2030 Agenda: What Does it Mean for the U.S.?

At the end of this month, government leaders from around the world will gather in New York to adopt the 2030 Agenda—the most comprehensive framework for global sustainable development ever designed. The Agenda includes a set of 17 goals and 169 targets—the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—that all countries will commit to working toward. 

It’s taken several years for countries to agree to Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and throughout the negotiation process, the United States has been an active player. The United States will play a crucial role in ensuring the success of this Agenda. But what, exactly, does it mean for the country? How will it impact our domestic policies and programs?

On the most basic level, the 2030 Agenda means the same thing for the United States that it does for every other country in the world—and that in and of itself is significant. This new framework represents a major step forward, beyond the Millennium Development Goals, because of its universality: all countries, regardless of income level or development status, are responsible for meeting the goals and targets laid out in the 2030 Agenda.

This means we have committed to achieve each of the goals and targets domestically. This includes ending all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls—both of which remain significant challenges within the United States. Through the SDGs, the United States has also committed to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, a topic that remains the source of much domestic political controversy in the United States. These commitments are important, and U.S. activists must hold their government accountable for meeting these goals domestically.

The United States also has unique responsibilities under the new framework as a donor. The country is the single largest donor of Official Development Assistance (ODA), though it continues to fall well short of meeting the UN’s longstanding target of 0.7 percent Gross National Income. (In 2013, the United States gave only 0.19 percent in ODA funding. Compare that to Norway, which gives 1 percent.)  Despite a political environment unfriendly to increased funding, the United States must look for ways to increase its support for international development initiatives and meet the 0.7 percent target.

Globally, the Financing for Development Conference came and went without major new pledges of funding, and the highly ambitious 2030 Agenda has not been backed by adequate financial resources. The United States must be a leader by boosting its development aid, not just looking for and calling on other donors.

We also must work to ensure that development funding is being spent in a manner consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals and the entire 2030 Agenda. It’s critical that U.S. foreign assistance funding and programming not just pursue the listed goals and targets, but also promote the values upon which the entire agenda is built: human rights, the rule of law, justice, equality and non-discrimination, and respect for race, ethnicity and cultural diversity.

Beyond funding, the United States is a critical voice in ensuring that women remain at the center of the Agenda. The United States played an important role during the negotiations to ensure strong commitments to gender equality, sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.  With many countries expressing reservations about these issues, the United States must continue to be a leader in pushing for these priorities and in fully implementing the 2030 Agenda and staying true to the commitments on women and girls.

On paper, the Agenda is a major step forward for women around the world. It moves well beyond the narrow ambitions laid out over 15 years ago in the Millennium Development Goals, and it recognizes the centrality of gender equality and women’s empowerment to the entire development agenda.  But it’s just a piece of paper.  Now, countries, including the United States, must take challenging steps to implement the Agenda at home, and to promote and fund it around the world.

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