“For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.”
These were words spoken by then-US president John F Kennedy during his inauguration speech in 1961. It was the year that the Berlin wall was erected, Tunku Abdul Rahman’s plan to form our Federation of Malaysia was born. Those words were relevant then; and arguably much more so now.
We now live in the global age of paradox.
We are capable of building the safest and most sustainable energy systems. Our medical breakthroughs are healing the sick worldwide. Through advanced information technology, knowledge and education can reach more children, youth and students than ever before.
In short, the human race is primed for greatness.
If there was ever a generation that had the capacity to end extreme poverty, solve the AIDS pandemic and achieve world peace, that generation is our generation.
But if you look around you today, we have made little progress.
Across the world, we are plagued with an unprecedented number of human-hatched crises and disasters; all of which seem to be spiralling further and further out of control with every passing day.
Europe continues to confront the largest migration crisis in modern history.
Africa, weighed down by its myriad of despotic and tyrannical dictators, seems to see no end to food and hunger troubles.
The Middle East is drowning in a crisis so complex it is becoming increasingly difficult to describe.
As we speak, much of Asia is reversing the democratic reforms it made over the last two decades.
We have wars raging across a ten thousand kilometre arc from Sahel, North Africa, to the Middle East in Central Asia.
In addition, Vitaly Churkin, the Russian Ambassador to the UN, tells us US-Russian tensions are at its worst since 1973, the height of the Cold War.
This is cause for serious concern, because conflict among nations that have nuclear weapons will be disastrous for the rest of the world. Because of proxy wars, illegal occupations, and financial meltdowns led on by greed and profiteering, kleptocratic rulers and dictatorships, and bad governance, there are millions of people who are in extreme, hardcore poverty with no clearly defined escape route.
If we averaged gross national incomes for every nation on the planet, every person in the world would earn about US$15,421 a year, which exceeds the World Bank's definition of a high income.
It is clear that even as the human civilisation as a whole has grown richer, we have seen a rise in poverty, oppression and inequality. This is our global paradox. How long can the world run on borrowed time?
Responding to the global paradox, progressive style
The essence of the progressive movement has always - through both the best and the worst of times- been to choose the better way. We cannot just simply allow for things to happen, or to return to the past. Maintaining the status quo is definitely not safe, nor is it adequate to face the challenges now or ahead. In the face of two extremely divergent futures, there is no more urgent time than now, to choose to act.
On Sept 25, 193 nations of the UN General Assembly- including Malaysia- adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
SDGs are premised on three pillars of human well being, being:
1) Economic prosperity.
2) Social Inclusion and Justice.
3) Environmental sustainability.
‘Social Democratic Goals’
During the Progressive Alliance Parliamentarian Conference in the European Parliament, Professor Jeff Sachs, director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, said SDGs also mean ‘Social Democratic Goals’. The progressive global family celebrated that idea then and continues to champion it today to great success.
In fact, all 193 UN member states have agreed to the global order of Social Democracy:
1) No poverty - End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
2) Zero hunger - End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote
3) Good health and well-being - Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
4) Quality education - Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
5) Gender equality - Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
6) Clean water and sanitation - Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
7) Affordable and clean energy - Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
8) Decent work and economic Ggowth - Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
9) Industry, innovation and infrastructure - Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation.
10) Reduced inequalities - Reduce income inequality within and among countries.
11) Sustainable cities and communities - Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
12) Responsible consumption and production - Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
13) Climate action - Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts by regulating emissions and promoting developments in renewable energy.
14) Life below water - Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
15) Life on land - 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) Peace, justice and strong institutions - 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) Partnerships for the goals - Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
The UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network tracks the progress of participating nations in achieving the SDGs. At the top of this list is Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Netherlands, Iceland, and the United Kingdom.
Unsurprisingly, most of these nations operate on a Social Democratic or Social Market oriented economic and social model. Their societies are being developed on a base of low inequality, supportive of high prosperity and a strong environmental commitment- which in most cases translates into better progress towards achieving the SDGs.
Where does Malaysia stand?
As always, actually achieving the SDGs is more daunting than merely pledging to work towards them. Can Malaysia deliver on its pledge as a signatory of the Agenda?
At the moment, that appears to be an ambitious prospect.
Malaysian political discourse is not yet even at a level where we are talking about achieving national goals, let alone global ones. With race and religion, scandals and powerplays still being used as the major discourse drivers and currency of most political conversations, there are overwhelming reasons to be pessimistic. This comes despite encouraging signs emerging as a result of having a more critical and enlightened generation.
Political elites whose power can only be preserved if the status quo is upheld, are investing their all to fight for their survival, even up to the point of renewing alliances with conservative radical forces. The power and resources afforded by being the longest ruling political party globally,means the ruling regime is well armed to win the fight.
After all, the game is in their court, played according to their rules, and the referees are on their payroll. Our democracy has been neutered by the political elite, that have hijacked the ‘demos’ concept in democracy while rendering us nothing more than an electoral autocracy.
We need a new kind of politics.
To start with, we need to have objective, goals-based politics.
What are Malaysia's goals for 2030? I can assure you that the current Malaysian government doesn’t have an answer for that.
Much of the world is already setting off to achieve the sustainable agenda.
We, too, can meaningfully contribute towards achieving this as a nation.
And what better vehicle to achieve Social Democratic Goals, than through the only Social Democratic party in Malaysia?
HOWARD LEE CHUAN HOW is the Pasir Pinji assemblyperson, DAP Socialist Youth (Dapsy) international secretary, Perak Dapsy chief and International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY) president.