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The SDGs are not perfect, but we should still believe in them!

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For our third story of the GenerAction series, ONE Youth Ambassador Bruna Passaretti recalls the 2012 People's Summit in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. This gathering of trade union and the civil society was pushing for the upcoming United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals to be drafted with local communities. A decade, and a global pandemic later, it is time to take stock.

Back in 2012, I participated in the People’s Summit, a parallel event to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in my home country, Brazil. The point of this alternative world summit was to push international experts and officials to involve more local communities while drafting a set of common goals to ensure a sustainable development.

As a young activist, I came to this Summit seeking youth engagement and empowerment. I wanted to learn how to play a role in my own development as well as that of my community.

In my personal experience, when given the necessary opportunities and resources, young people are a surprising driving force for creating relevant social change. And that’s exactly what I was looking for.

Organised by the civil society and social movements from several countries, this People’s Summit was a place for us where we could discuss together the causes of the social and environmental crisis. And how we can find practical solutions and to strengthen social movements at a local level.

How the SGD came to life

Three years after Rio+, the United Nations approved in 2015 the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. And a new acronym quickly became very trendy around the world: the SDGs.

Those 17 Sustainable Development Goals seek, according to the United Nation “a world of universal respect for human rights and human dignity, the rule of law, justice, equality and non-discrimination”. Those goals and their 169 targets,“aim at eradicating poverty in all forms and “seek to realise the human rights of all and achieve gender equality.”

Those SDGs are far from perfect. Already at the People's Summit organisers pushed for greater citizen's involvement for drafting those goals. The goals proposed by the UN were more favouring companies than representing people. Still, the objective of civil society and trade unions was not to rebel against those goals, but to propose improved actions and solutions.

How the pandemic made us lose a decade

10 years after Rio+20, where are we on those SDGs? One on hand I think how overwhelming that young people keep advocating for a more sustainable world. Especially after a global pandemic and an uneven and inequitable recovery.

But on the other hand, objectives are not met. The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2021 revealed the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on the poor implementation of the SDGs globally.

Perhaps the most alarming of all the SDGs is its first goal on eradicating extreme poverty “for all people everywhere.” So by 2030, no one, wherever they are, must live with less than $1.90 a day.

Research warns that "the economic fallout from the global pandemic could increase global poverty by as much as half a billion people, or 8 percent of the total human population. This would be the first time that poverty has increased globally in thirty years since 1990”.

The fourth SDG dedicated to quality education was also hugely affected. During the pandemic, 70 percent of the world's students were impacted by schools closure or fewer education access. E-learning education allows students to keep up, but they have first to get internet access.

The same can be said for other goals. According to the Global SDG Indicators Database, the Covid-19 pandemic has halted, or even reversed progress on the third SDG goal on health and life expectancy. The SDG8 goal dedicated to “promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all” is also in a bad shape as the pandemic led to the loss of 255 million full-time jobs worldwide.

So instead of 2030, SDGs objectives might be met in 2082, if not 2092 according to Ahmad Alhendawi who heads the World Organisation of the Scout Movement

Engagement of society

But this spot of darkness that has lingered over our world in the last years might have been matched with brilliant points of light. From the streets of every corner of the world to the online arena, I have seen powerful demonstrations of youth commitment to equality, climate action and human rights. Many young people have shown their commitment to achieving the SDGs.

For instance, the Youth 2030 Cities project hosted three Forums in Latin America in March. This event brought together activists to discuss the most pertinent problems facing their local communities and how to find inclusive and sustainable solutions. And this forum highlighted the youth’s responsibility to create political, environmental, and sustainable changes to advance the SDGs.

These types of initiatives always take me back to the People’s Summit in 2012 when I had just started my "advocacy journey" – not having a clue what was coming next, but trying to contribute to solutions-based initiatives hoping for a future rooted in sustainability.

2030 is just around the corner and we might not reach any goal at all, I know. The current prospects are blurred; it feels like the various SDGs are linked together and achieving them, somehow, ended up being in our hands. As Richard Dzikunu, an advocate of young people’s rights, said "with half the world currently under 30, who better to be at the heart of this accountability process than young people?”

If SDGs are the best framework we have to secure a sustainable world for all? I don’t think so. But despite all the challenges faced so far, young people all around the globe continue to preserve and commit to creating a better future. The deep, altruistic, and purpose-driven qualities inherent in today’s youth seems critical for the advancements in achieving the SDGs.

As for me? I am still an activist trying to do my part.

I am currently volunteering for ONE in Belgium - a global movement campaigning to end extreme poverty and preventable disease - so that everyone, everywhere can lead a life of dignity and opportunities.

In the lead up to the G7 summit, I, along with other youth volunteers across Europe, am asking leaders to prioritise action against the converging crises of climate change, famine, covid-19 and conflict. Inaction will simply set us back further, making a challenging feat virtually impossible, pushing many more people further into poverty.

But if the SDG agenda is the best hope we have, I choose to be involved.

What about you?

This story is part of Cafébabel’s partnership with the NGO ONE and its GenerAction campaign. Ahead of the G7 summit in Germany on 26-28 June, GenerAction aims to catch the attention of decision-makers, urging them to act now and to rewrite the future. Add your name to be part of the GenerAction movement.

Cover: Women protesting in Rio during the People's Summit in March 2012 in Rio © Brent Millikan/International Rivers