At the midpoint of the 2030 Agenda: the need for a narrative push

The world has dramatically changed since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda in 2015 and the first SDG Summit in 2019.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a shared commitment by UN Member States to address global challenges and create a sustainable and equitable future for all. Centered around 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and guided by the principle of “leaving no one behind,” the Agenda encompasses a wide range of targets aimed at achieving peace, prosperity, and the well-being of people and the planet.

The COVID-19 pandemic sent shockwaves through the global economy, necessitating responses like lockdowns and border closures. These measures not only disrupted economic activities but also posed significant threats to food security and increased the vulnerability of many individuals to poverty, according to UNDP.

Despite a partial recovery in 2021, the world continues to grapple with renewed uncertainties, like violent conflicts and political instability, economic volatility, or more and more severe impacts of climate change, all of which are threatening the achievement of the SDGs.

But even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the world was falling behind in achieving most of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The current trajectory, without immediate course correction and faster progress towards the SDGs, is predicted to lead to ongoing poverty, prolonged crises, and increased uncertainty, alerted the United Nations General Assembly this September.

UNDP stresses the need for profound acceleration through an integrated set of investments, which they call the SDG Push scenario and which focuses on green growth, governance, social protection and digitalization. The SDG Push framework emphasizes the enhancement of fiscal, financial, digital/data, and governance mechanisms within real-world limitations.

This month, a new episode of violence erupted in the Middle East. The dire situation in Gaza has reached unprecedented levels of death and destruction, leaving many in need of humanitarian assistance.

The possible consequences of this ongoing conflict place us into an uncertain scenario, where violations of human rights and setbacks in all facets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) may well be anticipated.

The message behind it

Amid these emerging global threats, what is the message? First, the trust in our collective ability as a society to progress towards a path of justice and equity is at risk. Trust in democratic institutions and in the international instances of independence and human rights protection is questioned by many in online discussions, as political efforts to stop war seem to fail so far.

With conflicts dominating the headlines, the sensation of alert unfortunately doesn’t always translate into action. At worst, consuming news from social network sites instead of from official media sources (an increasing trend that has been consolidated globally this year) fosters pessimism and disconnection, scholar Cass Sustein claims.

Maybe that is the reason why many readers avoid news and some media groups are creating optimistic sections, or publishing only positive news (The Good News NetworkGood Good GoodThe Optimist DailyPositive NewsHuffPost Good News o Reasons to be Cheerful).

Misinformation, the proliferation of hate in online conversations, and polarization are other phenomena fueled by a media landscape dominated by social media. These trends undermine our opportunity to construct a real dialogue built on trust.

As The New Yorker journalist Kyle Chayka states, social media “has remained a battleground for driving public opinion”. However, the profusion of non-verified contents (particularly on X, before Twitter) unfolds an atmosphere of chaos and uncertainty on our screens.

The narrative push

Not only national policies need a push to get us on track on our way to sustainable development. Also our common beliefs about us as part of a global society need to be restored. The development discourse needs a shift to re-root the values of humanism, solidarity and respect for nature in peoples’ minds and words.

This means we need narratives that highlight what we have in common, beyond the differences. And also, what we can achieve together with collaboration, showcasing inspiring cases and facts. Social media platforms have to be places of encounter and dialogue where people are able to overcome division.   

Working in the realm of human development seldom grabs headlines. It progresses slowly, with perseverance, relying on learning and sharing of best practices. It thrives on the trust required to recognize that we have the capacity to create a society where all of us fit, with equal rights and opportunities.

The current landscape of uncertainty represents an open wound for the global society. Our ability to heal and continue to work towards realistic sustainable development objectives hinges on our sense of community and connection with others. These are the only pillars of a future in which we all have a place.

Geisel García Graña
Geisel García Graña
Geisel is Communication & Ecosystem Manager for GlobalCAD and a consultant in communication and sustainable cities. She has a PhD. in Communication Sciences by the Autonomous University of Barcelona. @geiselgg