One of the most important elements of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs is the strong commitment to inclusive development, and “leaving no one behind” has emerged as a central theme of the agenda. How did this consensus come about? And what does this term mean and how is it being interpreted? This matters because SDGs shift international norms. Global goals exert influence on policy and action of governments and stakeholders in development operates through discourse. So the language used in formulating the UN Agenda is a terrain of active contestation. This paper aims to explain the politics that led to this term as a core theme. It argues that LNOB was promoted to frame the SDG inequality agenda as inclusive development, focusing on the exclusion of marginalized and vulnerable groups from social opportunities, deflecting attention from the core issues of distribution of income and wealth, and the challenge of “extreme inequality.” The term is adequately vague so as to accommodate wide ranging interpretations. Through a content analysis of LNOB in 43 VNRs, the paper finds that the majority of country strategies identify LNOB as priority to the very poor, and identify it with a strategy for social protection. This narrow interpretation does not respond to the ambition of the 2030 Agenda for transformative change, and the principles of human rights approaches laid out.
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