Building capacity to help Africa trade better

The new UN Sustainable Development Goals and Regional Integration in Africa


The new UN Sustainable Development Goals and Regional Integration in Africa

William Mwanza, tralac Researcher, comments on the 2015 UN Summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda and the relevance of regional integration frameworks when considering the agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

A United Nations (UN) Summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda is scheduled to be held in New York from 25 to 27 September. Negotiations on the draft outcome document – titled “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” – were successfully concluded and agreed by consensus at an informal plenary meeting of the UN General Assembly on 2 August 2015.

The draft outcome document includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which all countries and stakeholders undertake to implement so as to attain 169 targets – for developed and developing countries alike – included within these goals by the year 2030. The SDGs build on the millennium development goals (MDGs). They balance economic, social and environmental dimensions, and represent an expression of determination by all countries to take the bold and transformative steps that are urgently required to shift the world onto a more sustainable and resilient path. The SDGs are meant to stimulate action in 5 main areas of significant importance namely people, the planet, prosperity, peace and partnership, in line with the common vision spelt out in the draft outcome document. Their implementation will be guided by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and associated treaties, conventions and declarations in respective areas. The 17 SDGs that are expected to be adopted are as follows:

  1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere

  2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

  3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

  4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

  5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

  6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

  7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

  8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

  9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation

  10. Reduce inequality within and among countries

  11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

  12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

  13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

  14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

  15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

  16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

  17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development

It is recognised that this new scale and ambition of the SDGs requires a revitalized global partnership of all relevant stakeholders, as well as concrete policies and actions as outlined in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda adopted at the conclusion of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa in July 2015.

Although the goals set in the draft outcome document are integrated, indivisible and universally applicable, they are expected to take into account different national realities, capacities, levels of development, and national policies and priorities when being implemented. Each Government will be expected to set its own national targets in line with the global ambition, and is also expected to decide how to incorporate the global targets into its national planning processes, policies and strategies, while taking into account its national circumstances.

This global-to-national link immediately highlights the importance of locating the role of regional integration frameworks in furthering the attainment of the SDGs by the individual countries. This is particularly so in Africa, where the challenges relevant to each goal are significantly greater than in other global regions.

The relevance and importance of regional integration frameworks is clear when each of the goals in the draft outcome document is considered. Their role as a driver and catalyst is more pronounced in some goals than others, but they ultimately have some influence in the realisation of all the respective goals. Most regional integration frameworks in Africa cover most of the sectors addressed by the SDGs. However, it can be noted that they may not be presently designed in a way that would ensure effective delivery of these goals. For example, while the building of resilient infrastructure, promotion of inclusive and sustainable industrialization and fostering of innovation (Goal 9) is currently a top priority in respective frameworks, the provisions in the different agreements may not be presently aimed at fostering sustainable consumption and production patterns (Goal 12). Plans to retrofit industries so as to increase their resource-use efficiency and greater adoption of clean and environmentally sound technologies and industrial processes (as provided in Goal 9) are challenging, particularly as they may involve greater costs and hence lower profits in most instances. They may also be difficult to monitor and enforce, as revelations of the past few days on Volkswagen’s illicit use of technology to circumvent its emissions targets have made evident. Hence, for an industrialization process that fosters sustainable consumption and production patterns to effectively emerge in different African regions, much may depend on ensuring that the regional agreements themselves are geared towards guiding such a process.

As with other regional commissions in the World, African regional economic communities (RECs) have been engaged in the process of formulating the SDGs and are expected to form part of the follow-up and review framework of the SDG process, in conjunction with regional UN agencies. Prior to engaging in this function, it would be prudent for African RECs to review the current designs of their regional integration agreements. This should be done so as to determine the extent to which they are poised to play their facilitatory role in delivering on the SDGs effectively, and to make necessary adjustments where necessary.



United Nations. (2015). Draft outcome document of the United Nations summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda. [Online]. Available at:


Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Tel +27 21 880 2010