Criticisms of the SDGs

  1. The goals do not go far enough: The SDG targets move bit by bit, slowly looking for progress towards 2030. But a lot of people can’t wait until then. As they are living now, they might not survive to see that date. From a human rights perspective “The eradication of severe poverty worldwide is possible today, so we must eradicate it now, as fast as we possibly can.”
  2. The goals ignore underlying inequalities in the international system: Our current world order favors a rich minority. Critics say that achieving sustainable development means that we need a serious reform of our systems, for example our trading rules, and for the powerful to give up some of their power. We will see in Week 2, where Prof. David Taylor will point out that “ensuring the sustainability of one place, one location, one country, might undermine the sustainability of other places”. Also in that week, Prof. Jonathan Patz will point out that “if we have the wrong economic drivers we’re never going to meet the SDGs”.
  3. The goals are top down and bureaucratic ignoring local context: One size does not fit all when it comes to achieving sustainable development. The goals must strike a balance between respecting local context and working at the international level to reform institutions.
  4. The SDGs are wishes not goals: The goals are not binding, that means, countries are not penalised for not acting on them. It is also not clear who will implement them. But especially, they do not hold the most powerful people to account for their actions. “It is not enough to specify, however exactly, what needs to be done; governments must also agree, for each specific task, who is responsible for ensuring that it actually will get done. If no such division of labor is agreed upon, then all we have is a long list of Sustainable Development Wishes along with the pious hope that economic growth and charitable activities will move things far enough in the right direction ”
  5. Lack of data: The data that we do have is not enough for us to use the goals either as a way to guide our management of easing poverty or as a way to report on progress. If we don’t have this data, how useful can the goals be for those people making policy.

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