Compared to their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a step in the right direction: With their global validity, they acknowledge that change not only needs to happen in poor countries, but in rich countries too, see for example Goals 11-15 (Sustainable Cities and Communities, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action, Life below Water and Life on Land). In all these areas the early industrialised countries of the Global North have a lot of homework to do to bring their lifestyles and economies within the planetary boundaries.
However, considering the large ecological debts of the Global North and the related structural inequalities of power and wealth, it can be doubted that a one-fits-all solution such as the SDGs helps bridge the existing extreme inequalities between countries. They don’t include enough political commitments to acknowledge and further reduce these inequalities.
If the countries of the South were truly to achieve Goals 1-9 (No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Good Health and Well-Being, Quality Education, Gender Equality, Clean Water and Sanitation, Affordable and Clean Energy, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Industry Innovation and Infrastructure), the physical reality of our planet would require all early industrialized countries to significantly cut back their consumption of natural resources, their Greenhouse Gas emissions and other types of waste at an unprecedented pace. Some critics even go as far as saying: “Forget ‘developing’ poor countries, it’s time to ‘de-develop’ rich countries”. In addition to the obligation for Northern countries to clean up their own act, cash transfer to the South, be it called development assistance or not, is an acknowledged means to pay back some of the ecological debts. It seems, however, that in total more money flows from developing countries to the West than the other way round. Anthropologist Jason Hickel takes the following conclusion from this.
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