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Achieving SDG targets in wicked times.

In his New Year message, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres issued a 'red alert' instead of a traditional appeal for peace and harmony among UN Member States. His worry: the world is getting more and more divided given the growing threat of a nuclear war (think of North Korea), lack of global consensus on how to tame global warming, deepening inequality everywhere and rising xenophobia. His brief message ended with a call for global unity to address the foregoing.

And yet, against the above global reality as summarized by the UN SecGen Guterres, the UN Development Program (UNDP) is trying its darndest best to promote the UN vision of a new global order by 2030. In 2015, the UN Member States, the Philippines included, signed on to a new set of global development goals to replace the old 'Millenium Development Goals' (MDGs), which sought to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger everywhere. Under the MDGs, the Philippines committed to halve poverty, percentage-wise, from the 1990s' level by 2015. This was not achieved.

The new global goals - Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - are more ambitious. Zero poverty and zero hunger by 2030 everywhere. Healthy life for all at all ages. Education and learning opportunities for all. Gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls. Safe and affordable water for all. Access to affordable and sustainable energy services for all. Sustainable economic growth and decent work for all. Inclusive and sustainable infras and industrialization for all. Social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion and other status. Inclusive, safe and resilient cities and human settlements in all countries. Sustainable consumption and production in all countries. Strong global action against climate change, accompanied by full integration of climate change measures into national policies. Sustainable use and conservation of the seas and marine resources. Sustainable use and conservation of the terrestrial ecosystem, forests and land. Access to justice for all and promotion of inclusive, peaceful and sustainable societies and institutions for all. Global partnership for sustainable development.

Verily, the SDGs, if fulfilled, are not only transformative. They shall change governance and development directions in all countries, both developed and underdeveloped, in a radical, if not revolutionary way. The 17 SDGs, fleshed out into 169 specific or more concrete targets, put people at the center of development and make the sustainability and inclusion framework - for the economy, environment and society - the overarching development compass in governance at the national and global levels. The mantra of the advocates of corporate social responsibility - the three Ps (People, Planet and Profits) - has been transformed by the SDG proponents into 5Ps: People, Planet, Prosperity (for all), Peace and Partnership.

The problem is how can the world achieve the 17 SDGs Clearly, there is a need for humanity and the leaders of the different countries to seriously address first the threats to the world as raised in the 'red alert' of UN SecGen Guterres. The threat of a nuclear war, the global failure to forge consensus on how to address global warming, the deepening inequality everywhere and the rising xenophobia and racism among some political groups are dividing the world and subverting the sustainability of the economy, environment and even some societies. And as pointed out in an earlier article, the SDGs cannot slay poverty and hunger if the Race to the Bottom under economic globalization is untamed. The Race to the Bottom among big corporations and transnational firms competing in a borderless global economy is at the roots of exclusion for the many and the deepening inequality within and among countries.

Nonetheless, it is the obligation of all UN Member States which signed on to the SDG Compact in 2015 to do their darndest best to work for the attainment of the SDG goals and targets at the national and global levels. In this context, it will do well for the Duterte Cabinet to review the country's development goals and targets for 2017-2022 and those outlined in NEDA's Ambisyon 2040 in the context of the SDG framework.

One difficulty in a policy review related to the SDGs is that the SDG list (17) and the accompanying specific doable targets (169) appear too long. The tendency of a policy reviewer is to treat all the SDGs and targets as some kind of a 'checklist'. Under each item, the government-assigned reviewer can list down what the government or various agencies are doing to address a specific concern. For example, in the eradication of extreme poverty under SDG 1, the official reviewer can put the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) as the government answer and reduce the problem of poverty eradication to a simple question of increasing the budget for CCT and growing the economy faster through programs such as the Build-Build-Build of the Duterte Administration.

Yes, it is unavoidable to look into each SDG and accompanying targets in this manner.

However, the UNDP has also warned us that there is also a need to look at the 17 SDGs as interrelated and even 'indivisible'. The point is that all the 17 SDGs are anchored on the sustainability and inclusion challenges, that is, how to make the economy inclusive and sustainable for all, how to make the environment inclusive and sustainable for all, and how to make society inclusive and sustainable for all. This requires a more rigorous analysis of the development strategy being pursued by the government at the national, regional and sectoral levels by subjecting them to the test of inclusion and sustainability.

For example, is the vision of a developed middle-class Philippine society outlined under Ambisyon 2040 sustainable Ambisyon tells us that by 2040, all families shall enjoy the good life - jobs for all, decent dwellings for all, education for all, and family vehicles for all.

Now on the last item, given the horrendous traffic that we experience daily not only in Metro Manila but in almost all urban areas of the country as well, does having a car for all families a wise target Why not come up with alternative development targets such as better planned human settlements (SDG 11), better infrastructures and transport for all (SDG 9) and change in consumption and production in support of decent but sustainable lifestyle for all (SDG 12)
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Publication:Business Mirror (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Jan 3, 2018
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