By Jony Mainaly

While political turmoil stirred up with the promulgation of new constitution in Nepal, the world community has agreed to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—global constitution of sorts at the UN Headquarter in New York. It is expected that SDGs will work out well for countries like Nepal. The new constitution is taken by some to be ponderous and boring. SDGs document too is bulky with 17 goals and 169 targets (SDGs).

SDGs adopted by world leaders are global development goals that countries will implement from 2016 through 2030. The SDGs include, among others, eradication of extreme poverty, hunger, access to education and health, sustainable development at all levels, and protection and management of natural resources. The most comprehensive, universal and ambitious development imperatives that guide global development approach pose equal amount of opportunities and challenges. The comprehensiveness and universality of goals provides ample space to address all problems faced by countries. However, the achievement of goals—eradicating extreme poverty by 2030, for instance—is doubtful.

The world is divided in terms of income distribution. The present unequal growth imperative cannot continue. It reinforces the importance and relevance of SDGs. These are the most important commitments for the world in general and for developing countries in particular as these global goals have directed the energy and the focus of the world towards targeted and holistic development approach.

SDGs have committed to address seemingly intractable human development, economic and environmental problems with invigorated global support and partnership to implement them to ensure the creation of equitable, peaceful and just society. In this context, it is an opportunity for countries like Nepal to drive their development approach and strategies towards achievement of global goals with integrated approach.

Since we already have set goals and targets, the question of implementing them arises. The shift in focus from ‘what’ to ‘how’ is crucial, especially for resource constrained countries like Nepal. Not just the countries but every individual should realize the difference, if we are to truly achieve the goals now existing only in black letters.

SDGs are built on the foundation laid out by MDGs and have tried to avoid the challenges faced by MDGs. The MDGs suggested that setting plans and systematic targets can help address the maladies faced by human civilization, as is evidenced by the fastest reduction in poverty in human history within the last 15 years. Having said so, reluctance regarding SDGs remains in terms of translating these global goals to national context.

The question of sustainable and reliable funding for these SDGs is genuine. Equally important are questions of non-financial means of implementation to ensure that the SDGs deliver. The lessons from MDGs implementation reflect that “government spending is falling one third short of MDGs needs—and the SDGs will require at least US$ 1.5 trillion extra a year.” This proves that government spending for achieving MDGs will not suffice to meet more ambitious SDGs.

Recalling experience from MDGs implementation in Nepal, as of 2013, only targets 5a and 6c of the MDGs were met by Nepal. However, most of the targets are likely to be achieved within stipulated time. Given their limited resource base, limited capacity on planning, execution and monitoring, the decade-long armed conflict, followed by political instability, implementation of MDGs have been badly affected.

In strengthening institutional and policy dimensions, it is important to also strengthen national level administrative and technical capacity. Institutions should be capable enough to tap the opportunity to deliver SDGs for the benefit of the poorest. The commitment to rule of law, human rights, good governance fighting corruption, unlocking investment in innovative sectors and ensuring transparency and accountability will be vital for creating an environment for trade and investment, apart from their direct support in realizing SDGs. Broadly, the tripartite components—finance, technology and institutions—will be crucial in delivering SDGs.

Nepal has started to prepare its new periodic plan (Fourteenth Plan) and it is an ideal time to start integrating these goals in development planning and start legal and policy reform. Additionally, political commitment to hold local elections shortly offers hope as it ensures creation of local government accountable to people. Government accountability is cardinal to delivering SDGs, as only accountable government can realize these ambitious goals, as a recent report by Overseas Development Institute suggests.

The SDGs should be checked against Nepal’s priorities, and whether they will still be relevant in next 10 to 15 years. The government needs to be flexible and adaptable. The international support should be capitalized in a way so as to strengthen domestic financial, policy and human resource base so that least developed countries like Nepal can thrive on their own.

Unless the remittance-based economy base is altered, the essence of SDGs cannot be realized. In doing so, partnership across and within countries should be ensured—with civil society, local governments, private sector, media, youth groups and individuals.

Originally published in Republica Daily on 29 September, 2015
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