, has already set the pace for this.

Our expectation, from the changing tide of international development, is that there would be decreased tolerance for non-performance by the global network of leading nations, taking a cue from the operations of the European Union. We envisage increased influence on national political and economic processes for established powers. This is a challenge to Nigeria to rise as one of the global mediators of good governance and development practices in Africa. To effectively do this, she must seek to be self-sustaining in a “sustainable” world.