8 things Congress (and candidates) should know about the 2030 goals
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With the pope's visit and the government teetering on the brink of shutdown, few in Washington have given much thought to what's happening in New York this week. On Sept. 25, 193 national leaders will gather at the United Nations to approve a set of 17 global goals for 2030, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They include such ambitious aims as ending extreme poverty and hunger, ensuring clean water and sanitation for all, and making quality education a universal reality.

Before dismissing the goals as unattainable, or questioning the motives behind them, Congress and the presidential candidates ought to remember eight key points:

1. Setting goals works. The SDGs are built on the experience of the Millennium Development Goals, which galvanized the world's success in cutting child deaths and extreme poverty by more than half since 1990, reducing new HIV infections by 40 percent since 2000, averting 6.2 million malaria deaths, and eliminating the gender gap in primary school enrollment in the majority of countries.

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2. The goals reflect U.S. plans and priorities. Congress has been leading the charge in a bipartisan fashion on achieving clean water and sanitation for the world's poor; relief for HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis; universal basic education; global food security; and access to reliable, affordable and sustainable energy. President Obama called on the world to end extreme poverty, which the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) adopted as its mission for the next two decades. The SDGs put the entire world's stamp of approval on these priorities.

3. The goals were selected through an open and participatory process. Broad-scale consultations began in 2012 to identify potential issues and focus areas. They included robust dialogues with a variety of stakeholders — civil society groups, elected officials, faith leaders, the private sector and high-level experts — across the United States and around the world.

4. The goals are voluntary. What the United States endorses in New York is not a treaty or an executive agreement. It's not binding and doesn't require formal approval by Congress. The 2030 agenda is a declaration of a common vision for humanity, and each nation will make its own decisions on how to pursue and support it.

5. Progress will be tracked and measured. Each of the 17 broad goals has a set of specific targets, such as reducing the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births and halving per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level. Some of the targets are easier to measure than others, and the U.N. Statistics Division is now wrapping up a global consultation on the selection of technical indicators, due to be finalized by the spring of 2016.

6. It's not all about aid. Foreign assistance will be an important element in helping low-income countries reach the targets, but mostly as a way of catalyzing and incentivizing the changes that are needed to jump-start economies. At a global total of $161 billion, development aid pales in comparison to remittances ($341 billion), international private investment ($928 billion), the domestic private sector in developing countries ($3.7 trillion) and domestic government revenues in those countries ($5.5 trillion).

7. Good decision-making will require better and more transparent data. Without knowing where the greatest needs are and how budgets are being spent, it will be difficult to ensure that funds are used efficiently and effectively to meet the SDGs. The United States can help by complying fully with the International Aid Transparency Initiative, encouraging partner countries to create open and accountable budget processes, stepping up its commitments to evaluate the performance and impact of aid, and supporting the new Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data.

8. The SDGs serve U.S. national interests. Progress toward meeting the SDGs will strengthen the U.S. economy by building strong trading partners, enhance U.S. security by giving people a stake in peaceful development and foster U.S. values of opportunity, rights and dignity for all. The inclusion of Goal 16, which incorporates targets for responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making and equal access to justice, was a particular victory for U.S. negotiators.

Individuals may quibble with particular goals or targets, and the sheer enormity of the task may be overwhelming. But getting everyone to agree on a vision of the world we'd like to see 15 years from now is an accomplishment in and of itself. U.S. leadership will be needed to help make this vision a reality.

Ohlbaum is an independent consultant, co-chair of the Accountability Working Group of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network and a principal of Turner4D, a strategic communications firm.