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In the 1990s, as Fukuda-Parr and Hulme point out, international development specialists were bitterly divided over the merits of structural adjustment and the Washington Consensus, with the World Bank and IMF pitted against NGOs, “with the UN caught in the middle” (2011: 24).
Is the UN’s confidence in the merits of its new agenda defensible?
Do the SDGs indeed represent a “supremely ambitious and transformational vision”?
More generally, it calls into question the anthropocentric bias of all development paradigms, including that of human development.
Following the June 2012 summit of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) – popularly known as Rio 20 – the MDG-replacement process was conclusively merged with the UN’s sustainable development agenda.
The new goals are designed to build on the MDGs and “complete what they did not achieve.” But while there were only eight MDGs, the SDGs are 17 in number, with 169 associated targets, and 304 proposed indicators. The governments that have signed on, however, are clearly pleased with themselves.
This dramatic jump in goals and targets from the MDGs to SDGs has provoked criticism, even ridicule. “On behalf of the peoples we serve, we have adopted a historic decision on a comprehensive, far-reaching and people-centered set of universal and transformative goals and targets,” their resolution states.I am sorry to find doctors who deceive their sick brethren.Doctor's business is after all service and I am determined to do so. At the end of 2013, however, the UN announced that the SDGs, under preparation by the OWG, would be used to replace the MDGs.There would be only one set of goals, and the post-2015 agenda would be a sustainable development agenda.The high-level panel suggested twelve “illustrative goals and targets” as possible replacements for the MDGs, and recommended putting “sustainable development at the core” of the post-2015 agenda.This signalled a decisive shift in the official discourse on the MDG-replacements from the idea of ‘human development,’ which had inspired the MDGs, to that of ‘sustainable development’ (the most influential conceptualization of which is articulated in the Brundtland Commission’s Report of 1987 as: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”).The key outcome of Rio 20 was an agreement by member states to develop a set of aspirational sustainable development goals similar to the MDGs, and in January 2013, a 30-member Open Working Group (OWG) of the UNGA was tasked with preparing the requisite proposal.Rio 20 did not spell out the sustainable development goals, and nor, at the time of the event, were they being viewed as MDG successors.With the acceptance of this report, it was argued that the UNGA had assented to the MDGs (see, in this connection, Wisor 2012; Hulme and Scott 2010). The new agenda was challenged almost immediately by international NGOs, with the complaint that the MDGs had been devised in a top-down manner by international civil servants based in New York rather than through a democratic process of consultation with civil society.While this was a reasonable grievance, the narrow process adopted by the authors of the MDGs was quite sage given the political climate of the time.