Law, Theory and Implementation
Edited by Duncan French and Louis J. Kotzé
Chapter 4: Sustainable Development Goals and human rights: challenges and opportunities
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a blueprint for a new world. It is a comprehensive and ambitious vision of development that seeks to eradicate long-standing social ills including poverty, hunger, water scarcity, unemployment, inequality (both local and global), corruption and illiteracy. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) articulated in Agenda 2030 have arguably become the primary unifying narrative among global actors including governments, international agencies (such as the World Bank), civil society and multinational business. Despite their laudable goals, the SDGs have received a mixed reception amongst human rights advocates. Some see the adoption of global goals as a weaker alternative to human rights that threatens to undermine the robust, legally binding standards embodied in the human rights system. For others, the SDGs represent the world’s best hope of realizing human rights for all, and particularly for the world’s poorest. While much will depend on implementation efforts, this chapter will argue that the SDGs have the potential to advance and even out-perform human rights, especially in the areas of economic, social and environmental rights. While debates may persist regarding the merits of each approach, there can be no doubt that the SDGs and human rights share a common centre in their concern for human happiness and well-being. At least in one respect, the SDGs attempt a crucial task that has so far proven to be beyond the reach of international human rights law; they seek to preserve the natural systems on which all human rights of future generations will depend.
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