The nations of the world have unanimously adopted the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. This historic commitment creates a guide and framework to meet global challenges of poverty, inequality, violence and environmental sustainability through to the year 2030.
With seventeen goals and 169 targets the global goals are, as you’d imagine, more complex than the eight Millennium Development Goals they replace. Some of them, too, are more aspirational than measurable – visions of a better world more than a specific target to be achieved. This is both the strength and weakness of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Millennium Development Goals catalysed renewed investment in aid spending and helped the world focus on some of the worst aspects of extreme poverty – the early and preventable deaths of children, the deaths of women in pregnancy and childbirth, the scourges of hunger and poor education, for example.
The new global goals seek to address bigger issues around human development. They are a moral call and a vision for a world that is truly liveable for all people, and indeed for all of God’s creation. They are different to the Millennium Development Goals in at least four ways.
First, as well as addressing poverty, they target inequality as well. The goals recognise that the exclusion of the poorest people from economic activity and benefits is unjust and harmful to society and economies.
Second, the new goals recognise the foundational importance of peace and justice and effective institutions to support them. Prosperity, peace and personal security are fundamentally interwoven and without addressing peace and institutions to protect people’s rights, we cannot overcome poverty.
Third, as the name implies, the new goals have a much deeper focus on environmental sustainability. They recognise that the poorest people are the most vulnerable to environmental hazards and degradation of all kinds – including those brought about or intensified by climate change. And they recognise that we must nurture our created home and seek to live within God-given limits or planetary boundaries.
Finally, these are not just goals for “developing” countries, plans for rich countries to help poor ones. These are goals for all of us. They challenge us to recognise that for it to be genuinely called “development”, then everyone must be able to flourish within the God-given limits of creation. If our nation’s economy and lifestyles rest on a foundation of relentless resource extraction and consumption and relative indifference to the rights and needs of the poorest people in our world, then we are not "developed" at all – but living in a state of profound moral and spiritual immaturity.
While a resoundingly secular document, the challenge of the Sustainable Development Goals picks up an echo of God’s heart for the poor and the cry of the Prophets for justice. Their call to us is clear: to live and speak and act so that all people can find economic and social inclusion, peace, justice, dignity, opportunity.
In his address to the United Nations, Pope Francis reminded us that these goals and plans and their implementation are to be measured against a transcendent conception of justice and how well they address the lives and circumstances of:
"...real men and women who live, struggle and suffer, and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights.
To enable these real men and women to escape from extreme poverty, we must allow them to be dignified agents of their own destiny. Integral human development and the full exercise of human dignity cannot be imposed. They must be built up and allowed to unfold for each individual, for every family, in communion with others, and in a right relationship with all those areas in which human social life develops – friends, communities, towns and cities, schools, businesses and unions, provinces, nations, etc."
Ben Thurley is the National Coordinator for Micah Australia.