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Why the SDGs are more than just good intentions


The statement reproduced below has been released by the Beyond-2015 coalition, of which CESR is a member, in reponse to two articles published by The Economist on 28 March 2015 entitled 'The 169 commandments' and 'Unsustainable goals'.

31 March 2015

Criticising the breadth of the post-2015 agenda under discussion at the United Nations (UN) is an easy trap to fall into: 17 goals with 169 targets sure seems like a huge agenda to commit to at first glance. But for those of us who are directly involved in the process that has led to the current proposal, labelling the agenda an unfeasible “proliferation” of goals and targets, and a “bureaucratic process running out of control”, is both unjustified and unhelpful.

Both articles miss the point that the proposed agenda is not purely a ‘poverty eradication’ agenda. It is a ‘sustainable development agenda’ aiming to address the interconnected challenges our world faces today in the economic, social and environmental spheres, and whose broad scope results from the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in 2012 which agreed to establish an "inclusive and transparent intergovernmental process open to all stakeholders, with a view to developing global sustainable development goals (SDGs) to be agreed by the General Assembly".

Perhaps we should remind the authors of the two articles what is at stake: in September this year, UN Member States will adopt a global agenda for the next 15 years. As multifaceted problems plague our societies and threaten the very future of our planet, world leaders cannot afford to let this opportunity pass. They must commit to a broad agenda addressing these urgent and interconnected issues. Ambition is not a luxury, it is a must, and it requires the adoption of a set of integrated goals and targets built on the three pillars of sustainable development. The long list of targets under review only reinforces the extent of the challenges we face, and must serve as a wake -up call for all critics that there is no time for complacency. Furthermore, reducing the number of targets runs the risk of lowering the ambition of the agenda and disrupting the delicate political balance that has been achieved.

Indeed, the authors of these articles seem to forget two key milestones that have been reached: the unprecedented levels of participation in designing the new agenda, and its universality. The process through which the next agenda is being developed, often referred to as the “post-2015 process”, is unique in that the UN has for the first time convened a global dialogue with citizens, civil society and other stakeholders to frame the new goals and targets. Referring to the SDGs as “narrow” is an insult to these efforts undertaken since 2010, and claiming that the SDGs reflect a “bureaucratic process running out of control” is completely unjustified in view of the spaces that have opened up outside of the UN for multi-stakeholder inputs into the discussions, thereby significantly strengthening the legitimacy and transparency of the process, while also increasing ownership for better chances of implementation and accountability.

Instead of criticising the results of the wide consultations and participatory processes carried out, The Economist should stop and reflect on the bigger, positive picture: unprecedented levels of participation in defining the agenda means more people care about our shared future and will hold world leaders accountable, innovative ideas are being put forward, and networks and partnerships are being developed to create synergies and maximise both human and economic resources. Moreover, the universality of the post-2015 agenda is an incredible achievement, as it means that world leaders will adopt a universal agenda for developing and developed countries alike, based on shared responsibilities among all countries.

Finding the means to finance the post-2015 agenda is a crucial issue, but claiming that the “SDGs are unfeasibly expensive” on the basis of “Western governments’ [unfulfilled] promise to provide 0.7% of GDP in aid” disregards the fact that official development assistance (ODA) is not the only form of
development financing. Indeed, in addition to meeting ODA targets, different streams of financing will need to be mobilised – particularly more innovative forms of resource mobilisation like financial transaction taxes, a global price on carbon, new monetary tools, and measures to tackle all forms of illicit financial flows including tax evasion – in order to meet these challenges.

Also, how can one claim that “the SDGs drafters […] flout out one of the most important lessons of development: that everywhere is different” when extensive consultations were carried out at the national, regional and global levels, and when platforms like Beyond 2015 – which brings together over 1300 organisations from more than 130 ‘Northern’ and ‘Southern’ countries – has been listening to the voices of those most affected by poverty and injustice and taking lessons from the field to feed advocacy asks and policy positions into the post-2015 process?

Since 2010, Beyond 2015 has been engaging in the different channels of the post-2015 process at the global, regional and national levels. A crucial component of our campaign is our ‘Participate’ initiative, through which we are complementing our collective global expertise by giving voice and agency to those most affected by poverty and injustice. We are actively participating in the ongoing post-2015 intergovernmental negotiations by sending timely inputs to the negotiators in New York and to relevant ministries at the capital level, by reacting to papers submitted to Member States during the negotiations, and by speaking directly to government representatives during the official meetings in New York. Our Twitter campaigns targeting negotiators and influential people has been very successful, with our hashtag #intergov2015 being widely used, and permanent UN missions, the Malala foundation and the co-facilitators among those re-tweeting us!

It is easy to criticise the broad scope of the post-2015 agenda if one is unaware of the process to define it and of what is at stake. For all of us at Beyond 2015, we are firmly committed to ensuring that people and their organisations fully participate in the post -2015 process and we will continue advocating for an ambitious and overarching agenda until the end. This will be a challenging agenda to implement and we expect that our leaders will embed it with the necessary political will to make it a reality for the people and the planet.

  • George Ndungu, Organisation of African Youth, Kenya (Beyond 2015 Co-Chair)
  • Andrew Griffiths, Sightsavers, UK (Beyond 2015 Co-Chair)
  • Leo Williams, Belgium (Beyond 2015 International Coordinator)
  • Lani Vakatale, PIANGO, Fiji (Beyond 2015 Pacific Coordinator)
  • Miguel Santibanez and Nicolas Sautejeau, MESA de Articulación, Chile (Beyond 2015 Latin American Regional Coordinator)
  • Nalini Vaz, India (Beyond 2015 Asian Coordinator)
  • Stephen Chacha, Tanzania (Beyond 2015 Africa Coordinator)
  • Lonne Poissonnier, Concord, Belgium (Beyond 2015 European Coordinator)


Beyond 2015 is a global civil society campaign bringing together over 1300 organisations around the world to work on the post-2015 framework. To find out more, visit