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The importance of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals for South Africa

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Picture: Supplied – Poverty and inequality are major challenges in South Africa. According to Statistics South Africa, the poverty rate in the country was 32.6 percent in 2020.

By Dominic Naidoo

Last year, I was one of just two South Africans to complete a 10-month stint as part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s Local Pathways Fellowship.

The Fellowship took a hundred young people from across the world on an educational journey through what it means to develop and exist in a sustainable world and economy.

The course was centred around the importance of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and how we can work to achieve these goals within a local context.

The United Nations Sustainable development goals (SDGs) are a universal set of goals, targets, and indicators adopted by United Nations Member States in 2015.

The SDGs are designed to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people have the opportunity to live peaceful, healthy, and prosperous lives.

There are 17 SDGs that address a wide range of issues, including poverty, hunger, education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth, industry innovation and infrastructure, reduced inequalities, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, climate action, life below water, life on land, peace, justice and strong institutions, and partnerships for the goals.

The importance of the SDGs in a South African context cannot be overstated.

South Africa is a developing country with a history of social inequality, poverty, and environmental degradation. The SDGs provide a framework for addressing these challenges and creating a sustainable future for all South Africans.

Poverty and inequality are major challenges in South Africa. According to Statistics South Africa, the poverty rate in the country was 32.6 percent in 2020.

The SDG of No Poverty aims to eradicate extreme poverty and reduce the proportion of people living below the poverty line. This is critical for South Africa’s development, as poverty and inequality can lead to social unrest and political instability.

Achieving this goal will require the government to implement policies that address the root causes of poverty, such as unemployment, lack of access to education and healthcare, and social exclusion.

Another major challenge in South Africa is access to clean water and sanitation. According to the South African Human Rights Commission, around 14 million people in the country do not have access to basic sanitation services.

The SDG of Clean Water and Sanitation aims to ensure access to clean water and sanitation for all. This is essential for improving public health, reducing water-borne diseases, and promoting sustainable development.

Achieving this goal will require significant investment in water infrastructure, as well as measures to ensure that water resources are managed sustainably.

Climate change is also a major challenge in South Africa, with the country experiencing extreme weather events such as droughts and floods.

The SDG of Climate Action aims to combat climate change and its impacts. This goal is particularly important for South Africa, as the country is heavily reliant on fossil fuels for energy and is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in Africa.

Achieving this goal will require a transition to renewable energy sources, as well as measures to promote energy efficiency and reduce emissions in the industrial sector.

Education is another important issue. While we’ve made significant progress in increasing access to education, there are still significant disparities in the quality of education between urban and rural areas, and between rich and poor households.

The SDG of Quality Education aims to ensure that all children have access to quality education that prepares them for the future. This is critical for South Africa’s development, as education is a key driver of economic growth and social mobility.

Gender inequality is another challenge in South Africa, with women facing discrimination and violence in both the public and private spheres.

The SDG of Gender Equality aims to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and girls, and promote their full participation in all spheres of society.

This is essential for promoting social justice and ensuring that all South Africans have equal opportunities to participate in the economy and society.

As bad as things may look currently, we’ve made relatively great strides in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through a range of strategies, policies, and programs.

The National Development Plan (NDP) is aligned with the SDGs and provides a roadmap for achieving sustainable development. Here are some examples of how South Africa is working towards achieving the SDGs:

No Poverty

South Africa has a range of social grants that aim to alleviate poverty and inequality. These include the Child Support Grant, Old Age Pension, and Disability Grant. In addition, the government is implementing a range of programs to support job creation and economic growth, such as the Youth Employment Service (YES) initiative.

Clean Water and Sanitation

The government has set a target of ensuring that all households have access to basic water and sanitation services by 2030. To achieve this, the government has allocated funds for water infrastructure development and maintenance, and is implementing programs to improve water resource management and reduce water wastage.

Affordable and Clean Energy

We’re slowly investing in renewable energy, particularly wind and solar, to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. The government has launched the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Program (REIPPPP) which has attracted significant investment in renewable energy projects.

Climate Action

South Africa has set a target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 34 percent by 2020 and 42 percent by 2025. To achieve this, the government has implemented measures to promote energy efficiency and reduce emissions in the industrial sector. The country has also developed a climate change adaptation plan which aims to build resilience to the impacts of climate change.

Sustainable Cities and Communities

The government is implementing a range of programs to promote sustainable urban development, including the National Urban Development Framework, which provides guidelines for urban planning and development. They’re also implementing measures to improve public transport, reduce air pollution, and increase access to green spaces in cities.

While progress has been made in some areas, there are still significant challenges to be addressed. Achieving the SDGs will require sustained effort and investment, as well as partnerships between government, civil society, and the private sector.

Dominic Naidoo is an environmental activist and writer

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