Sustainable Development Goals

On 25 September 2015, the United Nations has adopted the resolution on “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development“, which has 169 targets in 17 goals called Sustainable Development Goals. These goals are legally non-binding and have succeeded the eight MDGs, which were adopted in 2000 for fifteen years in Rio 20+ summit.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outline broader sustainability agenda dealing with ‘five Ps’ people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership. they seek to address the universal need for development that works for all people and root causes of poverty. They call for eradicating hunger and poverty, improving living standards, ensuring quality education, affordable and reliable energy, achieving gender equality and taking urgent action to combat climate change etc.  They also include specific goals on economic indicators for first time.

Achievements of MDGs

Till 2015, the development agenda was centered on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were adopted following the ‘Millennium Summit’ of the United Nations in 2000. The MDGs contained eight goals in the areas of poverty alleviation, education, gender equality and empowerment of women, child and maternal health, environmental sustainability, reducing HIV/AIDS and communicable diseases, and building a global partnership for development.

Countries have made substantial progress towards achievement of the MDGs. For example first goal of cutting extreme poverty (by half as measured by the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day) was in fact met five years ahead of schedule. Mixed progress has been achieved on various other goals. For example, goal to reduce maternal mortality by three-fourths is one MDG which has not been achieved.

The most important aspects of the MDGs was that for more than a decade period, they remained in focus of not only global policy debates but also national policy planning in all countries. This led to a widespread feeling that progress against poverty, hunger, and disease is visible and MDG played an important role in securing that progress. Therefore, these goals should continue beyond 2015. This necessitated a new round of global goals to follow the 15 year MDG period.

The 17 SDGs

These SDGs are enumerated as follows:

  • End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
  • End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
  • Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
  • Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
  • Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
  • Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
  • Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
  • Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
  • Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.
  • Reduce inequality within and among countries.
  • Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
  • Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
  • Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
  • Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
  • Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
  • Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
  • Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.


Arguments: Too Many and Vague SDGs in comparison to MDGs?

In comparison to the simple and less ambitious eight MDGs, the SGDs is a list of 17 goals and 169 targets. They represent the ambitions on biblical scale. The supporters say that these SDGs ought to be more ambitious in comparison to MDGs because the latter were narrow in approach, targeted mainly for poor countries, to which rich countries were to add their solidarity and assistance through finances and technology. They point out that goals are many because they have emerged from a genuinely inclusive process that made room for voices from scientific community, civil society and most importantly the developing countries. Further the goals recognize that poverty is a complex, structural problem which needs to be eradicated from the root. Total elimination of poverty require more than charity — it will require reducing inequality, combating climate change, strengthening labor rights, eliminating Western agricultural subsidies, and so on which has made the goals vast in number. Further, the SDGs extend to things such as urbanisation, infrastructure and climate change. Summarily, the basic argument is cutting poverty and raising the well being of the people is not a simple matter and needs to improve the whole system that includes improved governance, encourage transparency, reduce inequality , protect environment and so on.

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While the above argument seems to be legitimate, it is also true that the mammoth size of the targets and goals can make the entire enterprise of the SDGs to fail; and an opportunity lost. It also appears that numerous lobbies have pitched to get their own interests included in the SDG framework. Many of the targets are not only unclear and vaguely defined but also weak and nonessential. For example, one of the targets calls for “global partnership for sustainable development complemented by multi-stakeholder partnerships” – this is unclear and vague target. Another vague target is to “increase substantially” the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. It could be to “double the share” of renewable energy, so that it was measurable. A report by International Council for Science (ICSU) and the International Social Science Council claims that only 29% of the targets in 169 SDGs are well defined.

In summary, U.N. should have picked fewer and more targeted goals. Also, too many goals will make it more difficult for governments and donors to prioritize. The U.N. has not yet established statistical indicators against which to measure progress.

Fiscal Implications and the cost of achievement?

According to The Economist, the SDGs are unfeasibly expensive and meeting them would cost $2 trillion-3 trillion a year, roughly accounting for 15% of annual global savings or 4% of world GDP. Since the Western Governments promise to provide only 0.7% of the GDP in aid, meeting the targets would be a huge challenge. Achieving the SDGs would involve:

  • Huge domestic resource mobilization by increased tax collection, private finance and international public finance.
  • Better international tax cooperation. A few countries have also advocated for a global tax body that can help the poorest nations to accrue more through tax revenues.
  • Reducing illicit financial flows, tax avoidance.
  • Public and private investments.

The task becomes arduous in the light of frequent volatilities in the global economy. Further, the private sector should be crucially engaged from the very start.

Role of Private Companies

SDGs will be not be achieved without the leadership of private companies, large and small. Multinational companies bring unique strengths: a worldwide reach, cutting-edge technologies, and massive capacity to reach large-scale solutions, which are all essential to success.

Further, SDG’s represent clear business opportunities for those companies that understand sustainable change can be met through innovative products and services.

Although no company can meaningfully contribute to all 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Some of these goals are industry specific, such as good health and well being (the province of health care businesses), or clean water and sanitation (the province of companies producing technological solutions to address these needs). Other goals can be supported by every company regardless of its industry. Gender equality and reduced inequality are issues that are critical to every business. A sustainable business community ultimately depends upon a sustainable society.

Moreover, some companies have already begun integrating the SDGs into their business model – and using them to find ways to expand their offerings. Pearson’s commitment of £1m ($1.53m) with Syrian refugee children, for example, directly caters to fulfilling SDG4 which exhorts companies to ensure “inclusive and quality education for all”.

Similarly other companies are doing SDG work in areas that are less directly related to their core business. For example, Tammy Medard, CEO of ANZ Bank (Lao) has decided to focus on SDG 5: gender equality. At the UN event, she pledged that, by 2017, 40% of her bank’s vendor panel will be women-run businesses.

But while engaging corporate world it needs to be kept in mind that many large companies are also lobbyists for policies antagonistic to sustainable development, so engagement with business has to be done cautiously, but it should also be active, forward-looking, and intensive.

Concluding Remarks

The SDGs will require the unprecedented mobilization of global finance and knowledge operating across many sectors and regions. Governments, international institutions, private business, academia, and civil society will need to work together to identify the critical pathways to success. Most importantly the developing as well as developed world needs to come together to bring any effective achievement in SDGs.

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