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No surprises in U.N. draft for next global development goals

credit: John Robinson/flickr

The draft document for the goals that will set the global development agenda for the next 15 years came out on Tuesday. If it were a surprise party, the release was like the ones where the person knows it is happening, knows most of the details already and does a poor job pretending to be surprised.

As expected, two unsurprising things happened: 1) the draft contained basically the same 17 goals and 169 targets from previous drafts; 2) a lot of people and groups made clear they are not thrilled with the proposal.

With the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set to expire at the end of this year, time is running out to change their replacement – the sustainable development goals (SDGs). World leaders will officially accept the new goals during September’s U.N. General Assembly. Advocacy groups and NGOs are campaigning to improve the SDGs, but there is little to no chance significant changes will be implemented.

“In the goals and targets which we have agreed, we are setting out a supremely ambitious vision,” says the new draft. “We envisage a world free of poverty, hunger, disease and want … a just, tolerant, and inclusive world. And one in which humanity lives in complete harmony with nature.”

The goals that are supposed to help achieve that vision are:


This week’s draft document is pretty much what the final document will look like. The above goals and their associated targets are unlikely to change between now and September. And everyone knows it.

“It seems pretty clear that the goals and targets we have now are the ones that will be agreed. I don’t see that changing,” said Sara Harcourt, policy eirector for ONE, in an interview with Humanosphere.

But that fact does not deter some from pushing for a better set of SDGs.

“We have yet to see strong enough plans for how the ambitious vision will be achieved. It is clear that the sections of the document on financing and implementation, and on follow-up and review, need to be beefed-up before September,” said Helen Dennis, Christian Aid’s senior adviser on poverty and inequality, in response to the release.

Add to that calls for more for water, sanitation and hygiene, some ideas on making the SDGs better for women and girls, rights for people with disabilities, and much more. And the discussions over the number of goals and overall nature proceed. Oxfam’s Strategic Adviser Duncan Green recently blogged about whether there should be even more goals with the hope that the right ones stick over time or to constrict the goals to two and allow solutions to develop within local contexts.

The debates are quite fun, but the reality is that the SDGs are essentially finalized already. But that does not mean the post-2015 party is decorated and ready to begin. Leaders will meet in Ethiopia in July to determine how to pay for achieving the new set of goals by 2030. And the U.N. climate change conference in Paris at the end of the year will hopefully set forward a global agenda for mitigating the progress and effects of climate change.

The global development debates are only heating up.

“If this financing conference is successful, it sets us on a good footing,” said Harcourt. “I don’t think anyone really knows how this is going to go. I don’t think we should be overly optimistic because we shouldn’t stop putting pressure where it needs to be.”

Part of that pressure is getting world leaders to actually show up for the conference. This is usually the kind of thing ministers or other high-ranking officials attend, but ONE and others think a conference setting out how the world will fund development over the next 15 years warrants the attendance of heads of state.


About Author

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]