Sustainable Development Goals: Where is the Common Good?

By Kamran Mofid, Founder, Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative (GCGI), June 5, 2015

"Already a billion of us go to bed hungry every night. Not because there isn't enough, but because of the deep injustice in the way the system works." - OXFAM International

In the year 2000, the world leaders adopted the Millennium Declaration: A commitment to a peaceful, prosperous, and just world. The declaration included a set of targets for development and poverty reduction to be reached by 2015. These came to be known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

A cursory look at the world today can easily show that the MDGs journey has been nothing but a big disappointment: Where is “a peaceful, prosperous, and just world“?  Hopes were raised and hopes have been dashed.

These goals will expire on December 31, 2015, and will be replaced by yet another set of gaols, namely the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

I would argue that just as with the MDGs, the new proposed SDGs will not change the world for the better, as long as they are guided and inspired by the neo-liberal values and agenda which shaped the MDGs. These values are not compatible with the socio-economic and environmental goals we so desperately need to achieve and implement.

As well as setting goals every now and again, what people need to hear is an account of why there is so much suffering in this world. Why is there such a sickening level of abject poverty and inequality in and between nations? Why is there such a level of global mistrust and injustice? Why is there so much environmental degradation? Why are we told there is not enough money for education, health, sanitation, drinking water and social services, but there is always plenty for military expenditures and waging wars?  If we try to answer these questions first, then there would be a greater possibility of attaining those goals.

To find those answers we need to appreciate that the ethos of neo-liberalism is destructive of the very SDGs we are seeking to establish in our relationships in society and with Mother Nature. The current neo-liberal capitalist paradigm – economic liberalization, marketisation, privatisation, free trade, endless economic growth, profit-maximisation, cost-minimisation, fierce competition,  huge bonuses for short-term gains, and more – provide strong incentives to ignore distributive justice and ecological sustainability, the very aims of the SDGs.

When economics and politics are based on the worst aspects of human nature, then societies become riddled with inequality, violence and mistrust.

To try to solve global crises, without first questioning the reasons for their continuing existence, will be a wasted and costly journey to nowhere. As Einstein put it: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result". 

If the SDGs are to be reached, it requires a different path with a different set of values. Then an answer to these pertinent questions may be found.

Click to read the full text