Who would have thought that the SDGs could be so controversial? During the one week summer course at IHE Delft ‘A hitch-hiker’s guide to the Sustainable Development Goals’, students were asked to gather views and information to inform a debate about the value of the SDGs.
Students Mondip Kar and Immanuel Freeman first put their arguments forward in favour of the motion ‘The SDGs are a game-changer’. These included the huge improvements made since the Rio Agreement in 2012 and the Millennium Development Goals, which they argued were imposed by organizations in a top-down approach, unlike the SDGs where 192 nations willingly signed up to meet these goals by 2030.
In opposition, spoke Innocent Mokaya Mang’are and Raksha Rani, who argued that they were not developed from grass roots, as the governments which signed often did not represent the will of their people. They maintained that these goals were just the ‘flavour of the month’ and, as they had replaced previous frameworks, they would in due course be replaced, without having achieved the goals.
The audience engaged in a lively way and challenged, argued and discussed many points with the proposers and opponents. These included whether it would be better to make the SDGs legally binding with the richer countries making fair compensation based on their environmental footprint; the ‘wicked’ issue of achieving one goal at the expense of another (deforestation for food production versus prolonging hunger); reconciling the rights of one stakeholder when solving the issues of another.