The 2023 UN SDGs Summit. What does it mean for ordinary Samoans?

By Themba Kalua. 13 September 2023, 11:00AM

Come next week, the Prime Minister of Samoa, the Honorable Fiame Naomi Mataafa will take a stand at the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Summit in New York, as one of the leaders of the 193 member states of the UN, to proclaim Samoa’s commitments as a nation, towards accelerating the implementation of the SDGs.

Taking place on the 18th and the 19th of September at the UN headquarters in New York, this is a crucial convening, considering the setbacks in the implementation of Agenda 2030 (the SDGs).

Ahead of the UN SDGs Summit, the Government of Samoa with the UN Country Team in Apia recently held a national consultation on the SDGs. Samoa is the second country in the Pacific region to host such a significant consultation, and this is a vital step in its preparations for the Summit.

It is a remarkable demonstration of the government's unwavering dedication to achieving the SDGs, and these SDGs are embodied in the Government of Samoa's development aspirations to foster harmony, safety and freedom for all its people. The SDGs resonate with Samoa’s development priorities to foresee the creation of communities that are empowered and resilient and to inspire growth. On the other hand, Samoa’s national development contributes to the SDGs' underlying aspirations of a world where people live in peace and enjoy prosperity on a planet that is safe and protected.

As we reach the halfway point towards achieving the SDGs by 2030, the UN, in collaboration with member countries, is conducting a comprehensive evaluation of progress and challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted SDGs’ achievements. The recent SDG Progress Report shows that just 12 per cent of the SDG targets are on track. Progress on 50 per cent is weak and insufficient.  Alarmingly, we have stalled or gone into reverse on more than 30 per cent of the SDGs, globally.

Assessing Samoa’s implementation progress against the SDGs targets and its aligned national development strategy is therefore of paramount importance to the people of Samoa.

At Samoa's national SDGs consultations held on the 5th of September, the government presented its 2020 VNR, which highlighted both progress and challenges. The pandemic disrupted income generation, increased poverty, violence against women and children, food insecurity, and mental health issues. Samoa’s GDP fell by over 9 per cent. These insights underscore the need for strategic investments to reignite progress on SDGs.

In a context where the needs are abundant and resources are constrained, it is important to consider prioritization of key investments that would have the most positive spillover effects on other areas of need.

Based on the UN’s analysis and the discussion at the national consultation, Samoa should consider prioritizing investments in food systems, job creation, social care, biodiversity and climate change. These investments not only address key challenges but also yield positive effects, including reducing violence against women.

It is crucial for citizens to understand the implications of these decisions and actively engage in national development planning and SDGs policy discussions. The SDGs Summit provides a platform for governments to showcase their commitments, and it is where we can gauge whether these commitments will reverse the negative trajectory before 2030. The implementation of these commitments will require partnerships with all stakeholders and ordinary citizens also have an important role to play in the realization of the SDGs.

Now let’s turn back to what the SDGs are all about. The 17 SDGs embody the aspirations of global leaders for a world marked by peace, equality, and prosperity for all, regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity, race, age, nationality, sexual orientation, geographical location or any other differences.  

The SDGs provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet. They provide benchmarks for realizing this vision and serve as a basis for dialogue between governments and their partners on development cooperation.

Crucially, the SDGs underpin regional development strategies such as the 2050 strategy for the Blue Pacific continent as well as national development strategies, ensuring that the pursuit of regional and local goals aligns with global priorities.

Samoa’s commitment to realizing Agenda 2030 is evident since it is one of the few small island developing states (SIDS) that have submitted voluntary national reviews (VNRs) on SDG achievement. By expressing its dedication to present its third VNR in 2024, Samoa aims to be among the few countries worldwide actively participating in this reporting process.

But how much does the average Samoan citizen fully understand about the value and significance of the SDGs and the upcoming SDGs Summit? That is crucial.

The 2019 survey by the World Economic Forum (WEF), tells us that global awareness of the SDGs is relatively high, with 74 per cent of adults being aware of them. Nonetheless, awareness levels vary significantly from country to country.

There is a significant opportunity to raise awareness among Samoans about the importance of the SDGs, what they represent, and their relevance to daily life, and the United Nations is willing to partner and provide this support as relevant and resourceful as needed.

• The author Themba Kalua is the UN Resident Coordinator for Samoa, Cook Islands, Niue, and Tokelau based in Apia, Samoa. 

By Themba Kalua. 13 September 2023, 11:00AM
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