Sustaining the future - Lowe

A set of Sustainable Development Goals that aim to transform the world by 2030 will be announced in September, but states are yet to agree what should be included. Global Insight talks to leading experts to get their views.

It is evidently a good thing that the rule of law has slipped its way into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as goal 16. And long may it live and survive any last minute counter-attacks. As an author of the original Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and having headed the UN Development Programme, which has championed human development for many years, I have regretted the rule of law’s previous absence, along with a broader commitment to political rights.

Human development is a concept of development in the round, which includes political freedom under the law and prosperity as equal components of the emancipation from poverty. So well done those who have pressed for this, including George Soros’ Open Society Foundation, whose board I am on.

Nevertheless, the inclusion of this goal is part of a wider proliferation of the original MDGs that will have costs to their future usefulness. First, there are now too many to provide a simple shared road map of development success. The original eight MDGs transformed development from an arcane closed debate to one where there were widely understood and shared objectives.

It is not just that there are now too many of them. Rather, it is that they have jumped the tracks from being simple measures of development outcomes – less poverty and hunger, more kids in school – to being prescriptive inputs about what kind of development policies countries should follow. No self-respecting development strategy could successfully encumber itself with all 17 goals and 169 related targets.

Although important new topics such as environmental sustainability, inequality, energy, water and sanitation are now covered, it is at the expense of development coherence. We must anticipate that development priorities will be set locally as governments and others pick and choose from this menu. It will drive development back to its à la carte past, not the fixed menu of the MDGs. That may enhance local ownership, but the price may be an end to an extraordinary common global journey where poverty has been tackled with a consistency and coherence – and success – that has never been seen before.


Finding a framework to replace the eight MDGs has been approached with the spirit of recognising what the MDGs did well and what they did not. The 17 goals effectively cover the areas that were absent or not explicit in the previous development framework.

However, the one area that remains without a goal is human rights. One could argue that the targets bring in human rights concerns, but given all the global commitments on the issue and how critical human rights are for development, it seems an oversight.

We do not want the next 15 years to take governance and corruption out of the equation… To end poverty, we must end corruption

José Ugaz

The proposal for 17 goals should be seen as a culmination of a process that started in 2012 and has taken us to this point of a negotiated agreement. In any negotiation, there will always be winners and losers. Fortunately, it seems that there are more winners than losers since 17 goals (and 169 targets) are on the table for approval. Trying to reduce the number of goals at this stage in the process would lead to increasing the losers over the winners and putting forward a set of commitments that does not fully capture a universal and transformative agenda.

Part of the shortfall of the MDGs was the failure to set goals that looked at broader context issues, such as governance. The absence of governance has been corrected in the new goals and the proposal currently on the table for goal 16. It also has a specific target on corruption and another on illicit flows.

Transparency International (TI) is working hard to make sure that these proposals are turned into commitments. We do not want the next 15 years to take governance and corruption out of the equation. The high prevalence of bribery has directly and significantly affected country progress on key goals, such as maternal and child health, as well as education. To end poverty, we must end corruption.

The process has seen many innovations in ensuring that it has been more open, accountable and participatory. Draft texts of agreements have been shared openly, discussions have been webcast and civil society has been in the room, even during intense government debates. Also, the government co-chairs of the negotiation process – and the Open Working Group that produced the 17 goals – have held briefings with civil society and made themselves highly accessible. These are important steps forward.

However, there is still a way to go to make civil society an equal partner at the table and ensure concerns raised through consultations with civil society are addressed through government decisions.


I am 100 per cent behind all 17 SDGs and I hope they are adopted. I do, however, have my own set of goals that I would like to propose.

We must achieve ‘three zeros’ by 2050: zero poverty; zero net carbon emissions; zero unemployment

Muhammad Yunus

  1. Every company in the world must devote one per cent of their profit to social business (social business being a non-dividend company to solve human problems).
  2. We must achieve ‘three zeros’ by 2050: zero poverty; zero net carbon emissions; zero unemployment.
  3. Nobody in the world should be outside the reach of affordable financial services, such as credit, savings, insurance, guarantees etc.
  4. The education system should be redesigned to bring up young people as job creators instead of job hunters.
  5. Above a certain level of wealth ownership, half the wealth should go to social business funds after the death of the owner to create social businesses around the world.


The SDGs seek to complete the unfinished business of the MDGs and respond to new challenges. I therefore view the SDGs as part of a continuing process.

I do not believe there are goals missing. There is, however, one goal that should be further elaborated and expanded: namely, goal 16 on access to justice for all. Among the actions mentioned in connection with this goal are promoting the rule of law at the national and international levels, and reducing corruption and bribery in all their forms.

If you look at conflicts around the world and ask why they exist, the answer is the same: no democracy, no rule of law

Hans Corell

These elements are overarching and of a much broader character than ‘access to justice for all’. Goal 16 should therefore, in my view, be reformulated, bringing in the need for international peace and security, democracy and the rule of law. These components are absolutely necessary for implementing all the other SDGs. Democracy and the rule of law are indispensable components in modern world governance.

I reiterate what I have said so many times before. If you look at conflicts around the world and ask why they exist, the answer is the same: no democracy, no rule of law. By way of example, let me mention Ukraine. If you look at the SDGs and the need to work for protecting the human habitat on the globe, what is happening in Ukraine at present is unforgiveable. Something like this should not be allowed to happen in the 21st century. Where is the statesmanship?

It is true that there are many goals. But if you look at them individually, you realise that they are all important. The most significant are the first five ones, focusing on the human person, including empowerment of women. In view of my past experiences, I am also looking with particular attention at goals 13 to 15, focusing on the protection of the human habitat. There is an absolute need to combat climate change and to use the oceans, seas, and marine resources in a sustainable manner.

The question now is whether this process will be driven forward with sufficient determination and efficiency.


In goal 18, I would have preferred the inclusion of an explicit reference to democracy and the rule of law. They are there only by implication and that is a less effective message. That said, I do not believe that there are any important goals that have not been included.

However, I would have preferred fewer goals and would suggest that this could have been achieved by consolidating a number of them. I would refer in particular to those that incorporate sustainable development, climate change and social and economic goals.

In my opinion, the most important goals are those that refer to the eradication of hunger, improved health care, achievement of gender equality, achievement of universal education and ensuring sustainable development.

The process by which the 17 SDGs have been selected is certainly more democratic than that which resulted in the MDGs. A process that was anything but transparent has been replaced by one in which there has been wide consultation between Member States of the UN.

One of the inevitable consequences is the more numerous and less well-defined list of goals. I would suggest that this cost is justified. Ownership of the goals is essential to their being taken seriously.


The IBA is particularly pleased that the SDGs include a focus on gender equality, food security, inclusive and equitable quality education, urgent action to combat climate change and access to justice. Another important goal for attaining sustainable development is ensuring appropriate recording of property ownership. Without this, it is difficult for people to obtain value from it and to be mobile.

The number of goals proposed by the Open Working Group is an acknowledgment that an effective agenda for sustainable development must be both holistic and integrated.
The number of goals also reflects the broader scope and universal ambition of the
post-2015 development agenda, as it recognises the interlinking roles of environmental protection, good governance, social justice, economic development and peace and security, among others. Clearly defined goals accompanied by measurable targets render the attainment of the SDGs more tangible and less remote. In this way, states and other actors will be incentivised to take positive steps towards achieving them.

Certain goals have the potential to have a greater impact on other goals. I believe that number 13 – the need to ‘take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’ – is a critically important goal for these reasons. As the UN Secretary-General noted in his Synthesis Report on the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda, climate change exacerbates other threats to sustainable development and makes ‘delivering on the sustainable development agenda more difficult because it reverses positive trends, creates new uncertainties and raises the cost of resilience’. In addition, goal 16 is very important. Without the rule of law, many of the other SDGs are simply not attainable.

The consultation process has been, to echo the words of the UN Secretary-General, unprecedented in its scale and breath.
The consultation extended far beyond the UN system to canvass the views of civil society, businesses and experts, as well as direct engagement with over one million people through consultations. The inclusiveness and transparency demonstrated throughout the process supports the legitimacy and universality of the goals and will assist in successfully meeting them.


The first 15 proposed SDGs envision what a good world would be like: free from poverty and hunger, with everyone healthy and educated and able to access clean water, sanitation and affordable energy.
Decent work is available for all, gender equality has been achieved and countries work together to combat climate change and use the oceans and land sustainably.

Goal 16 is more conceptual, aiming to ‘promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels’. Within this goal is also a commitment to promoting the rule of law at national and international levels.

Goal 16 is not only an end in itself, but, by including the promotion of the rule of law and access to justice for all, contains the means to achieve all the other goals. In this way, it becomes the most important goal, without which the others will falter or fail.

The mere existence of legal rights says nothing about the lives of the beneficiaries of those rights unless the law is fully enforced. It is not enough to make promises, or even back up those promises with laws. Where access to justice is limited, inadequate or absent, the individual tragedies of poverty, hunger, ignorance and ill health will continue, as will the global tragedies of climate change and the destruction of habitat and species.

Access to justice was not an MDG, but its importance in promoting human dignity and social and economic development has no doubt been a driver for the successes achieved under the MDGs. Making its importance and relevance explicit by including it in the SDGs can only help achieve those goals.

And, of course, it means that lawyers all over the world will know that they can contribute to the SDGs by continuing to promote access to justice and the rule of law, locally, nationally and internationally

The Sustainable Development Goals explained

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are designed to frame the policies of United Nations Member States from 2016 to 2030. They expand on the eight Millennium Development Goals that are due to expire at the end of 2015.

The MDGs comprised: reducing poverty and hunger; achieving universal education; promoting gender equality; reducing child and maternal deaths; combatting HIV, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing global partnerships.

While the MDGs enjoyed some success, they have been criticised for being too narrow and failing to view issues holistically. The SDGs aim to remedy this. Within the goals are 169 targets – including promoting the rule of law and equal access to justice – designed to provide greater detail and guide states on implementation.

An Open Working Group with representatives from more than 70 countries was established after the 2012 Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development to draw up a draft set of SDGs. The UN also conducted dozens of national and international consultations with civil society across the world. The final draft of 17 goals was published in July 2014.

Opinions on the SDGs among governments, individuals and civil society organisations are mixed. Some believe there are too many; others say it is better to be comprehensive than risk omitting a key issue. Member States are currently undertaking final discussions on the content of the SDGs, and the final goals and targets are due to be announced in September.

The proposed 17 goals:

  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 wellbeing 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 industrialisation, 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 (acknowledging that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is the primary intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change)
  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 revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development