111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

SDGs and seniors

Seniors are a growing segment of the population and it is important to see how the global development frameworks view them.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the major current framework of global development. The SDGs were adopted through a UN General Assembly resolution in September 2015 and extend over a fifteen-year period. The structure of the SDGs includes seventeen goals, which then are broken down into 169 targets and these targets are further described through quantifiable indicators.

The SDGs cover a variety of areas including poverty, governance, clean water, justice, gender equality, sustainable cities, etc, and there has been much debate on its goals, targets and indicators. The SDGs UN resolution emphasizes that it wants to “leave no one behind”, however, older persons or seniors are not mentioned specifically in any of the goals. They are mentioned three times in the 169 targets though. These specific mentions of seniors as a population segment are in the SDG targets related to malnutrition, transport systems and public spaces.

Generally, the SDG goals are broad and interdependent. It is very possible to extend coverage to seniors and to bring about improvements to the lives of seniors by addressing the goals that deal with improving the state of global poverty, hunger, health, well-being, peace, justice, etc. For example, Goal 1 of the SDGs calls to “End poverty in all its forms everywhere”, and Goal 2 calls to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition…” and similarly, Goal 3 calls to “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages”.

It is possible that in achieving the broad SDG goals, governments may resort to specific policies that directly impact seniors. For instance, in the specific case of achieving the general goals on poverty, hunger, and health – seniors-specific policies could include extending the retirement age, providing pensions to seniors who fall below a certain income level, providing free health-care for seniors as part of universal health care schemes, etc. To summarize, striving to attain these broad SDG goals does not necessarily exclude benefits being realized by seniors but these broad goals also do not necessarily focus attention on directly addressing the issues of seniors or older adults.

Development choices are very often contentious. The contentiousness can sometimes be seen in objectives that are in intrinsic conflict with each other — for example, goals that deal with economic development and goals that deal with environmental sustainability can be in conflict with one another. Plans for economic growth can often involve natural resource depletion and environmental damage. There is also the possibility that there will be contention in light of limited funding resources and the demands of groups vying for those resources being in excess of the resources available.

In recent times, the senior population has been increasing in almost every country of the world. This population has been generally increasing since the 1950s primarily on account of declining birth rates on the one hand, and increasing life expectancy, on the other. The seniors demographic segment was estimated at over 700 million people worldwide in 2019. The proportion of this population, as a part of the world population is currently estimated at nine percent, and increasing.

In 2018, a demographic landmark was reached when the proportion of the population over 65 years of age was higher than the proportion of children under five years of age. This was the first time in history that this kind of demographic distribution had been seen. The consistently increasing number of the senior population is an important change that needs to be recognized in all spheres of life, and needs to be accommodated in political, economic, social, and developmental plans, policies and actions. Unfortunately, the SDGs do not directly accord seniors the importance and focus that is needed.

The periodic cycles of setting and resetting the global development goals provides an opportunity to make amends for the shortcoming of one cycle of goals in subsequent cycles. Prior to the SDGs, the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs, guided global development for the fifteen years from 2000 to 2015. The current SDGs cover the fifteen-year period from 2015 to 2030. In 2030, we can expect to see the next set of fifteen-year global development goals.

In 2019 the world population of people over 65 years of age was around 700 million and it is estimated that the senior population will grow by another 300 million in the next ten years, to reach close to a billion people by 2030. Most likely, the next fifteen-year global development goals, that will take effect in 2030, will accord seniors much more direct focus and importance than the current SDGs. Unfortunately, by then, the time for realizing an improved life may have run out for many seniors.

Dr Imran Syed, "SDGs and seniors," The News. 2020-11-04.
Keywords: Social sciences , UN General Assembly , Environmental sustainability , Global development , Economic growth , World Population , Economic plans , Developmental plans , Political plans