The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, commonly referred to as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of goals outlining a future scenario for people and planet adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015. At its heart are 17 global goals that represent an urgent call to action for all countries and citizens to work in global partnership to succeed in achieving them.
But before we dive into understanding what these global goals are, it is important to understand the context and how they were created.
The SDGs build upon decades of work from the United Nations (UN). In the 1980’s the UN established the Commission on Environment and Development (UNCED), which was tasked with creating a global agenda for change in order to address major worldwide social and environmental challenges. It culminated in a paper called Our Common Future, more commonly known as the Brundtland report . The report outlined three fundamental components to sustainable development: environmental protection, economic growth and social equity, recognising that the three were intrinsically linked . This report is still considered the backbone of the UN’s work on sustainable development and has influenced subsequent reports and recommendations published by the UN.
Building on the Brundtland Report, the UNCED Rio Earth summit in 1992, the largest environmental conference ever held, resulted in two key documents being produced: Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development .
Agenda 21 sought to provide a comprehensive blueprint for action and cooperation amongst nations and communities to achieve sustainable development . The central belief of Agenda 21 is that all countries and communities can protect the environment while still experiencing growth. The plan addressed issues relating to global poverty, consumption habits, human health, pollution, environmental conservation and strengthening communities.
Meanwhile, the Rio Declaration, also published at this time, established 27 principles intended to guide future development around the world . It sought to establish new and fair global partnerships amongst states, organisations and groups of people to drive forward global sustainable development. Adopted by 178 nations, the Rio Declaration defined the right of people to development and their responsibilities to safeguard the common environment .
In 2000, building on previous agreements, world leaders adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) . The adoption of the MDGs was a significant and notable moment for international development. The MDGs set out the responsibilities of developed nations to help developing nations and included specific and quantifiable goals to completed by 2015.
Two years later, world leaders reconvened to assess progress since Agenda 21, with feedback suggesting that disappointingly little progress had been made. The feeling was that the majority of member states had not made enough effort to address sustainable development at national and international levels.
During the following years the MDGs seemed to galvanise momentum with particular progress being made around Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education; and Goal 4: Reduce child mortality. The Final MDG Report found that the 15-year effort had produced the most successful anti-poverty movement in history . Although this was notable progress, there was still significant work needed in order to end hunger, achieve full gender equality, improve health and get every child into school. In addition, there was criticism that the MDGs didn’t focus enough on environmental issues, further affirming the need for a renewed set of global goals.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were developed as part of Agenda 30 to guide nations, funding, policy, NGOs and citizens for the next 15 years. From 2015, the SDGs aimed to further progress sustainable development in order to end global poverty and protect the environment.
Timeline to adopting the SDGs and Agenda 30 Source: Eurostat
The SDGs set out 17 goals, with 230 indicators, outlining how they can be achieved. The new Global Goals built on the success of the MDGs but were unique in calling for action from both developed and developing countries in order to promote prosperity and peace whilst protecting the planet.
Each year at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) state representatives come together to report on progress towards achieving the SDGs and look at what else needs to be done to achieve the required results. Whilst progress continues to be made in some areas such as maternal and child mortality, access to electricity, eradicating hunger and reducing forest loss around the globe some areas are moving far too slowly. For example, for the first time in a decade the number of people who are undernourished has increased from 777 million people in 2015 to 815 million in 2018 .
It may feel like these Global Goals don’t affect you. But they do. As active citizens and consumers living in an increasingly interconnected world, our daily actions can have important impacts on other people, communities and the environment. It may not be obvious that your clothes are intrinsically linked to the SDGs, but they are! This what we will explore together over the new few weeks.
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