Caring about the right agenda

  • Opinion
  • Saturday, 10 Oct 2015

High-level meetings: The impact of many of the UN’s actions and initiatives isn’t immediately felt in our daily lives. And when the UN holds meetings, the matters discussed are often high-level, big-picture stuff that trickles slowly into national consciousness. — Reuters

The UN’s 2030 Agenda has many lofty goals, but they’re worth fighting for

IT’S hard for most of us to relate well to what goes on at the United Nations (UN). The 70-year-old organisation with 193 member states no doubt has a huge role – the first purpose listed in the UN Charter is “to maintain international peace and security” – and wields considerable influence.

Trouble is, the impact of many of the body’s actions and initiatives isn’t immediately felt in our daily lives. And when the UN holds meetings, the matters discussed are often high-level, big-picture stuff that trickles slowly into national consciousness.

This is how it is with the so-called post-2015 development agenda.

The UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York last month ended with the unanimous adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Described as a “plan of action for people, planet and prosperity”, the Agenda contains 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets for the next 15 years. It takes over from the Millennium Development Goals, whose targets are supposed to be delivered by 2015.

The Agenda is essentially an ambitious and wide-ranging pledge to eradicate poverty, combat inequalities and protect the environment. The document itself acknowledges that the Agenda is “of unprecedented scope and significance”.

For example, Goal 1 is to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. Goal 10 is to reduce inequality within and among countries, while Goal 12 aims for sustainable consumption and production patterns.

In comparison, there are only eight Millennium Development Goals with 21 targets. But that, the UN explains, was because they were formulated by a group of experts behind closed doors.

The breadth of the 2030 Agenda is the result of a negotiation process involving all the UN member states as well as the participation of civil society and other stakeholders. Naturally, the final product represents a spectrum of interests and perspectives.

During the September summit, dozens of world leaders went up to the rostrum to commit their countries to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Among them was Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who said inclusivity and sustainable development “have long been at the heart of our own transformation from a developing country to one that is on course to achieve high income status by 2020”.

And this is the last sentence of his statement: “A better future for all is not just within our grasp. It is also the duty of all to fight for it, and I urge all present to join us in this noble and necessary endeavour.”

But on its own, the public sector can never fulfil the 2030 Agenda. In fact, the Agenda talks about forging “a revitalised Global Partnership” to ensure its implementation. This requires an intensive global engagement that brings together governments, the private sector, civil society, the UN system and other actors.

Business and industry, of course, has a part in this. For one thing, the Agenda calls upon businesses to apply their creativity and innovation to solving sustainable development challenges.

But how many businessmen have even grasped the basic fact that business as usual can’t go on forever? We will lose the planet’s natural resources one day if they’re not managed sustainably. Consumption and production have to be more efficient and less harmful.

Businesses contribute to climate change, which the Agenda says is “one of the greatest challenges of our time”.

The business world needs to embrace the 2030 Agenda, and it should start with the leaders taking some time to understand this “blueprint for a better future”, as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon calls it.

For now, severing the connection between economic growth and environmental degradation may sound like a Utopian objective, but it has to be the ultimate goal of any decent businessman. Without sustainable development, we can’t hope for sustainable growth and sustainable profits.


Executive editor Errol Oh believes that those who don’t care about sustainable development are only interested in short-term gains. Beware of such people.

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