‘”We acknowledge also the essential role of national parliaments through their enactment of legislation and adoption of budgets and their role in ensuring accountability for the effective implementation of our commitments”. -Para 45, General Assembly Res 70/1 – Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
By Nyasha Mcbride Mpani
After the Millennium Development goals came to an end in 2015, the United Nations (UN) developed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which saw 193 countries of the UN General Assembly adopt the 2030 Development Agenda titled “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. South Africa signed and ratified the Sustainable Development Goal and agreed to this international commitment that seeks to promote development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The SDGs were triggered by the Stockholm Conference of 1972, which was a United Nation Conference on international environmental issues. The conference planted the seed or gave appetite (Brundtland Report) to the need to ensure that the natural resources of the earth be conserved and protected for future generations through appropriate and careful planning and management. With the SDGS succeeding the Millennium Development Goals in 2015, South Africa is now left with eight years to ensure that the SDGs are achieved and that global challenges which include poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice are addressed in the country. With the few years left, questions that arise are: Has South Africa managed to address these challenges? What can parliamentarians do to ensure that South Africa realises these goals by 2030? This paper seeks to try and answer the above questions and identify ways in which parliamentarians can be of help in ensuring the country realises these goals by 2030.
WHAT ARE THE SDGs?
As stated earlier, the SDGs is a very important blueprint that seeks to attain a better and more sustainable future for all. South Africa is a signatory of this blueprint and is committed to ensuring the realisation of these goals. The SDGs are seventeen (17) and each goal has a set of targets and indicators explained briefly below:
Goal 1:No poverty –This goal seeks to ensure that poverty in all its forms is eradicated. South Africa, just like other member states, pledged to not leave anyone behind and to ensure that focus is not only on people who are living in poverty, but also on the services that have the potential of preventing or promoting poverty, i.e., social policy.
Goal 2:Zero hunger (No hunger) – It endeavours to fight hunger, attain food security and improved nutrition, and stimulate sustainable agronomy. It has five main targets which include ending hunger, improving access to food, ending all forms of malnutrition; agricultural productivity; sustainable food production systems and resilient agricultural practices.
Goal 3:Good health and well-being– The goal seeks to ensure the realisation of good and quality health and wellbeing of people. It also endeavours to promote development and universal access to affordable vaccines and medicines; increase health financing and support the health workforce in developing countries; and improve early warning systems for global health risks.
Goal 4:Quality education– It targets achieving free primary and secondary education; equal access to quality pre-primary education; affordable technical, vocational and higher education; increased number of people with relevant skills for financial success; elimination of all discrimination in education; universal literacy and numeracy; and education for sustainable development and global citizenship.
Goal 5: Gender equality– The purpose is to grant women and girls equal rights. Issues to do with affording opportunities for them without discrimination, including workplace discrimination or any violence, are also core to this goal. Also, it endeavours to attain gender equality and empower all women and girls.
Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation– The goal promotes accessibility and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.Goal 6 targets increasing water and sanitation sustenance to developing countries, and to support local engagement in water and sanitation management.
Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy– Its focus is on ensuring that there is access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.The goal seeksto promote access to research, technology, and investments in clean energy and to expand and upgrade energy services for developing countries.
Goal 8:Decent work and economic growth– Goal 8’s purpose is to encourage continuous, all-encompassing and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. Its targets are sustainable economic growth; diversify, innovate and upgrade for economic productivity, ‘promote policies to support job creation and growing enterprises’, ‘improve resource efficiency in consumption and production’, ‘full employment and decent work with equal pay’, ‘promote youth employment, education and training’, ‘end modern slavery, trafficking, and child labour’, ‘protect labour rights and promote safe working environments’, ‘promote beneficial and sustainable tourism’, universal access to banking, insurance and financial services.
Goal 9 :Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure– This goal focuses on building buoyant infrastructure, stimulate inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and nurture innovation. Its targets are to develop sustainable, resilient and inclusive infrastructures; promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization; increase access to financial services and markets; upgrade all industries and infrastructures for sustainability; enhance research and upgrade industrial technologies.
Goal 10: Reduced inequality– SDG 10 speaks of reducing income inequality within and among countries. It targets special and differential treatment for developing countries; encourages development assistance and investment in least developed countries; reduces transaction costs for migrant remittances, among many other things.
Goal 11:Sustainable cities and communities– The goal primarily focuses making cities and human settlements all-encompassing, harmless, resilient, and sustainable. Among its many targets, it seeks to increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and developed and implemented, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 and to develop a holistic disaster risk management at all levels.
Goal 12:Responsible consumption and production– This is primarily premised on the need to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. It targets supporting developing countries to strengthen their scientific and technological capacity; developing and implementing tools to monitor sustainable development impacts; and removing market distortions, like fossil fuel subsidies, that encourage wasteful consumption.
Goal 13:Climate action– This goal focuses on taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts by regulating emissions and promoting developments in renewable energy. SDG 13’s targets are on assisting more susceptible regions, such as land locked countries and island states, adapt to climate change that must go hand-in-hand with efforts to integrate disaster risk measures into national strategies.
Goal 14:Life below water– SDG 14 is premised on preserving and promoting sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. Its main targets are to reduce marine pollution; protect and restore ecosystems; reduce ocean acidification; sustainable fishing; conserving coastal and marine areas; ending subsidies contributing to overfishing; increasing the economic benefits from sustainable use of marine resources.
Goal 15:Life on land– The goal seeks to protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. It targets conserving and restoring terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems; ending deforestation and restoring degraded forests; ending desertification and restoring degraded land; ensuring conservation of mountain ecosystems, among many other targets.
Goal 16:Peace, justice and strong institutions– SDG 16 endeavours to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. The main targets of the goal is to reduce violence; to protect children from abuse, exploitation, trafficking and violence; to promote the rule of law and ensure equal access to justice; to combat organized crime and illicit financial and arms flows, substantially reducing corruption and bribery; to develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions; to ensure responsive, inclusive and representative decision-making; to strengthen the participation in global governance; to provide universal legal identity; to ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms.
Goal 17 :Partnership for the goals– It seeks to reinforce the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development. SDG 17’s targets include growing international collaboration which is seen as important to achieving each of the 16 previous goals. Goal 17 is premised on making sure member states and organizations collaborate instead of contesting.
TRACKING SOUTH AFRICA’s SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT TRENDS & PROGRESS
Looking at the sustainable development report performance dashboard (See Figure 2), South Africa’s general performance is ranked number 106 out of 165 countries across the world. The country’s SDG index score is 63.7% which is above the regional average of 51.9%. This overall score according to the Sustainable Development Report (2021) measures a country’s total progress towards achieving all 17 SDGs.
The spill-over score for the country is at 88.6% with the spill-over rank being 103 out of 165 countries (See Graph 1). This score ranks a country’s actions and how they can have positive or negative effects on other countries’ abilities to achieve the SDGs. According to the Sustainable Development Report (2021), the spill-over index is mandated to assesses spill-overs along three dimensions which include:
With South Africa scoring 88.6%, this means that the country has more positive and fewer negative spill-over effects
Taking a closer look at the overall performance of each of the 17 goals, it is clear that when it comes to SDG 1 No to Poverty, the country still faces major challenges in addressing this goal (See Figure 3). Major challenges are also still being faced on SDGs 2 (Zero to Hunger) where the score is stagnating or increasing at less than 50% of required rate, SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being) score moderately improving but insufficient to attain goal, SDG 8 (Decent work and economic growth) where score is stagnating or increasing at less than 50% of required rate, SDG 10 (reduced inequalities), SDG 14 (Life below water), SDG 15 (Life on Land) and SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions).
A closer look at SDG 10 (reduced inequalities), South Africa has not been performing well. Inequality has continued to increase, with the World Bank Report (2020) pointing out that wealth is only concentrated towards the richest 20 per cent in South Africa.
In addition, significant challenges can also be noticed in the following SDGs, SDG 4 (quality education), SDG 6 (clean water and Sanitation), SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure development), SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities) and SDG 13 (climate action). These SDGs are reported to have a score that is either decreasing, moderately improving or insufficient to attain goal.
Furthermore, on SDG 5 which focuses on gender equality, challenges still remain with the country being reported to be on track in maintaining and realising this SDG achievement. On SDG 12, responsible consumption and production, challenges also still remain which are affecting the realisation of this goal. Trend information for this goal is however unavailable and is very important in shaping appropriate action that might be needed to address the challenges. On SDG 17, partnerships for the goal, South Africa is reported to still have some challenges which include the economy which is in a prolonged low-growth path, poverty, high unemployment and skills shortage.
WHAT CAN PARLIAMENTARIANS DO TO PROMOTE THE REALISATION OF SDGs?
With eight years left before 2030, which is the target year for all countries to have achieved the SDG targets, there is need for all hands to be on deck to ensure that necessary measures and policies are put in place. Parliamentarians, by virtue of their constitutional mandate to be policy makers, have a critical role to play to ensure that policy bottlenecks that are acting as impediments are removed. In order to promote the realisation of the SDGs, parliamentarians need to ensure that they give political incentive towards localising, implementing, and monitoring progress on the SDGs. In the last remaining years, South African Legislatures need to be in overdrive mode to ensure that they do the following to ensure that by 2030 the country realises the SDG targets:
Law-making – there is a need for parliamentarians to push for policies that are pro-poor and those that seek to reduce inequality. Parliamentarians should look at the policies put in place by government and adopt or revise the legal framework. The legal framework they should seek now to push, should be of supporting the numerous SGDs. Additionally, for the national budgets that are to be presented in the next eight years, parliamentarians need to ensure that treasury releases adequate funding towards addressing the most significant national SDG urgencies.
Policy oversight – parliamentarians should enhance their oversight role and ensure that the executive is accountable for the achievement of the SDGs. Parliament’s oversight should focus on higher social spending, targeted government transfers, and on affirmative action to diversify wealth ownership. Government measures and reforms that seek to promote private investment, jobs, and inclusive growth need serious scrutiny from parliament so that they are all inclusive and do not continue to marginalise the previously marginalised.
Representation – For the SDGs to be realised, the wishes of citizens need to be captured and addressed in every programme of action that government undertakes. The needs of all age groups, genders, religions, political parties, disabled, women and youth etc. should be included in the policy action document. Parliamentarians, while coming from different political parties, however, represent their constituencies and they have a critical role to play in ensuring that all voices are represented in the action plan.
Localisation – Development is local and for any developmental work to succeed, the local people need to have a sense of ownership of the initiative. Parliamentarians, as leaders in their respective constituencies, need to ensure that all SDG projects that seek to help the citizens are therefore localised and that locals should be part of the whole process of formulation, implementation and monitoring of the National Development Programme that seeks to feed into the bigger SDG programme.
It should be noted that the South African government has made fairly reasonable progress in pushing for the realisation of the SDGs. A number of challenges are still there in critical areas such as poverty, hunger, health, and well-being which still indicate not very good figures. While these challenges are at hand, one important thing to note is that the country has a pleasing spill-over score, which indicates how the country is better positioned in influencing positive change on other countries to realise the SDGs. Despite the major challenges that the country is facing in realising some of the goals, parliamentarians are crucial in ensuring that the country achieves the SDGs within the last remaining years. Parliamentarians need to ensure that they use their role of law making, policy oversight and representation well to ensure that SDGs are implemented in the country. As representative members, parliamentarians need to ensure that development programmes towards SDGs are localised and that citizens are included in the whole process.