Dollars are U.S. unless stated otherwise.

New SDGs: just a publicity exercise?

Edward R. Carr, professor and director of the International Development, Community and Environment Department at Clark University, offers one of the few, desperately needed analytical articles about the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 being approved by the United Nations this week.

In Scientific American's Forum section, Prof. Carr says the SDGs will not work because they "neither organize nor prioritize global efforts" to achieve the SDGs.

As a result, he says, it will depend on major aid agencies and perhaps the Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation to ensure the priorities are set and kept to.

Development comes first

He cites the example of providing weather and climate information to farmers, in his case Mali. But "farmers without draught animals and plows cannot respond to time-sensitive advice about when it is best to prepare or plant their fields." He concludes: "Development comes first, followed by climate adaptation, which has implications for funding."

Similarly, "It is not clear, however, that we can achieve universal food security without the short-term (at least) drawdown of fresh water supplies or the production of new patterns of economic inequality as some farmers benefit from new agricultural opportunities more than others."

Yet the SDGs put alleviating global hunger (proposed SDG 2), ensuring sustainable water and sanitation (SDG 6) and reducing inequality within and among countries (SDG 10) all at the same level.

Which priorities to choose?

"If achieving all three of these goals concurrently is unlikely, which of them should we prioritize—and why? Which path gets us to the achievement of all three goals ftest, and most reliably?" he asks.

"The same problem exists for targets within goals," he adds. Focusing on production (2.3) means setting different priorities than reducing food waste (12.2).

"We can salvage this mess of a project and assure that the SDGs are more than a publicity exercise," he declares, provided governments make choices to salvage "this mess of a project and assure[sic] that the SDGs are more than a publicity exercise".


Scientific American Forum 24 September 2015

Back to top # Previous Page