Blog series – debating the SDGs

In 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were launched to great fanfare by the United Nations. Not only governments at different levels, but also NGOs and companies invest a great deal of time and energy into the SDG story. This year, a first state of affairs will be drawn up. There are still 10 years to go to reach the 17 general objectives and 169 sub-objectives. Time to evaluate and look ahead. This blog series by the Centre for Global Studies at Ghent University (Belgium) aims to foster critical debates on the SDGs.  

We will publish weekly episodes, from different authors – including academics and voices from the development sector – discussing the SDGs from different angles. 

This series is created in collaboration with MO*Magazine. The contributions will be published in English on this webpage and in Dutch on MO*Magazine. 

Episode 1: Jan Orbie and Sarah Delputte (UGent) – Who wants some more old wine in new bottles? Why the Sustainable Development Goals will not save the world.

Episode 2: Remco van de Pas (Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp) – The Coronavirus pandemic and the irrelevance of the SDGs. Time for a Jubilee.

Episode 3: Marc Maes (11.11.11-Coalition of the Flemish North-South Movement) – Trade and the Sustainable Development Goals. Mission unfulfilled.

Episode 4: Francine Mestrum – How sustainable are the SDGs? We need more development, not post-development.

Episode 5: Chiara Macchi (Wageningen University & Research) – The SDGs and the urgency of human rights in times of crisis

Episode 6: Jonathan Matthysen (Oxfam Belgium) – The SDGs as double agent for progressive sustainable development

Episode 7: Bernard Mazijn (UGent) – Agenda 2030: the limits of multilateralism?

Episode 8: Brecht De Smet (UGent) – SDGs caught between development and underdevelopment. It is time for new alternatives based on old critiques

Episode 9: Tonia Novitz (University of Bristol) – The normative promise of sustainability for labour standards – and the limitations of the SDGs

Episode 10: Mia Kristin Häckl and Julia Schöneberg (University of Kassel) – It is time to abandon “development” goals and demand a post-2030 Utopia

Episode 11: Keya Khandaker and Lata Narayanaswamy (University of Leeds) – The unbearable whiteness of international development: the SDGS and decolonial feminisms

The unbearable whiteness of international development

The SDGs and decolonial feminisms

Keya Khandaker and Lata Narayanaswamy (University of Leeds) question the SDGs’ white, liberal feminist myopia, which focuses on the fiction of the ‘Third World Woman’ in need of saving or ‘empowerment’, rather than tackling structural inequalities. They propose a decolonial feminist approach to address the intersectional challenges we collectively face on the path towards global justice. 

SDGs caught between development and underdevelopment

It is time for new alternatives based on old critiques

Brecht De Smet (UGent) joins Jan Orbie and Sarah Delputte in their criticism of the SDGs, but goes one step further and dissects the underlying economic processes of development and underdevelopment. The underdevelopment of the Global South is not a temporary deviation, but rather the necessary condition for the development of the Global North. The growth model underlying this inequality is at odds with the sustainable transition that the SDGs aspire to.

The SDGs and the urgency of human rights in times of crisis

International human rights treaties are notably absent from the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Although human rights and SDGs could in theory reinforce each other, Chiara Macchi (Wageningen University & Research) argues that the politically reassuring language of ‘goals’ and ‘commitments’ may fail to prioritize human rights and diffuse accountability of states and corporations.

How sustainable are the SDGs?

We need more development, not post-development

SDGs are ‘sustainable’, in the sense that poverty reduction has dominated development discourse for a very long time. Francine Mestrum criticizes exactly this: the old development agenda of radical economic reforms has been watered down in favour of a neoliberal agenda and focus on poverty. What we need is not ‘post-development’, but more development within a restructured global order. 

Trade and the Sustainable Development Goals

Mission unfulfilled

This blog series was launched with a sharp opinion by Jan Orbie and Sarah Delputte on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and in particular on the role of trade in them. Marc Maes (11.11.11-Coalition of the Flemish North-South Movement) agrees that the SDGs do not question the neoliberal paradigm. However, he argues that trade policy does play an important role in the Agenda 2030. He systematically illustrates how the different trade provisions have been barely implemented. Trade policy should not only support the Agenda 2030, but it should also become more sustainable. European Union (EU) trade policy has been failing in this regard. 

The Coronavirus pandemic and the irrelevance of the SDGs.

Time for a Jubilee

According to Remco van de Pas (Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp), SDG3 on health and wellbeing has been irrelevant to address global challenges in this area. The futility of this SDG and limits of the World Health Organization are today painfully clear in the approach of the covid-19 pandemic. Although the crisis was not unexpected, WHO member states have insufficiently invested and left much scope for charities and private investors. The author scrutinizes global public health policies and advocates the creation of a new Jubilee Campaign for indebted countries.