From banning meat to indoctrinating children: These are some of the conspiracies about the UN Sustainable Development Goals

The far-right spreads lies about these goals — which were agreed upon by world leaders in 2015 — in order to boycott the progressive agenda

Delegates gather at the start of a high-level summit on the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals on the sidelines of this week's General Debate of the United Nations General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 18 September 2023
Delegates gather at the start of a high-level summit on the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals on the sidelines of this week's General Debate of the United Nations General Assembly.JUSTIN LANE (EFE)
Patricia R. Blanco

“10,000 men of military age have entered the Italian island [of Lampedusa] in a span of three days, outnumbering its population of 6,000. But my servants are telling you that they are women and children fleeing in terror.” This message — published this past Monday on Twitter by a parody account calling itself “Agenda 2030″ — refers to a supposed elite (protected by the United Nations) that is intent on destroying a white and Christian society with the excuse of eradicating poverty and protecting the planet. So, when the UN mentions “quality education” (goal 4), “gender equality” (goal 5), or “reduction of inequalities” (goal #10), the extreme-right prefers to see “indoctrination,” “destruction of the family” or “migratory invasion.”

World leaders — who gathered at the United Nations General Assembly on Monday — agreed to 17 UN Sustainable Development back in 2015. Looking towards 2030, these objectives are aimed at promoting equality, the well-being of the global population and the protection of the environment. Since then, these goals have been subject to an incessant trickle of conspiracies, both from anonymous (and popular) parody accounts and from official voices of the extreme-right, such as Donald Trump in the United States or Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. They have called on their followers to boycott what they deem to be a progressive agenda.

These are some of the most widespread conspiracies about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

Patriotism versus globalism

Hoax: The UN intends to usurp countries’ sovereignty

Former U.S. president Donald Trump has been one of the main architects of this conspiracy theory, which claims that the UN and other international organizations want countries to cede sovereignty to them. The 2030 Agenda is, according to this narrative, an instrument to achieving this. “America is governed by Americans,” Donald Trump said, at the opening of the 2018-2019 session of the United Nations General Assembly. He added: “We reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism. Around the world, responsible nations must defend threats to their sovereignty, not just from global governance, but from other new forms of coercion and domination.”

The Spanish ultranationalist party, Vox, is one of the blocs that has adopted this argument. In a speech given in Spain’s Congress in 2021, Vox legislator Magdalena Nevada del Campo highlighted this lie: “Globalism — or the 2030 Agenda — not only fails to respond to patriotic interests, but it’s intent on destroying the sovereignty of nations. It’s an agenda that wants to destroy everything that gives man an identity and a destiny: the family, the nation, and transcendence.” To this end, according to the legislator from the Spanish far-right party, the 2030 Agenda “is based on a series of alleged threats that the planet is suffering from, such as the climate apocalypse, overpopulation, or a limited amount of resources.”

Fact: The 2030 Agenda is the result of the consensus reached by world leaders in 2015. None of the 17 SDGs imply the transfer of sovereignty to any international institution. Rather, they represent voluntary commitments made by individual states. As a result of said consensus, this past Monday a declaration was approved by the leaders participating in the UN General Assembly, warning that compliance with the SDGs “is in danger.”

The ‘migratory invasion’

Hoax: Agenda 2030 promotes the entry of immigrants to replace Europe’s majority-white population

The post that was made yesterday by the Agenda 2030 parody account on Twitter refers to “10,000 men” — implying that, among the refugees in Lampedusa, there are supposedly no women or children — who are “of military age.” This is a subtle form of disinformation that suggests — without outright lying — that migrants may be prepared to take up arms in the country that receives them, despite the fact that there’s no indication that they have received any type of training or have any such intention. It’s a tactic used to instill fear.

This narrative, which is one of the most-utilized by the extreme-right, contributes to spreading the “Great Replacement Theory,” coined a little over a decade ago by Renaud Camus, a French white nationalist writer. According to him, the UN and the “globalists” are pushing for the migrants to come to Europe. He affirms that their higher birth rates will end up replacing the majority-white population.

Fact: The 2030 Agenda notes that migration is a “powerful driving agent of sustainable development” that benefits both migrants and the societies that receive them. It can impact the achievement of several objectives, such as reducing poverty, improving education, or reducing inequalities. Regarding migration, the International Organization for Migration emphasizes that conflicts and poverty are the main causes that force people to flee their homes in search of dignity and safety.

The destruction of the family

Hoax: “Gender ideology” seeks “the destruction of the family”

SDG five on gender equality is another goal that’s a key target of far-right misinformation. From the point of view of extremists, what they call “gender ideology” seeks “the destruction of the family.” The former president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, summed it up with this phrase in 2022: “We have a position: we are against abortion, we are against gender ideology, and we are against the [decriminalization] of drugs.”

Fact: This goal aims to “end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.” And the road to achieving this is long. According to a recent report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), prejudice against women persists and at least 25% of the world’s population believes that it’s justifiable for a man to beat his wife. Other statistics confirm that achieving equality between men and women still requires effort: women occupy only 25% of parliamentary seats and 28% of management positions in companies around the world. And, in the 59 countries where women attain higher educational levels than men, they still continue to have a lower salary, with an average income gap of up to 39%.

The ‘climate religion’

Hoax: The UN wants to ban the consumption of meat and milk

Despite the indisputable scientific evidence that demonstrates that human action is responsible for global warming, the extreme-right has used SDG 13 — on climate action — as an opening to attack the 2030 Agenda. Lies abound about a supposed prohibition of meat and dairy products, the imposition of eating insects, or policies aimed at undermining farmers’ way of life.

Fact: No recommendation made by the SDGs suggests these types of measures. These are misrepresentations of other recommendations, such as limiting industrial livestock farming — one of the main causes of climate change, due to the emission of toxic gases — or supporting sustainable agriculture to safeguard natural spaces. Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels is crucial to prevent rising temperatures from being devastating to the planet, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The way to achieve this is via the reduction of greenhouse gases.

Hoax: You will only be able to move within your neighborhood

The extreme right accused the 2030 Agenda of wanting to impose the “15-minute city” model, which would imply, according to their narrative, that citizens would only be able to move within their own neighborhoods and that cars would be prohibited for the ultimate purpose: to control citizens.

Fact: Goal 11 of the 2030 agenda — on sustainable cities and communities — advocates that all people have access “to adequate, safe and affordable housing with basic services” and that shantytowns “be upgraded.” The concept of “the 15-minute city” was coined by Carlos Moreno, the urban planning advisor to the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo. It is meant to promote the idea that all citizens should have all the basic services that they need on a daily basis — such as medical centers, shops, schools, parks, or places for leisure — very close to their homes, whether they travel by foot or by bicycle.

The indoctrination of children

Hoax: Quality education aims to indoctrinate children

“You, Manuel, from now on, will be called Verónica.” With this phrase, the far-right party Vox criticized the SDG that deals with quality education (number 4). According to Vox, these objectives have the hidden intention of imposing all the hoaxes mentioned above on children: from the notion of “gender ideology,” which seeks to destroy the heteronormative family — consisting of a father, a mother, and children — to secularism and a biased vision of history.

Fact: The main educational objective of the 2030 Agenda “aims at ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education… [and that] all girls and boys complete free primary and secondary schooling by 2030.” According to this goal, to achieve a more just and equal world, it’s necessary for students to acquire the necessary knowledge to “promote sustainable development,” “human rights,” “gender equality,” “peace” and “cultural diversity.”

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