Faith and Goals in the margins

Faith and Goals in the margins

The SDG Scorecard 2030 for Asia-Pacific indicates four goals and targets are of particular concern and “will need to see a reversal in current trajectories, as they are moving in the wrong direction. These targets relate to reducing slum populations, reducing waste, combating climate change and marine conservation, and will require global reversals. Photo credit: Projecting progress: The SDGs in Asia-Pacific, May 2016, Overseas Development Institute” 

Pedro Walpole SJ

Exclusion and conflicts highlight the suffering of millions of people that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seek to address. The Goals are a global strategy coming from an extensive dialogue of 193 nations, and though more critically designed than its predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), still need to be grounded, seeking everyone’s goodwill and collaboration.

Religions are globally present and have the capacity to be change-makers from the community level up.  Religions need to be seen to work together and not be silenced by the media’s focus on extreme movements that use religion. Religions approach the Goals from a moral perspective while calling for a deeper spiritual commitment.

To engage with this ongoing strategy from below is a struggle, and individually, it is tempting to leave it be.  However, the action cannot be left to individuals or to global agreements and governments, who by definition hardly impact the margins where these concerns are the daily life of people.

Given the analyses and insights the goals provide, the potential for impact, and the dire need for change, greater global collaboration is needed by all and a transformation on what the world understands its responsibilities to be.

These Goals (for all their many limitations and the limitations of the UN as a coordinating body) are the primary coordinating strategy, and most religious leaders are expressing the importance and necessity of collaboration. The recent International Conference on Religions and the Sustainable Development Goals at the Vatican highlights the active involvement of all major faiths and Indigenous Peoples.

Working with an Asia Pacific overview, the situation is a little shocking as to the prospects of what the youth of today will still have to deal with as they grow older in 2030-2060.

On one end of the scale of action, while there is great desire to believe extreme poverty will have ended, along with deforestation, it is not convincing. And as universal energy access is greatly improved, this begs the question whether the sources will be sustainable energy?

Even in the area of slow gains, the struggle is great. And Goals 11 to 13 are the toughest and clearly the worst to reverse: reduced slum populations, reduced waste, combating climate change, and protection of the marine environment. Getting real about the condition of humanity and of our home, the planet, these Goals are way beyond our reach – and collaboration is the only way forward.

Outside of these projections, the SDGs are underachieving and ways to bring about greater impact are critical. The High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2019 on Sustainable Development is the UN platform to follow up and review the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs and will be held in New York City, USA in July. The HLPF 2019, with the theme Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality, will review six Goals in depth: Quality Education (4); Decent Work and Economic Growth (8); Reduced Inequalities (10); Climate Action (13); Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions (16); and Partnership for the Goals (17).

Depending upon where our organizations and institutions connect, it is important to find collaborations beyond our present network and see for example how what we do can be of service to other schools and how perhaps our work could relate to broader efforts in disaster risk reduction, and how these in turn might connect and get a greater synergy across the Goals.

The need to collaborate is vital. Michael Møller, Director General of the UN Office at Geneva, spoke at the Vatican conference and shared that “we need new and innovative partnerships that leverage our respective strengths, break down silos, cast away our traditional competitive approaches, and thus increase the likelihood that we will have the needed impact. We can only make this happen together.”

Dr Azza Karam, senior advisor on social and cultural development at the UN Population Fund, has given voice to the importance of faith in her role in the UN to engage more effectively in moving the SDGs, so there is a growing hope that from different perspectives, greater unity in transformation is possible.

Hope is an attribute of community, and when all else in the system fails them, people draw strength from their faith. It can be emphasized that 80% of the world population shares some faith relation and that relation is key in making the change a reality. The fast pace of globalization does not produce packaged hope or workable commitments.


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