SDG Overview and the High Level Political Forum (HLPF)

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and HLPF are components of the United Nations’ policy on sustainable development. Each SDG has specific targets, and within each target several indicators in order to identify progress and achievement. A report is released annually that evaluates the progress of each goal in the last year. The HLPF replaced the Commission on Sustainable Development in 2012 through a mandate that emerged from the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). The body meets annually under the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and quadrennially under the General Assembly (heads of state and government). Its main function is the follow-up and review of the SDGs which were established in 2015 to be achieved by 2030. In 2019 the HLPF met under the auspices of ECOSOC and the General Assembly. ECOSOC addressed SDGs 4, 8, 10, 13, 16, 17. The overarching goal was to promote and empower people and ensure inclusiveness and equality. The General Assembly was held under the theme “Accelerating the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Agenda.” This was the first time the body had met since the adoption of the SDGs in 2015. It was a significant step in acknowledging the urgency of sustainable development.

Overall, the SDGs are more inclusive than their predecessor (MDGs). There are several more mentions of persons with disabilities in the SDGs. The goals at the center of the last annual conference incorporate persons with disabilities into several indicators or targets. For example, SDG 4 (Inclusive Education) focuses on equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, and upgraded education facilities that are disability sensitive. The HLPF also strongly encourages all members and representatives to participate in the annual forums. It stresses that the forum is the most inclusive and accessible body within the United Nations. However, the accessibility of the building in which the annual conferences are held must be significant as well.

The SDG Summit held under the General Assembly in 2019 produced the Political Declaration. The document outlines initiatives to accelerate sustainable development in the next decade. More than 100 accelerations emerged from the summit. The document reestablishes the ambitions goals of the 2030 Agenda, expresses concerns that progress is slow, launches targets for an accelerated decade of action, and pledges to strengthen the effective and participatory character of the HLPF. This summit was important because progress and international cooperation concerning the 2030 Agenda has been slow. Environmental threats such as climate change will not be overcome unless aggressive action is taken.

Global “Grand Challenge” of Inclusive Sustainable Development

Development is one of the most pressing challenges facing the world today. Historically, most human populations have progressed and developed at the expense of the environment and its health. Since the Industrial Revolution the world has exploited its resources for the sake of economic prosperity. We haven’t viewed the earth as a partner to respect and protect, but as an asset that we can abuse and capitalize on. In recent decades, there has been an increasingly urgent call to adjust our modes of development and apply sustainable solutions to our environmental problems. Governments, civil society organizations, and corporations are developing new strategies to minimize our impact and preserve the earth’s resources for future generations. This is a challenge involving every nation and population and will require a great deal of cooperation and collective action.

The United Nations, an intergovernmental organization and significant international player, has established ambitious goals for the world to meet in the coming decades. In 2000, The Millennium Summit of the United Nations established the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to be reached by 2015. The eight goals addressed issues such as extreme poverty and hunger, universal primary education, gender equality and female empowerment, child mortality, maternal health, disease, environmental sustainability, and a global partnership for development. Debts owed to the IMF, World Bank, and African Development Bank by heavily indebted poor countries were settled by F8 finance ministers to allow their economies to redirect resources towards the development goals. Unfortunately, most of the MDGs were missed (narrowly) by 2015 and significant progress still needs to be done. However, the MDGs made substantial progress and have been hailed as the most successful anti-poverty movement in history.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) replaced the MDGs in 2015 and provide a more inclusive and structured action plan for development in the future. All United Nations Member States adopted the goals and strive to achieve them by 2030. The SDGs expand upon the MDGs in order to create a framework beyond the foundations of past decades. 2015 was an important year for international cooperation with the adoption of several major agreements concerning disaster risk reduction, financing for development, and climate change. 

Sustainable development will look different for each country depending on their history of development. It is important to remember that developed countries such as the United States were able to exploit their resources to whatever extent they deemed necessary to support their population and prosperity. Now these countries are able to adopt more sustainable methods due to increased technology and knowledge, as well as a stable economy to support them. Developing countries are in a different situation and it’s unfair to impose the same standards on them as developed nations. Their development was largely stalled due to colonization, and it is important to take this into account when establishing international goals. 

Using the ICTs for Inclusive Education

Although our class discussed inclusive education a while back, our recent talks on Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) are relevant in furthering educational opportunities. We learned that disability inclusive education is ensuring that all students, children, adults, and others have the available tools to be able to pursue their goals as equally as any other. It is a notion that has been received positively, yet not always implemented well. The article Educational Opportunities for Students with Disabilities by F.S. Haq highlights this point. When comparing trainee teachers’ attitudes to certain disabilities and students with higher support needs, Haq found generally positive attitudes toward including children with special needs in the general classroom, especially if the teachers have the appropriate sensitization and awareness exposure in training for this special and inclusive education (Haq and Lawrence). However, in the article’s survey, participants also supported inclusion but were not in favor of accommodating students with multiple disabilities and challenging behaviors (Haq and Lawrence). Positive attitudes are certainly a key component to inclusive education, but there needs to be action. Every person has a fundamental right to educational opportunities. I agree with Haq that special education courses should thus be incorporated into teacher training programs. Teachers should be able to accommodate for every student’s style of learning. It may be apprehensive and a lot to approach, but it must be done. Continue reading

Making Cities Resilient & Inclusive

With the impending climate crisis, the planet has already seen an increase in destructive natural disasters. From wildfires in California to severe flooding in Bangladesh, this is just the beginning of what could arise from climate change. While the main concern should be to tackle climate change at its core i.e., greenhouse gas emission, there is no harm in establishing disaster risk plans for when they are necessary. Continue reading

“It’s a Digital Policy Jungle Out There”

The complexity of global internet governance can not be understated; new issues and challenges arise every year. Consequently, this year is the fourteenth meeting of the UN Internet Governance Forum, in which the vision is “One World. One Net. One Vision.” The Forum, along with copious other discussion points, is a way to bring together the rights of individuals both offline and online. How does the evolution of technology impact the capacity for governing the internet? And what challenges have arisen for the future of the internet, and its regulation and related institutional mechanisms? 

We have all seen the drastically increasing presence of technology, specifically the internet, in our lives. Due to inefficiencies in governmental sectors, accounting, science and engineering, the world began to turn towards digitizing for increased productivity in these sectors. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, several international organizations began using this technology for population and infrastructure censusing. The expansion of ICTs did come with a few economic unknowns. From this, two challenges that the implementation of ICTs faced around the world include its scalability and transferability across different geographic and contextual locations. 

One crucial aspect of the evolution of the internet that is necessary to point out is that it developed outside of any governmental or organizational context, and even outside of the Westphalian Sovereign State system at large. It grew without early regulation or government approval, which renders it a much more complex and convoluted issue to address. As such, internet governance faces domestic and international challenges. Global differences in culture and politics is a prime example. Countries like China have a completely government-monitored internet system in which they try to address problems through top-down changes in the structure of the internet. Comparing that to democratic nations, the demands for action and human rights are intrinsically different. Can this gap in mindset be bridged? If so, how? 

Another possible point of contention in the internet governance is definition-making. The two-phased summit, WSIS, worked to define internet governance, identify relevant stakeholders, and identify what their roles should be. In WSIS II, using the wording of “in their respective roles” gives stakeholders leniency [read: constructive ambiguity] in order to reach compromises on the shared principles and rules that shape the internet. The IGF brings people together to participate with these shared norms and the ITF meets to create a rough consensus and operational code for the internet, both allowing space for voices to be heard. Although these institutions may be slow and bureaucratic, they do provide a multi-stakeholder platform for discussion and rule-making, and due to the ever-increasing influence the ICTs have on development, regulation through compromise will be crucial.

Conceptualizing a Solution for Development Through ‘Moonshot Thinking’

A “grand challenge” is exactly what it sounds like: a complex problem that has a stubbornly defined solution (Branscomb). Tom Kahlil of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy defined grand challenges as “ambitious yet achievable goals that capture the public’s imagination and that require innovation and breakthroughs in science and technology to achieve.” One of the most well-known and inspiring historical examples of addressing a grand challenge is Robert F. Kennedy and his promise of the moon landing: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade.” Kennedy’s mindset of believing in the achievement of something nearly impossible, setting a timeframe, and planting the seeds of action is referred to as “moonshot thinking.” Proposing radical solutions to overwhelming problems through the use of research and science, technology, and innovation.  The Medium lays out a five step framework for the methodology of ‘moonshot thinking:’ (1) reset our ‘operating system’ and start thinking exponentially, (2) launching the moonshot, (3) landing the moonshot through trial and error, (4) transform yourself, (5) transform your company. 

This method can be utilized by any kind of actor in the pursuit of overarching problems, specifically the challenge of international development. The USAID addresses grand challenges for development through programs that mobilize governments, companies, and foundations, source new solutions, and test new ideas. Some of these programs include saving lives at birth, having all children reading, making all voices count, securing water for food, and many more. Even though this list only shows a small percentage of all of the challenges of development, it is easy to see how these issues span across all aspects of people’s lives. The Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) were the first commitment of its magnitude to consolidate the efforts of meeting the needs of the worlds’ poorest people.  Building off of the MDGs, the UNGA created the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  The 2030 Agenda is an action plan for “people, planet, and prosperity.” The SDGs are comprised of 17 lofty goals addressing the grand challenge that development poses, each goal accompanied by several targets and indicators in a time-bound fashion to measure the progress towards achieving the goal. Why is ‘moonshot thinking’ relevant for sustainable development? Even though landing on the moon seemed impossible to most, comparable with ending world hunger or poverty, or achieving all of the SDGs, with committed investment in research, innovation and technology, we can achieve truly extraordinary things.

Gender and Intersectionality in Inclusive Development

The term ‘intersectionality’ is tossed around from politics to academia- but what does it truly mean? And can ‘intersectionality’ be a useful concept for inclusive sustainable development? Intersectionality originated from the lived experiences of African-American women facing the dual oppressions and combined effects of racism and sexism; and the term was officially coined by Kimberly Crenshaw in 1989. Since intersectionality’s inception, the working definition has grown to encompass all intersections of identity including gender, race, class, disability, religion, sexual orientation, citizenship status and more. It is also important to point out that these differentiated oppressions are structural rather than individual. All of these social identities must be viewed together, as each one combines to create a person’s experience in society. For example, women who are indigenous may experience gender equality differently than non-indigenous women; the movement for indigenous rights is often prioritizes the group identity, whereas the fight for gender equality tends to focus on the individual rights of women. Intersectionality can be a way to bridge these identities together so as not to fragment varied parts of identities and to understand that inequalities intersect with other oppressions to form people’s lived experiences. Can this concept be used in not only conceptualizing inclusive development but putting it into practice? 

The Gender and Development Network, a network of United Kingdom-based NGOs, is working to promote and prioritize women’s rights in international development. Their website states that, “addressing patriarchy, gender inequality and the abuse of women’s rights remains the primary focus of GADN’s political agenda… But we recognise that gender inequality cannot be understood and effectively confronted in isolation from the myriad of other discriminations and forms of oppression that women face.” Along with this, its pointed out that an individual’s personal experience of intersecting oppressions is unique and their identities can not simply be ‘added up.’ GADN seeks to influence international institutions like the United Nations to propose solutions and shape the gender equality discourse, and GADN also partners with many organizations in the Global South. Along with this, GADN advocates for better gender equality policies and practice in the international development field through providing technical expertise, accessible and well-respected resources, and building a consensus on alternative economic practices. This is a fascinating example of implementing the concept of intersectionality from a feminist lens in both the policy and discourse side of development, as well as actual development practice.