The 169 target sustainable development goals likely here to stay, says U.N.

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark (Credit: UNDP)

The long list of proposed goals that will replace the Millennium Development Goals are not going to be trimmed down. Doing so would put the progress made toward reaching consensus at risk, said the head of the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP. It means the list of 17 goals and 169 targets is likely here to stay.

“I am not anticipating that there will be any significant change,” said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark today in London while speaking at think tank the Overseas Development Institute

As a comparison, there are only eight Millennium Development Goals, MDGs. The comments from Clark kick off a year of meetings and deliberation to figure out what comes after the MDGs expire at the end of the year. Debates over what goals should be included, how they are measured and more will intensify over the coming months in the lead up to the special summit for the sustainable development goals, in September. All are to set the global agenda for issues ranging from ending extreme poverty to reducing hunger to reversing the trend of climate change.

Despite the ongoing debate over the very nature of the sustainable development goals and the number of targets, it appears that the current list might move along with few changes. Clark thinks it is unlikely cuts will be made to the current list, in an interview with the Thompson Reuters Foundation.

1) End poverty in all its forms everywhere

2) End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture

3) Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

4) Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

5) Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

6) Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

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7) Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

8) Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all

9) Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation

10) Reduce inequality within and among countries

11) Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

12) Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

13) Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts (taking note of agreements made by the UNFCCC forum)

14) Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

15) Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss

16) Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

17) Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

“What we sense is that the member states are reluctant to open that up too much because they feel they did a lot of that discussion with the open working group,” she said to Reuters.

Clark attributes the lack of willingness to change to the fact that it took a lot of effort to reach the current list. She cited the fact that trades were made between groups to bring together the list of 17 goals. Cutting down that list could lead to the removal of essential targets. Monthly meetings over the next six months will give a better sense of what changes – if any – make their way into the current list.

“It is on track for an agreement that applies as much to the United Kingdom as it does to Haiti. It is, as it always would be, a bigger agenda than the MDGs,” said Clark today. “We could say that the MDGs were a way to tackle poverty in all its manifestations. The SDGs is about how we do everything, so it is a much broader agenda.”

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The process to set the global goals is more open as compared to how the MDGs were established. Critics of the current goals say that the people who were supposed to be served by the goals were left out of the process to set them in the first place. The United Nations and others said they listened to the concerns and undertook efforts to include inputs from people around the world through a series of surveys. Despite the overall change, some believe that the world’s poor are not leading the way.

“We are no longer invisible recipients, but active participants in a global effort to reduce extreme poverty and the effects of climate change by 2030,” wrote Ugandan activist and entrepreneur, TMS Ruge in New Vision. “This shouldn’t just be a theoretical change where more international organizations work at the ‘last mile,’ but rather the poor speaking for themselves, and setting the agenda.”

With roughly eight months left until the summit in New York, there is still time for change. Some leaders, such as the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron, have vocalized their discontent with the current targets. They still want to see the final list of goals at a number much closer to the eight that made up the MDGs. While there is a strong reason to think that little will actually change, the next few months of meetings will help to reveal what the new goals will look like.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.