United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (Part One: Transition)

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were in effect until 2015 when they were superseded by a revised and expanded set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The adoption of the original MDGs and the transition to the new set of SDGs was influenced to a great extent by Professor Geoffrey Sachs of Columbia University, New York, in his role as special adviser to UN Secretaries-General Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-Moon. The MDGs provided the framework for a historic and effective method of global mobilization to achieve important objectives relating to worldwide social priorities on contemporary issues of concern, including poverty, hunger, disease, education, inequality, and environmental degradation. The MDGs helped to promote global awareness of these issues, encourage political accountability, develop improved metrics for monitoring progress, as well as creating opportunities for social feedback and public pressures concerning these issues. Planning for the transition from MDGs to SDGs embraced the concept of achieving human wellbeing on a global scale through a combination of economic development, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability. The original MDGs were targeted principally at the poorer and less-developed countries (LDCs); the SDGs, by contrast, are intended to be truly global in scope covering advanced economies as well as middle-income emerging economies and the LDCs. Professor Sachs proposed four specific objectives for the new SDGs. (1) All the world’s people should have access to safe and sustainable water and sanitation, adequate nutrition, primary health services, and basic infrastructure, including electricity, roads, and connectivity to the global information network. (2) All nations should adopt economic strategies that increasingly build on sustainable best-practice technologies, appropriate market incentives, and individual responsibility. The world should move together towards low-carbon energy systems, sustainable food systems, sustainable urban areas, and stabilization of the world’s population through voluntary fertility choices of families supported by health services and education. (3) Every country  should promote the wellbeing and capabilities of all their citizens, enabling them to reach their potential, irrespective of class, gender, ethnic origin, religion, or race. Every country should monitor the wellbeing of its citizenry with improved metrics and reporting systems. Special attention should be given to early childhood, youth, and elderly persons, addressing the specific vulnerabilities and needs of each age cohort. (4) Governments at all levels should cooperate to promote sustainable development worldwide. This objective includes a commitment to the rule of law, human rights, transparency, participation, inclusion, and sound economic institutions that support the private, public and civil-society sectors in a productive and balanced manner. Power should be held in trust to the people, not as a privilege of the state.

After due consideration and debate, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution in 2014 that paved the way for the incorporation of seventeen Sustainable Development Goals into the United Nations post-2015 Development Agenda. The SDGs were detailed under the following brief headings: (1) No Poverty (2) Zero Hunger (3) Good Health and Wellbeing (4) Quality Education (5) Gender Equality (6) Clean Water and Sanitation (7) Affordable and Clean Energy (8) Decent Work and Economic Growth (9) Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure (10) Reduced Inequalities (11) Sustainable Cities and Communities (12) Responsible Consumption and Production (13) Climate Action (14) Life below Water (15) Life on Land (16) Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions and (17) Partnerships for the Goals.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), otherwise known as the Global Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. These seventeen Goals build on the success of the MDGs, while including new areas such as climate change, economic inequality, innovation, sustainable consumption, peace and justice, among other priorities. The goals are interconnected; often the key to success on one goal will involve tackling issues more commonly associated with another goal. The SDGs work in the spirit of partnership and pragmatism to make the right choices now to improve life, in a sustainable way, for future generations. They provide clear guidelines and targets for all countries to adopt in accordance with their own priorities and the environmental challenges of the world at large. The SDGs are an inclusive agenda; they tackle the root causes of poverty and unite people together to make a positive change for both people and the planet. The SDGs can only be realized with a strong commitment to global partnership and cooperation. While official development assistance from developed countries increased by 66 percent between 2000 and 2014, humanitarian crises brought on by conflict or natural disasters continue to demand more financial resources and aid. Many countries also require Official Development Assistance to encourage growth and trade.  Further details of each of the seventeen SDGs will be provided in the January 2018 edition of Commentary including identification of future challenges.