The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) took the centre stage of the global agenda in the wake of the global financial crisis and the Great Recession. While it was still in the early stages of the implementation process, the world was hit by the outbreak of a pandemic that worsened the economic and social conditions.

The global surge in militancy and extremism has reinforced the agenda’s importance and has made it necessary to renew international efforts in order to achieve SDGs through integrated solutions to maximise their impact.

While serving as the US Secretary of State Collin Power said some years ago that “the war of terror is bound up with war against poverty.” He had also served as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff of the US army.

Sustainable development is vital particularly for those developing countries and emerging markets that ended up piling foreign debts, did not benefit or were left behind by financial globalisation and are facing a stubborn chronic balance of payments (BOP) crisis. The adverse BOP fetters sustainable development and also stifles the potential for international trade and economic cooperation.

Sustainable development is also vital to avoid further erosion of social cohesion in the current phase of economic growth marked by surging social exclusion.

Implicit in the concept of development (SDGs) is the widely recognised fact that economic growth is no measure of social and human development indicators. And without social development, the potential for higher, sustainable and inclusive economic growth can not be realised.

Pakistan’s progress in achieving SDGs so far is reflected in the remarks by President Dr Arif Alvi made at the awards ceremony of Chartered Financial Analysts (CFA) on September 18. He expressed concern at the ‘accumulation of capital in the hands of a minority and ‘increasing uneven distribution of wealth among the rich and the poor.’

Pakistan had secured a score of 55.6 per cent in the SDGs global index in 2018 against a far better regional average of 66.3pc, and lower than that of regional peers — Bangladesh’s 56.2pc and India’s 58.1pc. A scoreboard of 100 indicates that all SDGs have been achieved. According to a tracking 2021 report, Pakistan was ranked 129 out of 193 countries (of which 165 were ranked) in the SDGs global index.

Being the first country to adopt the 2030 SDGs agenda through a resolution of its parliament, Pakistan has pledged to join the league of the upper-middle class by 2030. However, the progress in SDGs implementation, as identified by monitoring reports, has been hamstrung by resource constraints, ‘extremely weak’ institutional coordination and lack of capacity to perform. Hurdles need to be removed.

Some studies by Pakistan economists have defined approaches to sustainable development in their country-specific conditions — a course suggested by the United Nation’s SDGs documents so that, according to one research report, ‘the implementation can be prioritised and sequenced in an optimal manner.’

An important issue highlighted by local as well as international research reports is that SDGs are interlinked and have knock-on effects on each other.

To quote a local report: “we need to help one goal in achieving the other closely linked goals. The lack of attainment in some goals may create bottlenecks for achieving other goals. Such barriers have to be removed.” One may add that to address the problem, policymakers have to work on integrated solutions.

There is also a view that digital revolution, science, technology and innovation can stimulate sustainable development but ‘much will depend on the way technological revolution is put to use — continuing the present trend or inverting them by securing societal control over them.’

No doubt the implementation of the comprehensive SDGs agenda is a complex problem with enormous challenges that, as stipulated in the relevant United Nations document, can only be jointly addressed by governments, businesses and civil society with the required support from developed nations. But so far international SDGs partners have not come up to expectations as initially stipulated.

The 2030 SDGs agenda, unprecedented in scope and significance was adopted on September 25, 2015. It has 17 goals and 169 associated targets. It envisages a huge unprecedented, transformational virtuous change in a decade and a half.

While acknowledging political challenges as to how to achieve the SDGs, eminent development economists are confident that the SDGs are ‘achievable and doable.’ The current multiple crises have created a fertile breeding ground for new ideas to resolve contemporary problems.

“We can’t say our generation did not know how to do it. And we can’t say our generations didn’t have the reason to do it. It is up to us. We can shift the paradigm,” wrote Bono (lead singer of U2 and development activist) in his foreword to the book authored by Jeffrey D Sachs titled The End of Poverty. The book has been described as a road map to a safer and more prosperous world for all. Mr Sachs had served as a Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the Millennium Development Goals.

Mr Sachs says “the incomparable Bono has opened the eyes of millions of fans and citizens in the shared struggle for global equality and justice. And “the destinies of ‘haves’ are intrinsically linked to the fate of the ‘have-nothing-at-all’, enlightens Bono. Reply Forward

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, September 27th, 2021

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