Yet again another article on why the SDGs are not perfect...........................

I have to say I am getting bored with armchair journalists and academics who think they know better than 193 countries, thousands of NGOs and experts. So I am going to try and make this the LAST comment on an ill informed article....but i cant promise it.

I am hoping at some point the UN will start dealing with these themselves... or someone will set up a 'war room'. The term 'war room' as some people will remember was made famous by James Carville and George Stephanopoulos as a rapid response team for then Governor Clinton to deal with the onslaught by President Bush (the first) campaign team. The backdrop is how they had destroyed Democratic contender for the Presidency Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis.

Anyway back to what is this time an article by Jason Hickel an Anthropologist at the London School of Economics. His article in Jacobin called 'The Problem with Saving the World' suffers like many of a number of faults.

  1. It references already discredited articles - in this case the Economist - which one can only imagine was written by someone who did nearly zero research.
  2. It is produced by someone who has not been involved with the process or is an armchair journalist or academic
  3. It fails to understand that the new SDGs are of course a political compromise - but one that has the support of all 193 countries, thousands of non government organizations and other major stakeholders such as industry, trade unions, local government associations and many key academics - who have engaged in the process.
While I am commenting I will just remind everyone: 
  1. That the SDGs are for ALL countries not just developing countries
  2. The SDGs are not about just development but SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT.
One of the problems has been the 'development experts'  that Jason talks about. All through the last four years, and it has been four years, since July 2011 when Colombia and Guatemala put the idea on the table in Solo Indonesia, it has been the development establishment that has held us back. 

One of the problems with the internet is that inaccurate reporting gets reported again and again. In Jason's article  he quotes from an inaccurate comments at the Gates Foundation meeting which Mark Suzman, the Gates Foundation’s chief of policy and advocacy has tried to correct saying that the comment that was reported had been taken out of context and went on to say:


“What I actually said was that all 169 targets and 17 goals were important and legitimate derived from a globally inclusive process that we supported, but that as advocates clearly it is impossible to push equally for all targets and that at the Gates Foundation we would follow our mandate and mission and focus on what nearly every member state has said is a shared priority: The unfinished agenda of the MDGS.”


Jason misunderstands what the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) process was set up to do and what it wasn't meant to do. An easy mistake to make if you are not engaged with the process. 

His comments on financing are ones I have some sympathy for. BUT it wasn't the SDG process where that work was to be undertaken BUT the Financing for Development (FfD) process. I am on record of being very critical of THAT process. It did not address the issues such as growth and how we were going to deliver the $2-3 trillion needed per year to deliver the SDGs. Nor did it put in place the regulation on industry including the finance industry. I may be wrong but the only people I saw advocating for regulation of industry with a proposal that was on the table was that of AVIVA. They tried to have text in the FfD process to have all companies that are listed on the stock exchanges having to produce their environment, social and governance reports each year as they do with their financial reports. A number of countries have done this South Africa, Brazil, India, China and soon we hope the EU. But again this was an issue for FfD not one for the SDGs. 

The SDGs have set 17 goals and 169 targets to help us move to a more sustainable way of living on the planet. But this work isn't finished the critical bit he doesn't seem to appreciate is still to be agreed which are what are the 100-300 indicators that will underpin the targets. This has a separate process which is open until September for input to by stakeholders and will be finalized by March 2016.

If Jason expects the world to come to some amazing conclusion that capitalism doesn't work then it is difficult to understand where he thought that was going to come from. Capitalism as I am sure he will know as an anthropologist has evolved and as such I saw no other system being articulated within the FfD or the SDGs process, there was no think tanks coming in with other suggestions that could have been realistically absorbed. So it might not agree with what he would like to have seen but then he should have been there to articulate that.

On the issue of $1.25 a day I couldn't agree more - but again as he will know that figure changed from $1 and so will this figure as it is reviewed.  I didn't hear any NGO pushing the figure of $5 a day so I'm guessing that's one of the reasons why it wasn't challenged.   

One of the major reasons why we had such a poor Financing for Development process is that no green or progressive think tanks engaged in it. there were development think tanks which is why the text is much more along a traditional development approach. There were  virtually no environmental NGOs engaged in the FfD process and unlike the SDG process which was open and participatory the FfD process was mostly closed and non participatory. 

On the issue of principles these are fully expressed in the Declaration which the SDGs sit as part of Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

The SDGs are transformative and will be reviewed every 4 years at Heads of State level and annually through the High Level Political Forum so we have chances to change things as we move forward. 

I do think it is pretty annoying to most people who have engaged over four years in a process that has had the agreement of 193 countries,  the involvement of thousands of NGOs and other stakeholders before it is even formally agreed. Unlike what Jason says there is huge support for the SDGs of course not everyone got what they wanted in the text but as a global agreement its the best we have had since Agenda 21. 

The SDGs are what we have and what we will build on. I for one am looking forward to engaging in their implementation.


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