Saba Loftus - Objectives Task Force of the UNCSD Major Group of Children and Youth
Colombia and Guatemala have proposed that a key outcome of Rio+20 must be a concrete agreement on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Since then, SDGs have increasingly become a core part of the Rio+20 policy dialogue. This proposed framework for universal goals raises several important questions. It is undeniable that urgent action is required, but should SDGs be created at Rio+20? And if so, with what purpose?
The Objectives Task Force of the UNCSD Major Group for Children and Youth agreed that if SDGs are a potential outcome of Rio+20, all stakeholders (including young people) have a responsibility to ensure that such goals are concrete and incorporate existing international agreements and initiatives that have yet to be fully implemented.
SDGs offer several benefits. They can help tackle emerging issues such as water, urbanisation, and energy efficiency. They also bring the 'social pillar' of sustainable development back into focus. Too often, the 'economic pillar' is touted by governments and the private sector, and the 'environmental pillar' by many NGOs, while social implications are lost in the fold. SDGs are a chance to re-engage social sustainability.
Rio+20 requires ambition, SDGs could reflect and help fulfil this need. However, a legitimate concern has been raised that setting voluntary development goals might ultimately cause us to avoid more comprehensive measures on sustainable development. There is also concern that while the SDGs present an opportunity for a bold Rio+20 outcome, they might also prevent something concrete from emerging. If they are just idealistic agreements, then there is a lot of potential for empty promises.
As a result, we began to discuss our vision for the SDGs. We agreed that they need to be action-orientated, address emerging issues and focus on creating change, while halting or reversing negative trends. They need to be monitored, regulated, reported on and they must be binding. It was also agreed that the interlinkages between the Rio+20 issues – which are yet to be sufficiently addressed in the Outcome Document - should be a key feature of the SDGs. Although more challenging, tackling the global issues together, rather than in isolation, is a more effective way to work toward change. The inherent links between global issues are also not only a better way to work towards change, but a necessary one. Most importantly, we acknowledge that there is no universal solution for sustainable development challenges.
We to provide an example of what young people globally hope these SDGs will look like. Incorporating youth movements globally who work on different thematic issues, and who would not traditionally participate in the CSD processes, has been the key tool we have used to create the first draft of our vision for the SDGs. In our discussions, we agreed that SDGs should not just be a continuation of MDGs, but rather comprise a stronger framework, which learns from the weaknesses of the MDGs and builds on the strengths.
For example, in Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing, the Global Sustainability Panel emphasises that '[p]articular attention needs to be paid to the development challenges faced by low-income countries experiencing or emerging from conflict' (para 238). Armed conflict has posed a significant obstacle to progress toward the MDGs in these countries, adding, the GSP notes, 'to the fragility of their situations and the insecurity of their citizens'. We therefore call for any SDG framework to include explicit targets and indicators for post-conflict recovery (including environmental cleanup), development and peace building. It should also feature mechanisms to ensure the active and meaningful participation of children and youth in these processes at all levels - local, national, regional, and global.
Our drafting process began in late January, and this vision of creating goals for our future has caught the imagination of the global youth. So far, we have young people from over 68 countries involved in this drafting process, with the diversity growing daily.
We invite you to participate in the brainstorming process by using an open source Google Doc to make changes, comment and work with us to make them stronger, more cross-cutting and holistic, while focusing on agreed upon language: http://bit.ly/SDGsDraft. We hope you will share your ideas with us.