A Critique on UN Sustainable Development Goals

UN Sustainable Development Goals
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It was a clarion call to change. How much have we changed?
The UN proposed the idea of sustainable development in its New York summit held in 2015. Since the UN is the collective consciousness of the world, its members accepted the idea officially and promised that they would achieve the “17 UN Sustainable Development Goals” by 2030. The project has been running for the last five years without a break, and another ten years are there for the entire world to reach the holy mountain of the seventeen goals. If all the countries achieve the goals within the time, Earth will become a paradise. However, harsh ground realities say that it is a utopian dream. Such a classification may appear pessimistic and profane to many, but any amount of wishful thinking cannot replace reality. Global sustainable report 2019 admits that everything is not on the track of fulfillment.

“The coming years will be a vital period to save the planet and to achieve sustainable, inclusive, human development.”

ANTONIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General, U N.

Listed below are the goals to be attained.

What are the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals?

  • (i) No poverty
  • (ii) Zero hunger
  • (iii) Good Health and well- being
  • (iv) Quality education
  • (v) Gender equality
  • (vi) Clean water and sanitation
  • (vii) Affordable and clean energy
  • (viii) Decent work and economic growth
  • (ix) Industry Innovation and infrastructure
  • (x) Reduced inequalities
  • (xi) Sustainable cities and communities
  • (xii) Responsible consumption and production
  • (xiii) Climate action
  • (xiv) Life below water
  • (xv) Life on land
  • (xvi) Peace, Justice, and strong institutions
  • (xvii) Partnerships for the goals

(Source: Volunteering Solutions)

If all these lofty thoughts are put into practice everywhere, then humanity would cross the golden milestone. But now it appears to be a never-ending journey.

Where Countries Stand Now?

UN has a scheme to rank all the nations according to their achievements in SDG. The latest ranking by them (2019) has given the FIRST RANK TO DENMARK WITH AN OVERALL SCORE OF 85.2. Followed by Sweden with a score of85.0, Finland 82.8, France81.5, Austria 81.1, Germany 81.1, Czech Republic 80.7, Norway 80.7, Netherlands 80.4, and Estonia secured the tenth rank with 80. 2scores. Front runners had performed well by securing above 80% score. And, notable nations like the UK scored 79.4(13th) Japan 78.9 (15th), Switzerland 78.8(17th), Canada 77.9(20th), US 74.5 (35th), China 73.2 (39th). Mongolia took the 100thrank with a score of 64.7, and India got61.1 (115th). The Central African Republic scored 39.1, ranked 162. U N stopped ranking at 162 because 31 nations are nowhere near the goals.

A Critical Analysis

UN candidly admits that the world is off-track in its desire to end poverty. In the Sub-Saharan area, 413 million are under extreme poverty. Analysis of the second goal, zero hunger, reveals a cruel reality. It says that two-thirds of extremely poor employed workers worldwide are AGRICULTURAL WORKERS! Agricultural workers sweat it out to feed others live in poverty! It is a poor country phenomenon, where two—thirds of the population are in the agrarian sector. In the developed nations, only 5% are in the agrarian sector, and poverty/ hunger are mere words in the dictionary. UN claims that there is an improvement in the health sector.

However, the impact of the Corona Virus all over the world reveals another picture. Some epidemics are indeed under control, but the advent of new diseases tells that everything is not robust in the health sector. The total of all the other goals is as follows, 750 million adults are illiterate, and gender equality is still a dream in most parts of the world. More than200 million girls and women are subjected to genital mutilation even now. Millions and millions do not have safe drinking water and sanitation. UN anticipates that 700 million people will be displaced due to scarcity of drinking water by 2030. 780 million people in rural areas do not have electricity. Economic growth in the Least Developed countries stands at 4.8% against the anticipated 7%.

Industrialization in the least developed countries moves at a snail’s pace. Reduction of inequalities also is a distant dream because everywhere, a major share of income goes to the top 1% of people, and a 40% bottom layer receives less than 25% of the overall income. Safe, resilient, and sustainable human settlements and cities are an excellent idea. But today’s picture is this, “1 out of 4 urban residents live in slum-like condition and 9 out of 10 urban residents breathe polluted air, and 2 billion people do not have access to waste disposal services”. The Exploitation of natural resources is continuing at an alarming rate. Without ambiguity, theUN says that the richest nations depend heavily on resources extracted from poor countries.

Fearful is the sudden changes in climate. We have acidified and covered the bed of oceans with plastic and other debris. The fish stock depletion is rapid. This report seriously reminds us that biodiversity loss is happening at a fast pace. The Process to establish “Peace, Justice and strong institutions” too is limping. Performance in the partnerships for the goals reveals considerable downswing in official development assistance.

The ambitious program to create a better world to live in not only for human beings but also for all other sentient beings is not up to the expectation in its fifth year of running. As usual, these global action programs also, in clear terms, declare that the world is still divided into two, i.e., a world of haves and have-nots. In all probability, it would continue like that for a long time to come, and in no way, the world body is responsible for it. If the noble agenda of the UN fails to change the world, then what could be the reasons?


It is almost sure that if the pandemic COVID-19, had not been there, some runners in the UN rank list might have reached somewhere near the seventeen goals within the stipulated time. But now that is a lost hope. Suppose the world had been running on its usual mode, would have the entire world reached where it ought to? No is the answer. Why?

The major drawback of this program is this; even though all the members together decided to change the whole world through sustainable development, nobody is legally bound to implement it. It means the achievement of goals entirely depends on the attitude and vision of the rulers of each country. The well to do countries, most probably European Union countries and G8 countries with really democratic and compassionate rulers may achieve all goals within the time limit. However, it will be at the cost of poor ones as they heavily depend on natural resources from poor countries, keeping their natural resources intact, thereby making the twelfth goal, “Responsible consumption and production”, an unattainable one for them. Is it not ironic? They would preserve their natural resources at the cost of poor ones and may proudly declare to the world that they have achieved all the goals, defeating the spirit of the program.

Also, some oil-rich countries too may achieve all goals except the fifth and fifteenth i.e., “Gender equality,” “Peace, Justice and strong institutions”, because their mind set up is still feudal, and they all are under the spell of theocracy. Theocracy has its perceptions about gender equality, justice, and institutions, based on their religious texts, which differ with the UN Concepts of equality and justice. So they will conveniently forget those goals. The same will be the fate of almost all goals where extreme right-wingers are ruling.

Further, war-torn Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Congo, Somalia, and others may not be thinking about any development at all. Also, most African countries are still ruled by the warlords and primitive tribal cultures where development is a crime. So, even if you are an extraordinary optimist, you should not dream about the overall development of the world. Wars, illiteracy, theocracy, right-wing politics, and dictatorship, would prevent the world from achieving the goals proposed by the UN. Moreover, the lackadaisical approach to environmental issues by a section of influential people, irrespective of the Paris Agreement, also will be a cause for the failure of the project. 

What the UN Could Have Done Instead?

Instead of 17 goals to achieve at a go by the entire world, if the UN had divided the world into different zones, it could have proposed region-specific goals with financial assistance. It would have helped the least developed countries considerably. Furthermore, had it been able to give prominence to the goal, “quality education” all over the world, it would have slowly brought all other goals along with it in the long run as happened in the state of Kerala in India, where investment by the government in education and public health is considerably high. The state has gained worldwide applause for its overall development. It does not mean that Kerala model development is sound and healthy in every aspect. But there is hope in it for underdeveloped and developing nations. Massive investment in modern education will widen the mindscape of every conservative society, and eventually, it would change the scenario.

So, if the UN is willing to draw pictures of improvement on small canvases with two or three colors, it may succeed in making the entire world colorful. But if it goes on to paint the entire world with seventeen mixed colors, undoubtedly, its color palette will go dry soon. Finally, the UN will find some parts of the world painted in bright colors and a major part without any color at all.

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