Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals are a UN Initiative.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), officially known as Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a set of seventeen aspirational "Global Goals" with 169 targets between them. Spearheaded by the United Nations, through a deliberative process involving its 193 Member States, as well as global civil society, the goals are contained in paragraph 54 United Nations Resolution A/RES/70/1 of 25 September 2015.[1] The Resolution is a broader intergovernmental agreement that, while acting as the Post 2015 Development Agenda (successor to the Millennium Development Goals), builds on the Principles agreed upon under Resolution A/RES/66/288, popularly known as The Future We Want.[2] The SDGs were in large measure informed by the oft quoted assertion by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that "there can be no Plan B, because there is no Planet B."

On 19 July 2014, the UN General Assembly's Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) forwarded a proposal for the SDGs to the Assembly. The proposal contained 17 goals with 169 targets covering a broad range of sustainable development issues. These included ending poverty and hunger, improving health and education, making cities more sustainable, combating climate change, and protecting oceans and forests.[3] On 5 December 2014, the UN General Assembly accepted the Secretary-General's Synthesis Report which stated that the agenda for the post-2015 SDG process would be based on the OWG proposals.[4]

The Intergovernmental Negotiations on the Post 2015 Development Agenda (IGN) began in January 2015 and ended in August 2015. Following the negotiations, a final document was adopted at the UN Sustainable Development Summit September 25–27, 2015 in New York, USA.[5] The title of the agenda is Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.[6][7]


The history of the SDGs can be traced to 1972 when governments met under in Stockholm, Sweden, for the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment , to consider the rights of the human family to a healthy and productive environment.[8] It was not until 1983 that the United Nations decided to create the World Commission on Environment and Development which defined sustainable development as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." In 1992 the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development was held in Rio. It was here that the first agenda for Environment and Development was developed and adopted, also known as Agenda 21.

Twenty years later, at the Rio+20 Conference, a resolution, known as The Future We Want[9] was reached by member states. Among the key themes agreed on were poverty eradication, energy, water and sanitation, health, and human settlement. Paragraph 246 of the Future We Want outcome document forms the link between the Rio+20 agreement and the Millennium Development Goals: "We recognize that the development of goals could also be useful for pursuing focused and coherent action on sustainable development. The goals should address and incorporate in a balanced way all three dimensions of sustainable development (environment, economics, and society) and their interlinkages. The development of these goals should not divert focus or effort from the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals". Paragraph 249 states that "the process needs to be coordinated and coherent with the processes to consider the post-2015 development agenda".

Taken together, these two paragraphs paved the way to bring together the development agenda centered on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),[10] which were officially established following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000, and the agreement under the Future We Want outcome document. The Rio+20 summit also agreed that the process of designing sustainable development goals, should be "action-oriented, concise and easy to communicate, limited in number, aspirational, global in nature and universally applicable to all countries while taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities".[11]

The MDGs were supposed to be achieved by 2015. A further process was needed to agree and develop development goals from 2015-2030. Discussion on the post-2015 framework for international development began well in advance, with the United Nations System Task Team on Post 2015 Development Agenda[12] releasing the first report known as Realizing The Future We Want.[13] The Report was the first attempt to achieve the requirements under paragraph 246 and 249 of the Future We Want document. It identified four dimensions as part of a global vision for sustainable development: Inclusive Social Development, Environmental Sustainability, Inclusive Economic Development, and Peace and Security. Other processes included the UN Secretary General's High Level Panel on Post 2015 Development Agenda,[14] whose report[15] was submitted to the Secretary General in 2013.

The goals

Further information: Post-2015 Development Agenda

On 25 September 2015, the 193 countries of the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Development Agenda titled Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Following the adoption, UN agencies, under the umbrella of the United Nations Development Group, decided to support a campaign by several independent entities, among them corporate institutions and International Organizations. The Campaign, known as Project Everyone,[16] introduced the term Global Goals and is intended to help communicate the agreed Sustainable Development Goals to a wider constituency. However the decision to support what is an independent campaign, without the approval of the member states, has met resistance[17] from several sections of civil society and governments, who accuse[18] the UNDG of ignoring the most important communication aspect of the agreement: Sustainability. There are also concerns that Global Goals is a term used to refer to several other processes that are not related to the United Nations.

The Official Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted on 25 September 2015 has 92 paragraphs, with the main paragraph (51) outlining the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and its associated 169 targets. This included the following goals:[19]

A diagram listing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals
  1. No Poverty - End poverty in all its forms everywhere[20]
    • Extreme poverty has been cut by more than half since 1990- however, more than 1 in 5 people live on less than $1.25 a day
    • Poverty is more than lack of income or resources- it includes lack of basic services, such as education, hunger, social discrimination and exclusion, and lack or participation in decision making.
    • Gender inequality plays a large role in the perpetuation of poverty and it's risks; They then face potentially life-threatening risks from early pregnancy, and often lost hopes for an education and a better income.
    • Age groups are affected differently when struck with poverty; its most devastating effects are on children, to whom it poses a great threat. It affects their education, health, nutrition and security. It also negatively affects the emotional, spiritual and emotional development of children through the environment it creates.
  2. Zero Hunger - End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture[21]
    • Globally, 1 in 9 people are undernourished, the vast majority of these people live in developing countries
    • Agriculture is the single largest employer in the world, providing livelihoods for 40 per cent of today’s global population. It is the largest source of income and jobs for poor rural households. Women comprise on average 43 per cent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, and over 50 per cent in parts of Asia and Africa, yet they only own 20% of the land.
    • Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45 per cent) of deaths in children under five – 3.1 million children each year.
  3. Good Health and Well-being - Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages[22]
    • Significant strides have been made in increasing life expectancy and reducing some of the common killers associated with child and maternal mortality, and major progress has been made on increasing access to clean water and sanitation, reducing malaria, tuberculosis, polio and the spread of HIV/AIDS.
    • However, only half of women in developing countries have received the health care they need, and the need for family planning in increasing exponentially, while the need met is growing slowly- more than 225 million women have an unmet need for contraception.
    • An important target is to substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from pollution-related diseases.
  4. Quality Education - Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all[23]
    • Major progress has been made for education access, specifically at the primary school level, for both boys and girls. However, access does not always mean quality of education, or completion of primary school. Currently, 103 million youth worldwide still lack basic literacy skills, and more than 60 per cent of them are women
    • Target 1 "By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 effective learning outcomes"- shows the commitment to nondiscriminatory education outcomes
  5. Gender Equality - Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls[24]
    • Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large
    • While a record 143 countries guaranteed equality between men and women in their Constitutions by 2014, another 52 had not taken this step. In many nations, gender discrimination is still woven through legal and social norms
    • Though goal 5 is the gender equality stand-alone goal- the SDG's can only be successful if women are completely integrated into each and every goal
  6. Clean Water and Sanitation - Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all[25]
  7. Affordable and Clean Energy - Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all[26]
  8. Decent Work and Economic Growth - Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all[27]
  9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure - Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation[28]
  10. Reduced Inequalities - Reduce income inequality within and among countries[29]
  11. Sustainable Cities and Communities - Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable[30]
  12. Responsible Consumption and Production - Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns[31]
  13. Climate Action - Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts by regulating emissions and promoting developments in renewable energy[32]
  14. Life Below Water - Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development[33]
  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[34]
  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[35]
  17. Partnerships for the Goals - Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development[36]

As of August 2015, there were 169 proposed targets for these goals and 304 proposed indicators to show compliance.[37]

Post-2015 development agenda process

Since Rio+20 did not elaborate specific goals, a 30-member Open Working Group (OWG) was established on 22 January 2013 by the decision of the UN General Assembly. The OWG was tasked with preparing a proposal on the SDGs for consideration during the 68th session of the General Assembly, September 2013 – September 2014.[38]

The Open Working Group used a constituency-based system of representation, which meant that most of the seats in the working group are shared by several countries. After 13 sessions, the OWG submitted their proposal of 17 SDGs and 169 targets to the 68th session of the UN General Assembly in September, 2014.[39]

The Rio+20 outcome document stated that, “at the outset, the OWG will decide on its methods of work, including developing modalities to ensure the full involvement of relevant stakeholders and expertise from civil society, the scientific community and the United Nations system in its work, in order to provide a diversity of perspectives and experience”.[40]


A report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) of 2013 criticized the efforts of the SDGs as not ambitious enough. Instead of aiming for an end to poverty by 2030, the report "An Ambitious Development Goal: Ending Hunger and Undernutrition by 2025" calls for a greater emphasis on eliminating hunger and undernutrition and achieving that in 5 years less, by 2025. It bases its claims on an analysis of the experiences from China, Vietnam, Brazil and Thailand and identifies 3 pathways to achieving this goal: agriculture-led, social protection– and nutrition intervention–led, or a combination of both of these approaches.[41]

The SDGs have been criticized for being contradictory, because in seeking high levels of global GDP growth, they will undermine their own ecological objectives. It has also been noted that, in relation to the headline goal of eliminating extreme poverty, "a growing number of scholars are pointing out that $1.25 is actually not adequate for human subsistence," and the poverty line should be revised to as high as $5.[42]

A commentary in The Economist argued that the 169 targets for the SDGs are too many, calling them "sprawling," "misconceived," and "a mess" compared to the Millennium Development Goals. It also criticised the goals for ignoring local context and promoting "cookie-cutter development policies." They claimed that all other sustainable development goals are founded on achieving SDG number one. The Economist estimated that trying to alleviate poverty and achieving the other sustainable development goals will require about US$2 trillion to 3 trillion per annum for the next 15 years, which critics do not see as being feasible. The reduction in the number of people living in abject poverty has been criticized as a result of the growth of China; the MDGs have been mistakenly credited for this drop.[43] The SDGs have also been criticized due to the inherent shortcomings in the very concept of sustainable development and the inability of the latter to either stabilize rising carbon dioxide concentration or ensure environmental harmony.[44]

Intersectoral linkages

Water, sanitation, and hygiene

WASH experts have stated that without progress on Goal 6, the other goals and targets will not be able to be achieved.[45][46]

Climate change

Nations and other parties negotiating at the UN have highlighted the links between the post-2015 SDG process, the Financing for Development process to be concluded in Addis Ababa in July 2015, and the COP 21 Climate Change conference in Paris in December 2015.[47]

In May 2015, a report concluded that only a very ambitious climate deal in Paris in 2015 will enable countries to reach the sustainable development goals and targets.[48] The report also states that tackling climate change will only be possible if the SDGs are met; and that development and climate are inextricably linked, particularly around poverty, gender equality, and energy. The UN encourages the public sector to take initiative in this effort for minimizing negative impacts on the environment.[49]

Women and gender equality

Despite stand-alone goals on health, gender equality and education, among others, there is widespread consensus that progress against any and all of the SDGs will be stalled if women's empowerment and gender equality is not prioritized. Arguments and evidence from sources as diverse and as economically oriented as the OECD, to expected sources such as UN Women, bolster the case that investments in women and girls impact national and global development in ways that exceed their initial scope of interest.[50]

Economic growth and infrastructure

World Pensions Council (WPC) development economists have argued that the twin considerations of long-term economic growth and infrastructure investment weren’t addressed properly and prioritized as they should be: “More worryingly, ‘Work and Economic Growth’ and ‘Technological Innovation and Infrastructure Investment’ joined the [SDGs] priority list at N°8 and N°9 respectively, a rather mediocre ranking which defies economic common sense” [51]

See also


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  3. "Press release - UN General Assembly's Open Working Group proposes sustainable development goals" (PDF). 19 July 2014. Retrieved 2016-10-18.
  4. "United Nations Official Document". Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  5. "World leaders adopt Sustainable Development Goals". United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
  6. "Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development". United Nations - Sustainable Development knowledge platform. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  7. "Breakdown of U.N. Sustainable Development Goals". Retrieved 26 September 2015.
  8. "Future We Want - Outcome document .:. Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform". Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  9. "Millennium Development Goals". United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
  10. "UN General Assembly Creates Key Group on Rio+20 Follow-up, Press Release United Nations Division for Sustainable Development" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-10-18.
  11. "UN DESA | DPAD | UNTT | UN Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda". Retrieved 2016-10-18.
  12. "Realizing The Future We Want" (PDF). Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  13. "High Level Panel - The Post 2015 Development Agenda". Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  14. "The Report - High Level Panel". Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  15. "Project Everyone". Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  16. "Why this is Sustainable Development Not Global Goals - Africa Platform". Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  17. "Public SDGs or Private GGs? – Global Policy Watch". Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  18. "United Nations General Assembly Draft outcome document of the United Nations summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda". UN. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
  19. "Goal 1: No poverty". UNDP. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  20. "Goal 2: Zero hunger". UNDP. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  21. "Goal 3: Good health and well-being". UNDP. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  22. "Goal 4: Quality education". UNDP. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  23. "Goal 5: Gender equality". UNDP. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  24. "Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation". UNDP. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  25. "Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy". UNDP. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  26. "Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth". UNDP. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  27. "Goal 9: Industry, innovation, infrastructure". UNDP. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  28. "Goal 10: Reduced inequalities". UNDP. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  29. "Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities". UNDP. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  30. "Goal 12: Responsible consumption, production". UNDP. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  31. "Goal 13: Climate action". UNDP. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  32. "Goal 14: Life below water". UNDP. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  33. "Goal 15: Life on land". UNDP. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  34. "Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions". UNDP. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  35. "Goal 17: Partnerships for the goals". UNDP. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  36. "Technical report by the Bureau of the United Nations Statistical Commission (UNSC) on the process of the development of an indicator framework for the goals and targets of the post-2015 development agenda - working draft" (PDF). March 2015. Retrieved 1 May 2015.
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  38. "Home .:. Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform". Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  39. "The Future We Want; Outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-10-18.
  40. Fan, Shenggen and Polman, Paul. 2014. An ambitious development goal: Ending hunger and undernutrition by 2025. In 2013 Global food policy report. Eds. Marble, Andrew and Fritschel, Heidi. Chapter 2. Pp 15-28. Washington, D.C.: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
  41. "The Problem with Saving the World | Jacobin". Retrieved 2016-02-19.
  42. "The 169 commandments". The Economist. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 2016-02-19.
  43. "Sustainable Development Goals 2016-2030: Easier Stated Than Achieved - JIID". 2016-08-21. Retrieved 2016-09-17.
  44. Rao Gupta, Geeta (October 2015). "Opinion: "Sanitation, Water & Hygiene For All" Cannot Wait for 2030". Inter Press. Retrieved 23 October 2015.
  45. Batty, Margaret (25 September 2015). "Beyond the SDGs: How to deliver water and sanitation to everyone, everywhere". Retrieved 23 October 2015.
  46. "Paris Climate Change Conference: COP21". United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
  47. Ansuategi, A; Greño, P; Houlden, V; et al. (May 2015). "The impact of climate change on the achievement of the post-2015 sustainable development goals" (PDF). CDKN & HR Wallingford. Retrieved 20 May 2015.
  48. "Sustainable Development Innovation Briefs, Issue 9" (PDF). March 2010. Retrieved 12 September 2016 via
  49. "Gender equality and women's rights in the post-2015 agenda: A foundation for sustainable development" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-10-18.
  50. Firzli, M. Nicolas J. (October 2016). "Beyond SDGs: Can Fiduciary Capitalism and Bolder, Better Boards Jumpstart Economic Growth?". Analyse Financière. Retrieved 1 November 2016.

External links

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