What are the SDGs, and why should I care?

August 5, 2015

by Mark Engman, Director Public Policy and Advocacy

After two years of negotiations, on August 2, UN Member States agreed on the draft outcome document for the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This agreement, “Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” will redefine how the global community works together to tackle poverty and improve living standards, while protecting the environment.

Do these goals really matter? For UNICEF supporters, the answer is YES!

Since 1990, the framework for global progress has been the Millennium Development Goals, that set targets for achieving measurable improvements in critical areas of human development, including child survival, education, and safe water.

In the midst of all the depressing headlines these days, we can lose sight of the progress the world has made for children.  Over the past 25 years, the world saw incredible improvements progress in reducing child deaths, getting more children into schools (including girls), reducing extreme poverty, and in ensuring more children have access to safe water and better sanitation.  UNICEF played a major role in that progress.

The MDGs will expire in September 2015.  Although the world didn’t achieve all the MDGs, they served an important role in focusing development efforts and measuring results.  They weren’t perfect, though.  While there was overall progress globally, the MDGs were incremental goals; too many of the poorest and most vulnerable people were left out; and the MDGs did not address issues of violence, exploitation, and abuse that children face.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) commit the world to much more ambitious goals: in the next 15 years we can end preventable child and maternal deaths, we can end extreme poverty, we can end child marriage, we can end children left out of school – not just for some children but for all children, even the poorest and most disadvantaged.

UNICEF engaged throughout the negotiations process to make sure the SDGs are about equity and about children.  UNICEF’s recent report revealed that despite significant achievements, unequal opportunities have left millions of children living in poverty, dying before they turn five, without schooling, and suffering chronic malnutrition.  As UNICEF’s Anthony Lake said, “The SDGs present an opportunity to apply the lessons we have learned and reach the children in greatest need – and shame on us if we don’t.”

With UNICEF guidance, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF weighed in with U.S. Government officials for support on key points.  For example:

  • We asked the U.S. Government to ensure inclusion of a specific goal to end preventable child deaths;
  • We pushed for UNICEF’s proposed language in the outcome document to recognize young people as critical agents of change, not just passive beneficiaries of assistance;
  • With other NGOs, we pressed for references to ending child marriage, female genital cutting, and other harmful traditional practices.

We are happy to report that the final document included these changes and more!

We can reach these goals – but only with sustained U.S. support!  Many developing countries will need a lot of help to reach these wide-ranging goals.  Americans have been traditionally generous in supporting efforts to help children, both as private citizens and through the U.S. Government.  If we want to reach the SDGs, we all need to maintain our investments in global programs that help children.

We’ll keep you posted as the process unfolds – and we know we can count on you when the time comes to tell Members of Congress to help the world’s children.