What are The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

International organisations and UN-related concepts are an important part of the UPSC syllabus. In this article, you can read about the Sustainable Development Goals for the IAS exam. It is also a part of the environment section of the IAS syllabus.

Twenty years after the Rio Summit, the world met in June 2012 at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, the so-called Rio+20. The key takeaway was a document titled The Future We Want, in which the idea of a new agenda for the post-2015 era was posted. World leaders committed to migrate from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the SDGs. An Open Working Group of nations was set up, and the next three years saw negotiations leading to a 24-page document including 17 Sustainable Development Goals with 169 targets. The SDGs are to be achieved between January 2016 and 2030.

What are these 17 goals?

1) End poverty in all forms; 2) end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture; 3) ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages; 4) ensure inclusive and equitable quality education; 5) achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; 6) ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all; 7) ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all; 8) promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment; 9) build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation; 10) reduce inequality within and among countries; 11) make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; 12) ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns; 13) take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts; 14) conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources; 15) protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss; 16) promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels; 17) strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.

How are SDGs different from MDGs?

To begin with, much of the world, including the developing world for which the MDGs were designed, heard of them towards the end of the 15-year period during which they were to be achieved. SDGs have seen much more effective consultation. According to co-chair of the Open Working Group Macharia Kamau, “No one can say they were not consulted. There was wide consultation and therefore there is accountability.” SDGs are also wider in nature, and include, for the first time, specific goals on economic indicators. They also offer a paradigm shift in tune with a world in flux, where new groupings of nations seem set to render the old world order of western dominance obsolete. But most significantly, the SDGs are universal — they are for all nations, not just for the developing world. While this ensures unprecedented accountability, the universality principle has also become contentious: the G77 and China, or the “developing nations”, expect the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) to apply to the SDGs. [CBDR means that while the responsibility towards the Earth is commonly shared, it is the developed countries, in view of their historical and greater contribution to environmental degradation, that must do the heavy-lifting of responsibility.] Additionally, as resource mobilisation for implementing the SDGs will focus on nations’ capacities instead of the traditional categorisation of ‘developed’ or ‘developing’, the old North-South relationship could be challenged over the next 15 years.

What will be the constraints?

The UN’s description of the MDGs as the most effective anti-poverty initiative in history notwithstanding, there has been little international assessment of their overall impact. The SDGs, for now, also suffer from lack of clarity on evaluation, accountability and transparency, though these are to be addressed soon. There are other worries: 17 seems too many, and 169 target indicators might be difficult to monitor even for countries with good data collection mechanisms. The big concern, though, remains resources. The inclusion of the chapter on the ‘Means of Implementation’ — basically a framework of financial resources and technology transfer to developing nations, and structural reform of international financial and trade architectures — nearly caused the three-year negotiations on the SDGs to collapse when the developed world resisted.

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