A global agreement to protect people and the planet

Transforming our world: the 2030 agenda for sustainable development

Arantza Acha, Director of UNESCO Etxea-UNESCO Basque Country Centre

The 2030 Agenda is the new international development roadmap that was approved in September 2015 at the United Nations General Assembly. This Agenda will be instrumental in the struggle for sustainable human development worldwide between 2015 and 2030. Its main pillars are eradicating poverty, reducing vulnerabilities and inequalities and promoting sustainability.

For the first time in history all the countries of the world have agreed to eradicate poverty, eliminate inequalities and protect the planet. Since it was founded 70 years ago, the United Nations Organisation has been a space for international dialogue on key issues that go far beyond borders and require coordination, cooperation and understanding to solve them effectively. Human development has always focused UN attention, with particular emphasis on the problems of extreme poverty and hunger.

The Millennium Declaration

In 2000 all the countries adopted the «Millennium Declaration», and committed their nations to work to eradicate extreme poverty and ensure the human right to development of people in the poorest countries. This declaration culminated in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which provided a period of 15 years to combat poverty in its many dimensions through health, education, gender equality and the protection of natural resources. Thanks to the efforts made, more than a thousand million people have managed to escape extreme poverty to combat hunger and help a far greater number of girls than ever before to attend school.

However, after the MDG deadline ended, it has become evident that the goals achieved are not enough because inequalities persist systematically. Moreover, these developments have been achieved without taking into account the limits of the planet, which is reflected in the fact that, today, our environmental conditions are worse than 15 years ago, and they follow a trend that unless reversed, it may result in a serious deterioration of life on our planet, including human life. This situation has been addressed and confirmed by United Nations through the «Millennium Ecosystem Assessment» initiative. In our environment, this has been translated into a number of research projects conducted in Biscay and the Basque Country, focused on the relationship between the services of nature and human welfare in our region.

A new inclusive, universal and sustainable agenda

This is why, after the end of the MDG deadline, all the countries within the United Nations, have launched a new, much more ambitious global development agenda that addresses the root causes of inequalities and environmental deterioration. This agenda, known as the 2030 Agenda, was signed on 25 September 2015, and will be the benchmark for progress towards social, cultural, economic and environmental sustainability in all societies. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets will help us to periodically evaluate how each territory commits itself and moves towards a really sustainable and inclusive development. This Agenda is a milestone on an international scale since, for the first time, poverty and sustainable development come together, which highlights that it is not possible to eradicate poverty without considering sustainability. These two issues had already been addressed by UN, but had never been approached in a global way. Furthermore, under the slogan «leaving no one behind», the focus is on people, meaning that there is no possibility of human development without considering human rights.

But, undoubtedly, the greatest development of the 2030 Agenda is that it is a common, universal agenda. The goals set out are common to all countries and all societies. The United Nations and governments have finally agreed that the needs for development are common to all people, regardless of where they live. Everyone needs health, education, housing, employment, energy, equality, peace and healthy ecosystems to live with dignity, both now and in future generations.

The local approach to a global agenda

Why are these goals important to us? What role do we have to play in this agenda, resulting from complex processes and drawn up thousands of kilometres away? The answer is simple, if consider that we are talking about sustainability regarding cities and human settlements, means of production and consumption to promote more inclusive and peaceful societies, achieve true gender equality and build inclusive, sustainable and innovative infrastructures and industries.

We live in a society that is concerned about our environment and people. A number of different actors will play well-defined but complementary roles to achieve the goals agreed on. Public institutions have competences and resources available, and are responsible for implementing efficient policies that ensure sustainable development. Our business sector, albeit weakened by the economic crisis, is largely characterised by its commitment to innovation. Moreover, we have an active and committed civil society that seeks to be involved and participate in its own development. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon explains, we are resolved to «free the human race within this generation from the tyranny of poverty and want, and to heal and secure our planet for the present and for future generations». 

17 sustainable development goals for 17 challenges

1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere.

2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.

3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.

10. Reduce inequality within and among countries.

11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

16 . Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development.