Thu | Dec 7, 2023

Elizabeth Morgan | Can the UN SDGs implementation gap be minimised by 2030?

Published:Wednesday | September 27, 2023 | 12:06 AM
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at the start of the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters last week.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at the start of the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters last week.

The focus last week at the UN General Assembly High Level General Debate remained on implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). The headline from the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, was that only 15 per cent of the SDG targets are being met. 85 per cent are off track at this midpoint to the 2030 implementation deadline. The deadline for Jamaica’s related development plan is also 2030.

The Vatican’s 109th World Day of Migrants and Refugees was marked on Sunday, September 24, under the theme ‘Free to Choose Whether to Migrate or to Stay’. Migration and refugees are linked to deteriorating political, economic and social conditions in home countries. The number of refugees in 2022 rose to 35.3 million, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and the number of migrants in the world is over 281 million, as estimated by the International Organization for Migration. These numbers are rising.

CARICOM countries, such as Jamaica and Haiti, have a significant number of people emigrating annually. Haiti also has people seeking refugee status in neighouring countries. Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago are dealing with refugees from Venezuela. Successfully implementing the SDGs would contribute significantly to people choosing to stay home. People from developing countries are on the move, seeking a better standard of living and personal security. They are moving mainly to developed countries. This is now causing friction.


Agenda 2030 and the SDGs would actually be the sixth UN period focused on bridging the development gap between developed and developing countries. In fact, to right historical wrongs, as UN Secretary General Guterres has said.

The UN has been grappling with development inequities since its establishment in 1945 to reduce poverty, hunger, disease, ignorance, and provide a better quality of life for all peoples. The need was urgent as more countries were decolonised and the wide development gap between developed and developing countries became a stark reality.

The first UN Development Decade was 1960-1970. In this decade, several development-related institutions were established: the World Food Programme; the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); the UN Industrial Development Organization, and the UN Development Programme. By the mid-term, progress in implementing the development strategy was limited.

The second development decade was 1971-1980. This was a very turbulent period, marked by war in the Middle East, oil price rises, stagflation, slump in other commodity prices, and the call for the New International Economic Order. By then, developed countries had a target of providing 0.7 per cent of their gross national product in development aid. There was also focus on the rights of women. But, again, the midterm review showed a lack of political will among the developed countries to honour their commitments.

The third development decade was 1981-1990. In this decade, UN members continued to address the carry-over strategy. In addition, the UNGA adopted the resolution on the Right to Development. Conferences were held on disarmament and development; new and renewable sources of energy; and least developed countries. The GATT Uruguay Round of trade negotiations were launched to further liberalise trade. Again, by midterm, the UN concluded that its goals had not been adequately met.

New goals and priorities were set for a fourth development decade, 1991-2000. Again, many unforeseen changes occurred ending the Cold War (the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the break-up of Yugoslavia). The political landscape was changing. In trade, the World Trade Organization was created and delinked from the UN system. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit) started sounding the alarm about the degradation of the environment. The revolution in information technology had begun. Developing countries were faced with more and new challenges and continued lagging behind.

With goals still not achieved, the Millennium Development Goals, 2001-2015, were another attempt to address the economic and social problems confronting developing countries. The MDGs, also unsuccessful, were replaced by the current SDGs. Now at the midterm and again confronting failure, the UN is appealing for action.


This time, can the global community afford another failure in bridging the development gap, given the multidimensional crisis, including migration, confronting all countries, not only the developing? The most apocalyptic is climate change. As more migrants, taking greater risk, flood into developed countries, is it in all our interest to collaborate to address the issues in the interest of the planet and future generations?

Developing countries are not without blame, as national development strategies are not implemented due to corruption, mismanagement, conflicts, crime and violence, oppressive policies, neglect, and the thirst for power which includes political rivalries/victimisation.

CARICOM member states have to also examine themselves as to whether, since independence, with available resources, more could have been done to implement the SDGs, some of which have always been on the agenda; that is, improve education, healthcare, infrastructure ( roads, water supply, transportation, and housing), support agriculture (food security and exports), and protect the environment. CARICOM has to also look at its failure to implement the CSME and other provisions of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. At the national level, the private sector and non-governmental organisations should consider whether they have a greater role to play in promoting national development.

In seven years, likely less, all countries have a role to play in endeavouring to implement the SDGs, at the national, regional and international levels, to reverse the failing trend in implementing sustainable development strategies, and to actually ‘build back better’. Among CARICOM member states, perhaps more collaboration and less competition is needed. Governments need to make better use of limited resources to grow their gross domestic product. Perhaps then, nationals can exercise the choice to stay home.

Elizabeth Morgan is a specialist in international trade policy and international politics. Email feedback to