The SDGs and a Human Rights Framework

In 2015 the United Nations came up with the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs as a successor to the Millennium Development Goals. The SDGs are to be completed by 2030 and are far more extensive than the MDGs. There are 17 SDGs that include, health, gender equality, protecting the earth, and of course developing sustainably. The SDGs are very ambitious but not impossible and there is the High Level Political Forum or HLPF to help guide their implementation. Each goal has several targets and indicators which helps keep States and the United Nations on track to achieve the SDGs. While many activists and development theorists believe the SDGs are an improvement to the MDGs because they are more expansive and detailed, many feel like the SDGs missed the mark in a variety of ways. For example, while the SDG’s emphasize that the goals must be accessible to all, they do not provide specific targets or indicators to reach out to those populations. This lack of outreach makes the language that states “for all” in the SDGs seem like an empty promise.

Other activists are not satisfied with the SDGs because they believed that they missed an opportunity to focus on rights based approaches. With the ever looming threat of climate change and the potential for environmental conflict, many activists believe that it is necessary to state that things such as clean water are a right. Establishing clean water and clean air as a human right would align with the human rights framework that the UN is currently applying to treaties such as CEDAW and the CRPD. Applying a human rights framework to environmental issues gives the UN a framework with which to address these issue. There is already a special rapporteur who addresses human rights and the environment, but his suggestions were not applied to the SDGs. Activists argue that the UN should apply the human rights framework to the environment in all UN initiatives.

While the SDGs are far more extensive than the MDGs, they still have a lot of room for improvement. For the next set of goals, the UN should have targets and indicators specifically for marginalized populations. The UN should also apply frameworks that they are already applying in other sectors to the goals as well and put increased focus on protecting the environment, especially in light of the potential conflicts that could arise.