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Celebrating commitments, preparing for delivery: GCE President Camilla Croso reflects on the UN Sustainable Development Summit and the next steps for education campaigners

CP260I6XAAAwX72(This article is also available in Spanish, PortugueseArabic, and French.)

The UN Sustainable Development Summit represents a historic moment, with 193 Member States having adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, on the 25th of September 2015. The agenda draws together prospects for social, economic and environmental sustainability, “to end poverty and hunger everywhere; to combat inequalities within and among countries; to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies; to protect human rights and promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls; and to ensure the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources.”

Having been through an extensive and intensive consultation and negotiation process, led by Member States but with the involvement of a broad spectrum of stakeholders, the adopted agenda is an accomplishment of multilateralism and of the dialogue between actors and sectors, in which civil society has actively participated, and played a central role. The agenda encompasses a set of 17 goals and 169 targets, being ambitious in breadth and depth. Its content and process of negotiation make it clear that human rights are interdependent and indivisible, and that the inter-sectoral dialogue and action that has marked the adoption of the agenda must continue as we move forward, at all levels.

The unprecedented participation of civil society and other stakeholders throughout the process has been reflected at the Summit itself. It is our collective expectation and hope that this political culture be maintained and improved, ensuring expanded, diverse and representative participation in regards to the accountability and monitoring mechanisms that will be established for the implementation of the agenda at international, regional and national levels.

The education community has plenty to celebrate. When conversations on the post-2015 agenda began three years ago, it was far from secure that education would be a standalone goal, and even when we started believing that it would be, we could never take it for granted. Moreover, initial inputs towards the narrative of education within the agenda were very restrictive, focusing on a ‘read-write-count’ set of proposed targets, which were thought to reach a maximum of four. We have, as history shows, moved far from that. Although we might always find room for improvement, Goal 4, with its set of 7 targets and 3 means of implementation, reflects a broad perspective of education, anchored in a vision of human rights. Furthermore, the education community is to adopt, on 4th November 2015, an Education 2030 Framework for Action that spells out the principles on which Goal 4 stands, expands on its narrative and on that of the targets, and establishes possible strategies to help ensure their implementation. It also adds a section on education financing, a fundamental aspect which was left unattended by the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Throughout the Summit, the right to education was referred to numerous times in the interventions of Member States, showing there is an increased recognition of it being not only a human right in itself, but also an enabling right, promoter of all others. Education is present in several other targets throughout the Agenda, in the same way that Goal 4 picks up on key elements that are further developed elsewhere. We know and must always bear in mind, for example, that the overcoming of poverties and inequalities, the promotion of health and well-being, of gender equality, peace and justice, of decent work and environmental sustainability are all intertwined with the respect, protection and realisation of the right to education.

An important aspect of the adopted agenda is that it is universal. In other words, and as was often pointed out during the Summit, the world must move beyond specific geopolitics and a set of power relations that divide the world into ‘north’ and ‘south’. It is increasingly recognised that this is an anachronistic perception which must be formally overcome. All nations, no matter where and which, suffer from structural discriminations, inequalities and injustices which must be tackled in order to ensure a life of dignity to its peoples.

Over the last three years, GCE members, working with partner organisations and supporters across civil society, have worked tirelessly at national, regional and global levels to advocate for this broad vision of education. At this stage in the process, we should rightly celebrate the accomplishments of the movement, while at the same time we must shape up for what lies ahead of us.

The major challenge is now, of course, the implementation of the Goals, which one must remember reflect a body of legally binding human rights treaties and obligations to which Member States have subscribed. While concrete implementation will take place at the national level, sustained and coherent action at all levels must be ensured. Ownership over the Goals must be secured as well as information and participation in policy decision making of citizens and peoples, especially those most marginalised. In the same vein, plans, financial resources and accountability mechanisms must be in place, to ensure progressive realisation of commitments made, and to address adequately and in a timely way any bottlenecks that appear.

But, perhaps most importantly, we must consistently address the root causes of injustices, inequalities, discrimination and conflicts, tackling historic power relations and vested interests which contradict the realisation of human rights. The accumulation and concentration of power and profit, for example, underpin to a large extent the maintenance of the status quo that many work to change.

As the Secretary-General of Amnesty International, Salil Shetty, highlighted in his intervention during the opening ceremony, coherence and addressing structural change will be key for implementation: “You cannot claim to support sustainable development when you are reluctant to reduce the consumption of the rich or transfer technology. You cannot preach about human rights while practising mass surveillance. You cannot lecture about peace while being the world’s largest manufacturers of arms. You cannot allow your corporations to use financial and tax loopholes while railing against corruption. You cannot adopt the Sustainable Development Goals and at the same time attack and arrest peaceful protesters and dissenters.”

We leave the Summit with a feeling of accomplishment and, at the same time, cognisant of the massive challenges ahead. We will require sustained collective inter-sectoral thought, dialogue and action, to pursue the necessary changes for a better life, where the ethics of care towards one another and our planet prevails.