Unlocking the Potential of Sustainable Development Goals at UNGA 2023

Unlocking the Potential of Sustainable Development Goals at UNGA 2023
Source: © Davi Mendes/Unsplash


Emily Wolfe 

Human Rights Researcher,

Global Human Rights Defence

On September 18th, 2023, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) opened its 78th session, and amidst a world grappling with complex challenges, the spotlight was put firmly on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The theme for this year's General Debate, "Rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity: Accelerating action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals towards peace, prosperity, progress, and sustainability for all," highlights the indispensable role of human rights in achieving these goals.

As the world confronts ongoing crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, conflicts such as Russia's war in Ukraine, climate change, and persistent poverty and inequality, the UNGA's central focus remains on the SDGs. In 2015, global leaders committed to 17 ambitious goals aimed at transforming the world by 2030. These goals are inextricably linked to human rights, as they aspire to create a world characterised by justice, equality, and dignity for all.

This year’s UNGA, convened by President of the General Assembly Dennis Francis, marked the halfway point to the SDGs' 2030 deadline. Leaders from 193 UN member nations gathered to reflect on the progress made and the challenges faced.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres emphasised the critical importance of these goals in the context of human rights. He highlighted that the SDGs are instrumental in narrowing the gap between wealthy and impoverished nations and ensuring that no one is left behind. He reminded leaders of their commitment to build a world of health, progress, and opportunity for all, underpinned by respect for human rights. However, the current state of affairs reveals that progress toward the SDGs has been slower than anticipated. The pandemic and geopolitical conflicts have diverted resources and attention away from the goals, leaving many targets in jeopardy. This is a direct challenge to the human rights principles of equality, non-discrimination, and the right to a dignified life.

To revitalise the SDG agenda and reinforce the connection between human rights and development, a proposal for an "SDG stimulus" was put forward. This stimulus plan aims to address challenges faced by developing countries, including the high cost of debt, lack of long-term financing, and insufficient contingency financing. By providing immediate support in these areas, the plan seeks to enable countries to continue their progress toward achieving the SDGs, ensuring that human rights are respected and protected in the process.

As the UNGA continues its deliberations, the world remains confronted by a multitude of crises. The challenges may be daunting, but the theme of rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity reinforces the idea that unity and collective action, grounded in human rights principles, are essential in achieving the 2030 Agenda. It is a powerful reminder that, despite the formidable challenges we face, the goals of peace, prosperity, progress, and sustainability for all, rooted in respect for human rights, remain within reach through renewed dedication and collaboration.