The Sustainable Development Goals 2015 – 2030

In 2015, following the end of the 2000 -2015 Millennium Development Goals, all member states of the United Nations signed up to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Sustainable Development Goals are part of this agenda, and they are much broader in scope than the original Millennium Development Goals and are more ambitious.

There are 17 Sustainable Development goals (which split into a further 169 targets):

Five main themes of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development:

  • People – many of the goals focus on lifting people out poverty and hunger and providing a decent education for all
  • Planet – there is a lot more focus on protecting the environment compared to the original MDGs – for example with the ‘life under water’ goal.
  • Prosperity – there is a focus on improving lives through enterprise and innovation, linking into partnership below
  • Peace – the agenda recognises that there can be no effective development without peace.
  • Partnership – there is much more focus on the agenda for sustainable development being a partnership between developed and less developed countries than with the original MDGs.
NB – The most important goals?
Note how goals 7 and 8 from the MDGs are now a lot more prominent in the updated SusDev goals…

Tracking progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals

You can click on any of the goals on site linked above to find out about progress towards achieving them.

This link will take you to the progress towards goal 1, for example. The latest 2020 update doesn’t look promising. It notes that:

  • Even before the Pandemic, the rate of reducing the percentage of people in extreme poverty had slowed (it was around 14% in 2010, 8% in 2015 and just down to 7% in 2019.
  • With the Pandemic, another 50 million people will be pushed back into poverty, pushing that figure back up to 8%.

The Sustainable Development Goals: Peak Bureaucracy but little Progress?

One possible criticisms of the Sustainable Development Goals might be that there seems to be A LOT of organisations involved with being ‘partners’ for development, but not so much actual progress being made! Lots of talk, LOTS of words, LOTS of info and pretty colour coded targets, but not so much actual progress…?!?

About this post

This post was written primarily for A-level sociology students studying the Global Development Option in year two.

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Explaining the Rapid Social Development in Ghana

Ghana, in West Africa, has seen positive economic growth for several decades now, on a par with many of its peers (similar countries by virtue of their development stats):

However, it has been more successful that other countries in translating that economic growth into social development, as measured by the decline in stunting and the increase in primary education enrolment:

This is all according to a recent (June 2020) Report by the World Bank: Building Human Capital: Lessons from Country Experiences – Ghana.

The report takes an in-depth look at the government policies of Ghana and concludes that the positive social development has been the result of a multi-pronged policy initiatives all working together in the longer term, including:

  1. Setting up a National Health Insurance Scheme – ensuring everyone has access to basic healthcare. This was funded by primarily by increasing tax on selected goods and services and on formal sector workers.
  2. FCUBE – Free Compulsory Universal Education
  3. School feeding programmes
  4. WASH programmes – to address poor access to water and sanitation – this was largely funded by aid from the International Community.
  5. Adult education programmes – particularly useful in educating adults about health care issues and preventing stunting.

Of particular note here is that the Ghanian government put a special tax (I think it was 2.5%) on oil extraction, specifically to fund health and education.

Also noted is the good governance in Ghana – government is stable so they’ve had continuous investment in health and education for decades now.

Analysis – what does this tell us about theories of development?

Really it tells us that governments are important – if you think about the UK – we have a (relatively) high tax and high-cost free health and education system, which help us develop ‘human capital’ – and that is what Ghana seems to have focused on at the national level.

This case study suggests that MORE government works best for social development, not less – development in Ghana has happened through taxing the oil industry and paying for state social services – taxation, public services and more regulation resulting, in this case, in MORE positive development – a great case study against the neoliberal theory of development.

Analysis – how generalisable is this case study to other countries?

This kind of development may only apply to countries who are free of conflict and have a stable, minimally corrupt government – that way, if resources such as oil are discovered, they can be taxed and the income used for health and education.

There are plenty of low to middle income countries (Ghana’s ‘peer’ countries as outlined in the World Bank report) which could learn from Ghana – so this is maybe a good low-middle income development case study.

However, as Paul Collier and the authors of ‘Failed States’ have demonstrated, many countries stuck at the bottom of the development ladder are not in a position to put in place such policies, so this case study is no help to them.

People Centered Development

This post provides a brief summary of people centred development approaches to social development, including the work of Vandana Shiva.

Why are developing countries underdeveloped?

People Centered Development Theorists generally agree with Dependency Theory about why some countries are underdeveloped – because of a history of exploitation and extraction by western Nation States and TNCs.

PCD theorists are also very critical of the role of large institutions in development – international institutions such as the World Bank and IMF and both western nation states and developing nation states. They argue that big development projects aimed at macro level goals such as increasing GDP and neoliberal strategies of deregulation often do not improve the lives of people ‘on the ground’. In this sense, as Amartya Sen argues, development needs to be about giving people independence so they have real power and choice over their day to day situations, it shouldn’t be ‘top down’ coming from the west, via governments and then trickling down to the people.

People Centered Development theorists also have a much broader conception of what ‘development’ could actually mean. They don’t believe that development has to mean them becoming more like the West and development shouldn’t be seen in narrow terms such as industrialising and bringing about economic growth, development projects should be much smaller scale, much more diverse, and much more coming from the people living in developing countries.

Finally, PCD theorists reject Western Definitions of ‘underdevelopment’ – just because some cultures are rural, non-industrialised, and not trading, doesn’t mean they are inferior.

Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva is a good example of a theorist who comes under the umbrella of a People Centred Development approach to development.

She has spent much of her life in the defence and celebration of biodiversity and indigenous knowledge.  Seed freedom is central to the idea of Shiva’s work (the rejection of corporate patents on seeds, and protecting the rights of local peoples to save their own seed).

Vandana Shiva has also played a major role in the global Ecofeminist movement. According to her 2004 article Empowering Women, Shiva suggests that a more sustainable and productive approach to agriculture can be achieved through reinstating a system of farming in India that is more centred on engaging women. She advocates against the prevalent “patriarchal logic of exclusion.”

Doctor Vandana Shiva
Doctor Vandana Shiva

How should developing countries develop?

People centred development means ‘ground up development’ – empowering local communities. Because of this, there are potentially thousands of pathways to development

The thousands of small scale fair trade and micro finance projects around the world are good examples of PCD style projects embedded in a global network.

Bhutan is a good country level example of PCD principles – globalising on their own terms.

Indigenous peoples living traditional lifestyles, effectively rejecting most of what the west has to offer is another good example.

At a global level, PCD theorists believe that any development projects embarked upon should embody three core principles –

  • Social Justice – they shouldn’t be based around exploitation (like tied aid is)
  • Inclusivity – they should be democratic, bottom up, not top down – they should be designed with communities living in developing countries, not by western experts.
  • Sustainable – Projects shouldn’t degrade local environments

Criticisms of People Centred Development

All the other theories argue that, eventually, if a poor country really wants to improve the lives of its people en masse in the long term, it needs money, this can only come from industrialisation and trade, is it really possible to improve standards of living through small scale projects?

Focussing solely on small scale development projects still leaves local communities in developing countries relatively poor compared to us in the West, is this really social justice?

In a globalising world it simply isn’t realistic to expect developing countries (such as Bhutan or groups living in the Rain Forest) to be able to tackle future problems if they remain underdeveloped – eventually population growth or climate change or refugees or drugs or loggers are going to infiltrate their boarders, and it is much easier to respond to these problems if a country has a lot of money a well functioning state and a high level of technology.

PCD is too relativistic – is it really the case that all cultures have equal value and diverse definitions and paths to development should be accepted? Do we really just accept that patriarchy and FGM are OK in places like Saudi Arabia and Somalia because that’s what their populations have ‘chosen’?


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