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The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Sets Action Targets for Realizing the Right to Development in the New Era
June 29,2017   By:CSHRS

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Sets Action Targets for Realizing the Right to Development in the New Era

LUO Yanhua*

This year sees the thirtieth anniversary for the adoption of the United Nations’ Declaration on the Right to Development. During the three decades after the adoption of the Declaration on the Right to Development, the right to development has been more and more acknowledged among the international community, and has become a typical example of “third-generation rights”. How to realize the right to development in the new situation is a problem we should study carefully. Meanwhile, the international community has made tremendous efforts in promoting sustainable development. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted at the UN Sustainable Development Summit on September 25, 2015 is an important result in this respect. What is the relationship between the realization of the right to development and the completion of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development? This is the question to be answered in this article.

I. Contents of the Right to Development

The right to development is an important human right put forward in the 1970s, and a typical example of “third-generation human rights”, referring to the right to development of states and individuals. The Resolutionnamedas“Alternative Approaches and Ways and Means within the United Nations System for Improvising the Effective Enjoyment of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms” was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on November 23, 1979. The article 8 of the resolution “emphasizes that the right to development is a human right and that equality of opportunity for development is as much a prerogative of nations as of individuals within nations". 1The Declaration on the Right to Development adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1986 officially recognizes the right to development by conforming that“the right to development is an inalienable human right and that equality of opportunity for development is a prerogative both of nations and of individuals who make up nations".2

Per relevant international documents, the contents of the right to development mainly cover the following aspects:

1.The right to development is an inalienablehuman right.

Article 1(1) of the Declaration on the Right to Development provides, “[t]he right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized”. Article 2 (1) of the Declaration on the Right to Development provides, “[t]he human person is the central subject of development and should be the active participant and beneficiary of the right to development”.3

2. The equality of opportunity for development is the core principle. The Declaration on the Right to Development points outthat “the right to development is an inalienable human right and that equality of opportunity for development is a prerogative both of nations and of individuals who make up nations".4

3. The right to development is both an individual’s right but also a collective right.

The right to development is not only an individual’s right but also a collective right. Each individual, each stateand each nation made up of individuals, and even mankind as a whole, are the subjects of this collective right. Therefore, as a human right, the right to development should be understood as having both the individual level and the collective level.

4. The right to development is both a right and a duty of states.

Article 2 (3) of the Declaration on the Right to Development provides, “States have the right and the duty to formulate appropriate national development policies that aim at the constant improvement of the well-being of the entire population and of all individuals, on the basis of their active, free and meaningful participation in development and in the fair distribution of the benefits resulting therefrom”. Article 3 (1) provides, “States have the primary responsibility for the creation of national and international conditions favourable to the realization of the right to development".5

Specifically, a state has both a right and a duty on both domestic and international levels. Domestically: the state has the right and duty to prepare appropriate policies for domestic development; constantly improve the welfare of all its people; protect the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of its people, and adopt all effective measures to ensure the equality of opportunity for all in their access to basic resources, education, health services, food, housing, employment and the fair distribution of income; ensure the equality of men and women; and ensure social justice. Internationally: the state has the right and duty to observe the principles of international law for maintaining friendly ties and cooperation with other states; respect the right of all peoples to national self-determination and permanent sovereignty over natural resources; maintain international peace and security; promote the establishment of a new international economic order; individually or collectively adopt measures to prepare international developmental policies to promote the development of all nations, especially that of developing countries; eliminate egregious human rights violations of human beings affected by situations such as apartheid, racism and racial discrimination, colonialism, foreign domination and occupation, aggression, foreign interference and threats against national sovereignty, national unity and territorial integrity, and threats of war, etc.6

5. Economic development is the foundation for realizing the right to development.

To improve mankind’s living standard is the primary objective in the realization of the right to development. The purpose of any effort made, and various policies implemented for the realization of the right to development must be to, among other things, constantly improve the well-being of all people; protect the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of its own people; ensure the equality of opportunity for all in their access to basic resources, education, health services, food, housing, employment and the fair distribution of income; ensure equality of men and women; and eliminate social injustice. The right to development further covers other economic, social, and cultural rights such as the right to work; the right to enjoy fair and reasonable employment conditions; the right to enjoy a high standard of physical and mental health; the right to profit from scientific, trade, technological and economic progress; and the right to use fiscal resources, make population policies and protect the environment for the economic and social development, etc.7  The realization of all these rights is based on economic development.

II. The Proposal of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

On September 25, 2015, the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit adopted an outcome document reached by 193 member states, that is, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This programmatic document covers 17 goals of sustainable development and 169 targets, and was officially implemented on January 1, 2016. The 17 goals of sustainable development include: ending poverty in all its forms everywhere; ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture; ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages; ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all; achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls; ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all; ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all; promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all; building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization and fostering innovation; reducing inequality within and among countries; making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns; taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts; conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development; protecting, restoring and promoting sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably managing forests, combatting desertification, and halting and reversing land degradation and halting biodiversity loss; promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels; strengthening the means of implementation and revitalizing the global partnership for sustainable development.8

From the above goals, we can see two main characteristics: first, universality, stressing the comprehensive development of mankind; second, sustainability, stressing the sustainable development of mankind.

III. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Sets Action Targets for Realizing the Right to Development in the New Era

From the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we can see that it is highly consistent with the realization of the right to development in many aspects. Therefore, it may be deemed as setting action targets for the realization of the right to development in the new era, since:

1. The goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are completely the same with those of the right to development.

The right to development requires that “every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized”.  9The 17 goals of sustainable development and 169 targets in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in fact set out the details of the requirement of the right to development. The two have the same goals.

2. The contents of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are highly consistent with those of the right to development.

“The right to development is an inalienable human right and that equality of opportunity for development is a prerogative both of nations and of individuals who make up nations.” 10 Therefore, equality of opportunity is a core element of the right to development. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development also stresses the equality of opportunity for development. For example, its requirements are: ending poverty in all its forms everywhere, and everyone having the equal opportunity to eliminate poverty; promoting well-being for all at all ages; promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all; achieving gender equality; ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all; ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all; reducing inequality within and among countries. The purpose of equal opportunity is reflected in all these goals.

3. The targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are consistent with the subjects of the right to development.

The subjects of the right to development include both individuals and states. Similarly, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Developmentis targeted at both individuals and states. For example, in the two goals, “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” and “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”, we can very clearly see that these are problems both of individuals and states.

4. The requirements on states in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are the same as the requirements on states in the realization of the right to development.

The right to development is both a right and a duty of states. Besides, states have both domestic and international rights and duties. Similarly, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development also requires that states take actions on both domestic and international levels. For example, its goals include: ending poverty in all its forms everywhere; ending hunger and achieve food security; reducing inequality within and among countries; taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts; conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development; protecting, restoring and promoting sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, halting biodiversity loss; revitalizing the global partnership for sustainable development. These goals all require that states not only adopt domestic measures but also engage in international cooperation, assume corresponding international responsibility and make an international commitment, thus realizing the objective of sustainable development worldwide through joint efforts of the international community.

5. Economic development is the joint foundation for realizing the right to development and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

To improve the life quality of mankind is the requirement of both the right to development and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, while the improvement of mankind’s life quality cannot be realized without an economic foundation. Everything would be out of the question without economic development. Only when economic development is realized can a necessary basis be provided for the realization of the right to development; similarly, only when economic development is realized and all economies are upgraded will it be possible to complete the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

To sum up, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development highly conforms to the realization of the right to development. Both fit not only in purpose and content, but also in object and subjects as well as in demands for countries and the foundation needed. We may regard the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as setting targets of actions to realize the right to development in the new era. Meanwhile, to realize the right to development in the new situation is to accomplish the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. The two adopt different approaches that lead to the same destination.

*LUOYanhua (罗艳华), professor at the School of International Studies, Peking University.

1The Resolution of “Alternative Approaches and Ways and Means within the United Nations System for Improvising the Effective Enjoyment of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms”,adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on November 23, 1979,Resolution no. A/RES/34/46, accessed November 15, 2016, the UN website:http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/34/46.

2The Declaration on the Right to Development, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 4, 1986, Resolution no. A/RES/41/128, accessed November 15, 2016,the UN website:http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/41/128.

3Ibid.

4Ibid.

5Ibid.

6Articles 2 (3), 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the Declaration on the Right to Development, accessed November 15, 2016, the UN website:http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/41/128.

7Paul de Waart et al., eds., International Law and Development(Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1988), 382.

8“The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda”, Guangming Daily, accessed November 15, 2016, http://epaper.gmw.cn/gmrb/html/2016-09/06/nw.D110000gmrb_20160906_4-07.htm?div=-1.

9Article 1(1) of the Declaration on the Right to Development,accessed November 15, 2016, the UN website:http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/41/128.

10The Declaration on the Right to Development, accessed November 15, 2016, the UN website:http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/41/128.