Africa at heart of UN development summit goals

The Summit on Sustainable Development held at the UN General Assembly in New York on 25-27 September will see 193 countries ratify ambitious global goals to end extreme poverty and hunger, address the impact of climate change and reduce inequality by 2030. Africa will be at the heart of the discussions.

Pope Francis addresses a plenary meeting of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 at United Nations headquarters in Manhattan, New York, September 25, 2015.
Pope Francis addresses a plenary meeting of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 at United Nations headquarters in Manhattan, New York, September 25, 2015. Reuters

Member states will formally adopt the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and 169 accompanying targets resulting from the largest consultation process the UN has conducted in its 70-year history.

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The summit sets some very ambitious targets, such as a goal of zero poverty, zero hunger, better healthcare, higher education, gender equality throughout the world, all this to be achieved before 2030.

For many countries in Africa, some of the goals are going to be real challenges.

"It will depend on the means of implementation," Maged Abdelaziz, the Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa at the United Nations, told RFI. "The means that we have agreed upon in the Addis Ababa Conference in July need to be made available coupled with the means of implementation that will come outside of the African continent.

"The African continent itself has a plan for domestic resource mobilisation for the implementation of their own agenda with regards to hunger, to poverty, with regards to health, education, with regards to gender equality, this is where it is going to be hanging, it will depend on how much can be done, and what will be made available."

The 17 goals set very high targets and eradicating hunger by 2030 is one of the most ambitious goals.

"We had the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) that aimed at reducing by half over a longer period and in Africa we did not even manage to reach these goals," Christophe Bellmann of the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development told RFI. "We now have 15 years to completely eradicate hunger, that's of course much more ambitious. That also means it will require more investments, more resources to implement those goals."

The targets may not be realistic, Bellman said, but there has been progress in Africa in recent years. "It is very much associated with ecnomic growth, I would say, more than a logistical problem, and that's where the real challenge is."

One of the main issues will be climate change. 

"Africa has the weakest institutions and infrastructures in order to cope with the impact of climate change," Sarah Hearn, a senior fellow at NYU’s Center on International Cooperation told RFI. "We can go and adapt to climate change but Africa's furthest behind on being able to do that, when it comes to disaster preparedness, when it comes to irrigation systems... and so on and so forth... the poorer the country, the worse hit they are by climate change."

Progress will depend on how much help the West contributes to help African countries.

"We have to achieve more sustainable patterns of production and consumption and, without doing that, we can't really tackle climate change, without tackling climate change, countries in Africa will find it harder to grow food," she said. "What the goals do is set out a vision for mutual responsibilities for one another. But it's true that the targets that are based on zero hunger, zero poverty are going to be extremely difficult to achieve in the very poorest countries."

Most of the people involved in the New York summit firmly believe that a Sustainable Development Goal urging action on climate change will make it harder for governments not to commit to strong action when they meet in Paris in November for further UN talks on that very topic.

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