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Sustainable Development Goals midway point: are we on track?

Posted on: Wednesday, September 13th, 2023

“Leave no one behind. That defining principle of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a shared promise by every country to work together to secure the rights and well-being of everyone… But halfway to 2030, that promise is in peril.” Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary General.

On 18-19 September 2023, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Summit will bring together Heads of State and Governments from all around the world to mark the halfway point to achieving the 17 globally agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out in Agenda 2030.   

Leave No One Behind  

The SDGs, which replace the Millennium Development Goals 2015, address a range of critical issues – from ending poverty to improving health care, building more inclusive and sustainable cities, and reducing the impact of climate change. Following three years of intense international negotiation and concerted advocacy by CBM and others, Agenda 2030 was much more disability inclusive than its predecessor and contains the express promise to leave no one behind.  

While all 17 SDGs are directly interlinked with the 33 core articles of the Convention of Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) [opens pdf in new tab], it is the five goals carrying 11 specific references to persons with disabilities that demonstrated Agenda 2030’s political breakthrough in seeking greater inclusion for all. These goals include the ambition to provide inclusive and equitable education (SDG 4) and decent work for all (SDG 8), to reduce inequality (SDG 10) alongside the creation of more sustainable and inclusive cities (SDG 11). This is accompanied by the target to significantly increase the availability of disability disaggregated data (SDG 17). 

“Promise in Peril” 

The bleak results reported by the UN Secretary General come on the back of the cataclysmic events of recent years, which threw the world into turmoil: beginning with the COVID-19 pandemic, the conflict in Ukraine, and the ongoing climate crisis [opens pdf in new tab] that disproportionately affects at-risk communities in the Global South, especially people with disabilities.  

While the UK showed strong leadership in negotiating the SDGs, its own implementation has fallen short. The Voluntary National Review in 2019 revealed gaping holes in the UK’s delivery on SDG targets. Subsequent cuts to UK Official Development Assistance (ODA), alongside the merger of the Department of International Development (DFID) into the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) during the pandemic undermined “the UK’s position as a thought leader in international development” (2).  

Evidence of the UK’s commitment to leave no one behind has become less and less visible in international policies, programming, and investment which should be driving the success of Agenda 2030 (3). In fact, according to FCDO’s own assessments, it was assessed that the budget cuts would have a significant impact on programmes for people with disabilities, including the withdrawal of support for more than 200 million people at risk of Neglected Tropical Diseases.  

The compounding developments have resulted in significant setbacks to achieving inclusive education and employment as well as equality for people with disabilities, as set out in SDGs 4, 8 and 10. Furthermore, the UK’s commitment to providing disability disaggregated data (SDG 17) was not incorporated into its latest International Development Strategy, reducing progress on accountability and transparency (4).  

The UK’s lost momentum over recent years is not likely to be restored by the Prime Minister’s disappointing decision to skip the SDG Summit in New York and its refusal to sign a draft declaration that advocates for accelerated action on the SDGs ahead of the summit.  

Reclaiming Leadership 

Nevertheless, the UK has made some positive strides towards inspiring greater disability inclusion in the past years, including playing an instrumental role in launching the Global Disability Summit (GDS), making public commitments to disability inclusion, and publishing its Disability Inclusion and Rights Strategy 2022-2030, which was developed in partnership with people with disabilities.  

At CBM, we applaud these efforts in a challenging environment and support the UK Government in reclaiming its leadership position. We need now to see these efforts come through at all levels of UK aid – from policies and programming down to disaggregated impact monitoring – to ensure that the UK will once again become the driver of inclusive and sustainable development. 

“While the progress on the UN SDGs is concerning, especially regarding disability inclusion, I am looking forward to the deliberations taking place over the next few days and remain expectant that the SDG Summit will result in meaningful action for and participation of people with disabilities and their representative organisations.” Kirsty Smith, CEO CBM UK  


1 United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals: Towards a Rescue Plan for People and Planet [opens in new tab] p.2  

2 BOND (2022) The UK’s global contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals: progress, gaps and recommendations 2022 [opens in new tab] p.4 

3 Ibid. 

4 For more information, see BOND’s report on the UK’s contribution to the SDGs [opens in new tab] 

Main image: Mafunasi, 85, fetches water on her own, after cataract surgery restored her sight. Just days ago she had to be led everywhere, even to the bathroom. Image credit: CBM UK / Hayduk