As anticipated the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals last week. These 17 goals will help set a global agenda for the next 15 years (also called around the U.N. “Agenda 2030”). The SDGs are even more ambitious than the MDGs (Millennial Development Goals) but are consistent with what we all desire for our future: a healthier planet, populated with healthy people. The animating phrase I’ve heard in several meetings pertaining to the goals: “Let’s leave no on behind.”
Here are the goals:
- End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
- End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.
- Ensure healthy lives and promote well being for all at all ages.
- Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
- Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
- Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
- Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
- Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all.
- Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation.
- Reduce inequality within and among countries.
- Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
- Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
- Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts (taking note of agreements made by the UNFCCC forum).
- Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
- Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss.
- Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
- Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.
A few years ago at Kirkwood Baptist Church in St. Louis, we did a study of the MDGs. These goals were compared with the mission of Luke 4:18-19. Jesus walks into his local synagogue, reads a passage from Isaiah, and begins his ministry, preaching the gospel to the poor, healing the brokenhearted, preaching deliverance to the captives, healing the blind, freeing the oppressed and preaching the acceptable year of the Lord. The study proved to be a compelling way to think about our global responsibility in light of our faith commitment to be followers of Jesus. I hope we can develop similar programs around the SDGs, recognizing the call of our faith to partner with all those who share similar objectives — for we in the human family need to be in this together where our mutual interests overlap.
It’s exciting to note the progress made since the MDGs were adopted. Extreme income poverty halved between 1990 and 2010 (poverty defined as average daily consumption of $1.25 or less). Over the same period the likelihood of a child dying before his or her fifth birthday was nearly cut in half. The goal of halving the proportion of people without access to an improved drinking water source was achieved in 2010. Over 2.3 billion people gained such access between 1990 and 2012. On average, gender parity in global primary education has been achieved, and most children now enroll in a primary school. (Source: UNDP)
The SDGs are significant in scope and depth, but they didn’t simply arise from diplomats sitting at semi-circular desks on the east side of New York City. While the MDGs were substantially framed by the U.N. Secretariat the SDGs were established with numerous stakeholders. I’ve heard personally expressed, at more than one meeting, by ambassadors from the General Assembly and from the assistant general secretary, that “civil society” and NGOs specifically were crucial to the SDGs.
There was in fact comprehensive global consultation. National meetings were held in almost 100 countries. Every effort was made to reach marginalized communities, which are not often included in global agendas. Faith networks were actively engaged in the global “MY WORLD” survey roll-out. MY WORLD has enabled more than seven and a half million people to rank their priorities for the future they want.
Of these SDGs, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has just written: “[These] goals are historic. [If accomplished] there will still be poor people, of course, but very few who are too poor to eat or to send children to school. Young journalists or aid workers starting out today will in their careers see very little of the leprosy, illiteracy, elephantiasis and river blindness that I have seen routinely.” This is part of the “good news” which we are to bring and proclaim.
I doubt that anyone reading this will question the worthiness of the SDGs. But I imagine some objections around the question of, “Who sets the Christian agenda? It’s certainly not the U.N.” Fair enough. But with Jesus setting the agenda, as he does in Luke 4, it does seem to me we ought to find the best ways of meeting those objectives. Surely compassion would call us to do nothing less than work with anyone who can lift another out of extreme poverty, or ensure a girl isn’t illiterate because of her sex, or to promote peace.
In my lifelong Baptist experience I have noticed that our tradition (we are surely not alone in this) has an occasional penchant for exaggerated mission language. For example, when in meetings with missionaries in Europe I would hear phrases like, “We’re taking Europe for Christ,” or “Saving Germany for Jesus.” “How about starting with your neighbor?” I would sometimes wonder.
And so I want to recognize that fundamentally that is where we must start: loving our neighbor. However I also believe in the truth of that beautiful phrase of William Sloane Coffin: “Poverty is a tragedy, that great wealth makes a sin.” If we have the means to not only love our near neighbor, but also to advocate for our more distant neighbors, we surely ought to do so.