UN adopts ambitious development agenda

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany speaks at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept 25, 2015.
Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany speaks at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept 25, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

New global goals range from ending hunger to protecting forests to quality education for all

UNITED NATIONS • With a passionate call from Pope Francis to choose environmental justice over a "boundless thirst for power and material prosperity", world leaders adopted an ambitious agenda to reset their own priorities, from ending hunger to protecting forests to ensuring quality education for all.

"We want to change our world, and we can," Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany told a packed General Assembly hall in New York on Friday.

Known as the Sustainable Development Goals, they emerged after three years of negotiations and are 17 in all.

They are not legally binding, and therefore not enforceable. But they carry a moral force of coercion, because they are adopted by consensus by the 193 member states of the United Nations.

They apply to all countries, not just poor ones, as was the objective of the last round of ambitions, called the Millennium Development Goals, which expired this year.

Known as the Sustainable Development Goals, they emerged after three years of negotiations and are 17 in all. They are not legally binding, and therefore not enforceable. But they carry a moral force of coercion, because they are adopted by consensus by the 193 member states of the United Nations.

"The new agenda is a promise by leaders to all people everywhere," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon told the General Assembly.

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping, who addressed the UN summit yesterday, pledged US$2 billion (S$2.8 billion) for a new development fund and increased investment in poor countries as part of Beijing's role in fighting global poverty.

Central to the new set of global goals, which extend to 2030, is the idea of caring for the planet and for the world's poorest citizens, which was also at the heart of the Pope's address - his first at the United Nations.

"Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity," the Pope said, later reprising his argument that the poor are the biggest victims of environmental destruction.

The poor, he said, are "cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the consequences of abuse of the environment. These phenomena are part of today's widespread and quietly growing 'culture of waste'."

  • Caring for the planet and the poor

  • The Sustainable Development Goals lay out a sweeping

    vision for improving the lives of people all over the world over the next 15 years. Here are the 17 goals, in a nutshell:

    •End poverty in all its forms everywhere.

    •End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.

    •Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

    •Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.

    •Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

    •Ensure access to water and sanitation for all.

    •Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

    •Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all.

    •Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation.

    •Reduce inequality within and among countries.

    •Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

    •Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

    •Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

    •Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.

    •Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss.

    •Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies.

    •Revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.

    NEW YORK TIMES

The summit at the General Assembly for the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals is something of a run-up to the Paris conference later this year, where countries are trying to come up with a global compact to cut their own carbon emissions and to help the most vulnerable countries deal with the ravages of climate change.

China also promised a cap-and- trade policy in 2017.

South Africa announced its climate plan on Friday, Indonesia announced its commitments on Thursday, and Brazil is due to reveal its plan.

The United States, European Union and other big polluters have already said how they plan to cut emissions, leaving India as the major holdout.

On Friday, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his country was on its way to what he called "a sustainable path to prosperity".

However, he made no announcements about India's climate commitments, saving that for when he returns home. India has maintained that its main priority is to overcome poverty.

Mr Ban, who met with Mr Modi, had gently nudged him on committing to emissions cuts, a statement by Mr Ban's office suggested.

The Pope, who was the inaugural speaker of the day, was frequently interrupted by applause for his remarks, which included a full-throated endorsement of education for girls.

In the balcony of the General Assembly hall, education activist Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was shot in the head by the Taleban, was among those who clapped.

But how governments will be held to account for their commitments to the goals remains unclear.

"The true test of commitment to Agenda 2030 will be implementation," Mr Ban told leaders.

"We need action from everyone, everywhere."

NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 27, 2015, with the headline 'UN adopts ambitious development agenda'. Print Edition | Subscribe