EVERYWHERE I’ve worked, I’ve seen that people want essentially the same things: they want their children to be educated, they want decent work that enables them to reach their full potential and provide for their loved ones, they want themselves and their families to be safe, they want to leave their children a better and more just world than the one they were born into.
Each person wants and expects their community, their country, and the international system to help them meet these fundamental aspirations. By and large, national policies and international agreements confirm that we all have the basic right to such support.
This is reflected in the core purpose of the United Nations. Article 1 of its charter states that the UN is to achieve international cooperation in “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all”. This is not optional: it is a duty for the entire UN system, and for international civil servants such as myself. By agreeing to this charter, and through human rights treaties and international agreements, all states also make this pledge towards their people. This is true in Pakistan, where the universal principles of equality and non-discrimination are contained in the Constitution.
The old framework of the 2000–2015 Millennium Development Goals expired on Jan 31, 2016. But thanks to hard work by nearly 200 countries over the last 18 months, in which Pakistan played a leading role, we have in place a new international framework to combat poverty and inequality and to promote sustainable development. This is the International 2030 Development Agenda, which calls on all countries, rich, and poor, to work together to create the future we all want for ourselves and for our children by achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
A great deal must be done to make the SDGs a reality.
The drafters of the SDGs learned from the experience of the previous framework and expanded their scope to include the socio-economic determinants of poverty and made the goals universally applicable to developing and developed countries. They also made them measurable: where previously goals such as achieving gender equality were simply to be ‘promoted’ now they will be measured using specific internationally agreed indicators.
The International 2030 Development Agenda is grounded in the human rights framework of the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Seventy years after the UN Charter was agreed in 1945, they reflect its fundamentals by promoting “social progress in larger freedom”. They also reflect the global agreements on climate change made just two months ago in Paris, and pave the way for environmentally sound solutions.
Pakistan was one of the first countries to recognise the SDGs and draw on them for inspiration. The themes of the SDGs are contained in the government’s agenda at the federal (Vision 2025) level as well as some of those at the provincial levels.
Indeed, Pakistan has already taken several steps to advance this new agenda. This includes investments in education, initial discussions on ‘localising’ the goals, and the establishment of SDG Units.
Certainly, if the SDGs are to move from the realm of aspiration to reality, there is a great deal to be done. Pakistan’s school enrolment rate is 57pc; SDG-4 calls for 43pc more boys and girls to complete primary and secondary education by 2030. Nearly 83 million Pakistanis need to be elevated from multi-dimensional poverty, close to 20m from extreme poverty.
Prioritisation is necessary to determine which areas can be advanced with domestic funds. Six years after the 18th Amendment, the greater clarity there is now on provincial vs federal responsibilities, will make it easier for Pakistan to devise a plan on the SDGs.
Similarly, the alignment of the International 2030 Development Agenda with Vision 2025 and provincial and regional plans will permit Pakistan to utilise existing financing and planning systems. Ongoing consultations with civil society will help revise approaches based on grass-roots feedback. The SDGs require us to focus on eliminating discrimination in laws, policies and practices and on reducing inequalities. We need to improve national and provincial capacities to utilise development budgets and introduce governance reforms, including legislation and civil service reform.
For the UN, sustainable development and human rights are both the means and the ends of our work. By respecting what people want, with protection for universal values and with the participation of all, regardless of gender, ethnicity or religion, the SDGs can become more than an ideal, they can become a true description of the world we are building.
The SDGs are universal. They are goals for Pakistan. The UN team will support the government of Pakistan in using the goals to transform the lives of tens of millions, and to create the future that we all want for our communities, ourselves and our children.
Neil Buhne is the writer who is UN resident coordinator, humanitarian coordinator and UNDP resident representative, Pakistan.