Why UN Sustainable Development Goals are on course to fail

Olivia Miller
Picture by Unsplash

The UNESCO World Conference on Cultural Policies and Sustainable Development –MONDIACULT 2022, to be held in Mexico in September, promises to be a major international gathering on the UN Sustainable Development Goals and what will come afterwards. To prepare for this conference, international events are increasingly being organised all over the world. Yet, Sophia Labadi, Professor of Heritage in the University’s Department of Classical & Archaeological Studies argues that the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are on course to fail without culture and heritage having a greater role in development. She said:

‘MONDIACULT 2022 will be convened forty years after the first MONDIACULT in 1982. With almost 1000 participants and 27 ministers, this first conference promoted a simple idea: that any development must be rooted in, and respect, the culture in which it is carried out. In practical terms, MONDIACULT promoted a bottom-up approach, as local communities embody the values, aspirations, and needs of endogenous development.

‘This idea has been difficult to implement. Firstly, over the years, its simple bottom-up idea has transformed into an investigation of the contribution of culture to development. This is a radically different approach, and no longer focused on endogenous development. Culture in particular, is now a product that can be packaged for consumption, mainly by tourists. Think, for example, of cultural Maasai singing and dancing at sunset in Tanzania.

‘In recent years, more inclusive and elaborate plans have aimed to use culture to address some of the most pressing development challenges, ranging from promoting food security to addressing gender equality and climate change. However, an adequate labour force is often missing. Besides, cultural managers often do not have the knowledge to implement these plans, or consider them to be outside of their remit.

‘MONDIACULT also quite naively called for a world without domination, where each country would freely use its own culture to follow its own development path. This has proved rather utopian. Most of the funding for development projects based on culture comes from international aid. Despite many efforts to reform the system, various international aid funded projects on culture for development impose ideas from donors, rather than applying a bottom-up approach. International aid is still primarily self-serving, and some countries make no secret of this, as is the case for Australia.’

Professor Sophia Labadi is author of Rethinking Heritage for Development (UCL Press). Rethinking Heritage for Development assesses whether and how heritage has contributed to three key dimensions of sustainable development (namely poverty reduction, gender equality and environmental sustainability) within the context of its marginalisation from the Sustainable Development Goals and from previous international development agendas. This book is also the first to assess the negative and positive impacts of all the international projects implemented in sub-Saharan Africa by a consortium of UN organisations that aimed to provide evidence for the contribution of heritage for development in time for the negotiation of the SDGs.

The University’s Press Office provides the media with expert comments in response to topical news events. Colleagues who would like to learn more about how to contribute their expertise or how the service works should contact the Press Office at pressoffice@kent.ac.uk