Katriona Devereux: Badge of honour that aims to make the world a better place

Katriona Devereux: Badge of honour that aims to make the world a better place

Mary Robinson, who served as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002, wearing an SDG badge.

I RECENTLY got an impressive new piece of jewellery. It’s a circle brooch of 17 different colours and looks like an Irish language loving fáinne pin crossed with a LGBTQ supporting rainbow badge. It only cost €5.50 but it represents a blueprint for the future of humanity and the planet. Pretty impressive for a brooch, huh?

It is a United Nations SDG pin, symbolising the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which help countries around the world focus on how to build a sustainable future for people and the planet while protecting peace and prosperity.

The goals have been broken down into 169 targets and 230 indicators and are a road map for governments, businesses and communities to develop sustainably to 2030.

The UN says the “Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. The 17 Goals are all inter-connected, and in order to leave no-one behind, it is important that we achieve them all by 2030”.

Deep breath! The goals are:

1) No Poverty

2) Zero Hunger

3) Good Health and Wellbeing

4) Quality Education

5) Gender Equality

6) Clean Water and Sanitation

7) Affordable and Clean Energy

8) Decent Work and Economic Growth

9) Industry Innovation and Infrastructure

10) Reduced Inequalities

11) Sustainable Cities and Communities

12) Responsible Consumption and Production

13) Climate Action

14) Life below Water

15) Life on Land

16) Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, and

17) Partnerships for the Goals

These goals are not perfect but for each one you can think of an example in Irish life that needs big improvement. More than 3,000 children are homeless in Ireland, living in emergency accommodation, and 689,000 people are living in poverty in Ireland. Boil water notices are a consistent feature of our public water supply. We have long hospital waiting lists, precarious employment, unsustainable transport networks… the list goes on.

It was a mammoth task to get all 193 member states of the UN to commit to the SDGs and Ireland and Irish diplomats played a key role in getting the juggernaut document over the line.

With our history of famine, conflict and emigration, small states like Ireland are considered ‘honest brokers’ in the UN and the gargantuan task of setting a ten-year agenda for the whole world fell to Dr David O’Donoghue, the Irish UN Ambassador at the time, and his Kenyan counterpart, UN ambassador, Macharia Kamau, They articulated the concerns of the developed world and developing world respectively and facilitated extensive consultation and intense negotiations.

Career diplomat O’Donoghue had previously helped negotiate the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Good Friday Agreement and no doubt used all his diplomacy skills to deliver the progress needed; but after a long and difficult process, consensus was reached and the 17 SDGs is the final result.

Even though Irish fingerprints are all over the final text, the SDGs are relatively unknown or under-appreciated in Ireland. When was the last time you heard an Irish politician or business person talk about progress or development with reference to the SDGs? Had you heard of SDGs before I brought them up?

At a time when it feels like the world’s problems are mounting, it should be comforting to know that a huge amount of thought and consideration has already gone into solving these problems. The time for thinking and talking is over and now we need to act. Rebuilding our economy should be done with the SDGs foremost in our minds.

Ireland has a Sustainable Development Goals National Implementation Plan, which supposedly provides a “whole-of-government approach” to fully implementing all 17 of the goals by 2030.

The Department of Communication, Climate Action and Environment has responsibility for officially reporting on Ireland’s progress and the Central Statistics Office manages the metrics. To achieve the SDG’s, governments, businesses, communities and individuals will all have to work together.

Coalition 2030 is a diverse movement of civil society organisations from across Ireland, aimed at ensuring we live up to our SDG obligations.

Irish trade unions, environmental groups, NGOs, anti-poverty and equality organisations and academic institutions have all come together to keep an eye on government actions, advocate for implementation of the SDGs while at the same time trying to engage the Irish public on the issues. Another mammoth task.

The SDGs are not legally binding but they are morally binding. Political embarrassment is supposed to stop countries from falling behind their neighbouring countries.

Despite Ireland’s pivotal role in their creation so far, Ireland ranks poorly in terms of our implementation of the goals. Earlier in the year Social Justice Ireland published a report that ranked Ireland 10th out of 15 comparable European countries. Is that because the SDGs simply do not feature in public discussion about how to tackle any of our social, political or environmental problems?

This month marks the fifth anniversary of the signing of the SDGs. We have ten years to get our house in order to meet our commitments, coinciding with ten years to get our carbon emissions in order to meet our climate commitments. We can think of these ‘commitments’ as notional ideas that it would be nice to have, or we can think of them of concrete goals that we must achieve.

Of course, all this comes at a cost, but at the moment we can borrow money very cheaply. Borrow money and invest it in building a thriving economy and society.

If there was ever a time to be bold in our ambitions of a better future — it’s now

And that is the long answer to the question: “What’s your badge for?”

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