Although I’ve been booked in for an online conference on the Sustainable Development Goals, I’ve found hardly anything in it I can relate to. A large part of the problem rests with the SDGs themselves. There are simply too many tests, and too many priorities. Wildavsky, in Speaking truth to power, complains that long lists of targets become “mechanisms for avoiding rather than making choices”. The Economist commented, when the SDGs were first announced, that “a set of 169 commandments means, in practice, no priorities at all.”
A second problem rests in the voluntary nature of the SDGs. Governments have been left to decide for themselves what they are going to choose from the pick-and-mix in front of them. In this respect, the process looks a lot like the ‘open method of coordination’ in the European Union – an excuse to carry on with whatever they were doing before.
The third problem, however, rests in the injection of that word, ‘sustainability’. The agenda of the conference I was booked in for seems to be devoted entirely to sustainability – nature, climate change and the planet – and says virtually nothing about development. As so often happens, the discussion of the needs of the global south has been been diverted into a discussion of the priorities of the developed world.