The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

IASS Research and its Relevance for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

An important crossroads: at the end of September the UN member states voted on a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in order to initiate a global transformation towards sustainability. The Sustainable Development Goals are more extensive than their precursor, the eight Millennium Development Goals, which have often been criticised for not giving enough attention to the ecological dimensions of sustainability, or for considering it only in isolation. The primary goal remains the eradication of poverty. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon declared in his report “The Road to Dignity” about the SDGs in December 2014 that no sustainable development goal or target can be considered accomplished as long as this is not true for all social groups.

The SDGs replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were adopted in the year 2000 with the aim of achieving them by 2015. Starting on 1 January 2016, the SDGs will extend over the next 15 years. The goals, which the 193 UN member states have agreed upon after long rounds of negotiation, are ambitious: they aim to end poverty and improve education and health standards, as well as to combat climate change and protect marine and terrestrial ecosystems. In “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, the member states have created a list of 17 goals and 169 specific targets (see diagram). While the commitment to realise these goals by 2030 is voluntary, they are universally applicable for both developing and developed nations.

(c) The Global Goals Campaign(c) The Global Goals Campaign

The Sustainable Development Goals are at the core of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which brings together negotiations on various practical aspects:

  • The specific goals and targets to be included
  • How the implementation of the goals is to be financed
  • The indicators that will make it possible to measure each of the targets
  • How to monitor and assess progress towards each of the targets

Not all of the negotiations were concluded in September 2015. A comprehensive list of indicators will be presented by the United Nations Statistical Commission in March 2016, and the precise methods of global monitoring and accountability will be discussed by the UN’s High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) in July 2016. The indicators are the basis for the development of implementation strategies by the member states and a central instrument for measuring the progress towards the goals on a local, national, regional, and global level. The member states are responsible for preparing and implementing adequate national policies, institutions, and strategies for realising the goals.

Based on a suggestion by the governments of Colombia and Guatemala, the outcome document of the Rio+20 Conference in 2012 records the decision to devise sustainable development goals in the Agenda 2030, and a 30-person Open Working Group was established to this end. The new development goals endeavour to encompass the economic, social and ecological dimensions of development, and, giving due consideration to the connections between these dimensions, incorporate them in a balanced manner. As part of a transformative agenda, they thus form the basis for the improvement of human societies everywhere while remaining within the planetary boundaries. At the same time, provisions are to be made for the differing circumstances, capacities and priorities of the individual member states (UN 2012).

If the sustainable development goals are to be successfully implemented, not only must the member states create the necessary institutional frameworks, the problem of financing must also be dealt with. In July 2015 the Third International Conference on Financing for Development took place in Addis Ababa, building on earlier conferences in Monterrey (2002) and Doha (2008). The outcome document, the “Addis Ababa Action Agenda”, provides a financial framework for the implementation of the sustainable development goals. In Addis Ababa the industrial nations reaffirmed their goal of dedicating 0.7% of their Gross National Income to development projects and programmes. Additionally, innovative financing mechanisms, funds from the private sector, and the development of more effective tax systems will contribute funds needed for financing the SGDs.

The IASS contributes in many different ways to the discussions about the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in particular the drafting of the sustainability targets, indicators, and methods for assessment and accountability, as well as advising governments about concrete options for realising the SDGs at a national, regional, and global level.

Photo: UK Department for International DevelopmentCC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Our Work and the SDGs

Sustainability Governance

The successful realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals depends on sustainable cultivation of the soil and responsible use of land resources. Without secure access to land and the right to use it, the goals of ending poverty (Goal 1) and food security (Goal 2) cannot be fully achieved.

The IASS’s Global Soil Forum is working together with a broad coalition of global and national organisations, members of civil society and experts – including the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), the Women’s Major Group (WMG), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) – to ensure that land rights are taken into account and listed as an indicator for the achievement of SDGs.

Together with our partners mentioned above, the Global Soil Forum’s working group on Land Governance of the has supported a proposal for a land rights indicator.


Advocacy Brief: “Land Rights: An Essential Global Indicator for the Post-2015 SDGs” (IASS and others; September 2015)

Technical Brief: “Development by People and Not Just for People” (June 2015)

Article: “Governance for a Land Degradation Neutral World” (Müller, A. and Weigelt, J.; October 2013)

The sustainable production of renewable resources is of central importance for many sustainable development goals (for example, food security and sustainable agriculture, climate change, energy, sustainable production and consumption). The goal of the Renewable Resources and Sustainable Development Goals Forum is to increase the role of renewable resources as a topic in the discussions about the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its implementation.

A study produced by the project shows that the achievement of many individual goals will be accompanied by an increased demand for biomass, both as food and fodder, and as an industrial and energy resource. Taken as a whole, it will not be possible to meet this increased demand, which can result in trade-offs and trigger competition among different types of biomass use for the limited land that is available, thus leading to conflicting policies when implementing SDGs.

The implementation of sustainable development goals at a national, regional, and global level thus requires methods for monitoring and accountability that will make it possible to recognise any trade-offs and act to avoid them, as well as ensuring the sustainable production of renewable resources.

Together with national and international partners the IASS is organising multi-stakeholder dialogues in New York and Brussels about what effective monitoring and accountability mechanisms should look like, both internationally and within Europe. The forum also analyses the sustainability challenges that Germany is facing and how they can be addressed within the context of implementing the SDGs. This includes both implementation in Germany as well as responsibility for other countries resulting from Germany’s consumption, trade, and investment patterns.


IASS Working Paper: "Wie viel Entpolitisierung vertragen die SDGs?" (Manuel Rivera; December 2015)

Article: “Towards a Governance Heuristic for Sustainable Development” (Alexander Müller, Hannah Janetschek and Jes Weigelt in: Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability; August 2015)

Article: “Land and Soil Governance Towards a Transformational Post-2015 Development Agenda: an Overview“, (Jes Weigelt, Alexander Müller, Hannah Janetschek and Klaus Töpfer in: Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability; August 2015)

IASS Issue Brief: “Towards an Integrated and Inclusive Follow-up and Review of Natural Resources” (May 2015)

IASS Working Paper: “The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals: A Reality Check and Governance Implications” (April 2015)

IASS Policy Brief: “Grounding the Post-2015 Development Agenda: Options for the Protection of Our Precious Soil and Land Resources

Blog post: “Are the Sustainable Development Goals Sustainable?” (Ira Matuschke; March 2015)

Report: “Land and Soils in the Rio+20 Sustainable Development Goals: Guatemala Case Study” (Ivonne Lobos Alva; 2013; also available in Spanish)

Article: “Let’s Put Soils on the Global Sustainable Development Agenda” (Ivonne Lobos Alva in: Rural21. The International Journal for Rural Development; August 2013)

IASS Discussion Paper: “Towards Sustainable Development Goals: Essential Criteria” (January 2013)

Past Events

Workshop: “Europe and the Post-2015 Development Agenda: Shaping Effective Follow-Up, Review and Accountability Mechanisms” (29–30.06.15; Brussels)

Side event: “Dialogue on Follow-Up and Review Mechanisms for Natural Resource Management and Governance to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals” at the fifth session of the Post-2015 Development Agenda (18.05.15; New York)

Workshop: “High-level Event on Monitoring, Review and Accountability of the SDGs(12–13.05.15; New York)

At sub-national level, in everyday local politics, the SDGs also need to fall on fertile ground and be championed by people at the grassroots. This is the case with all 17 of the goals. At a very early stage, the IASS began to advocate for a separate goal that would capture local government and actors. This has now been achieved in goal 11 to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. Even if the concrete targets agreed for this goal are not as ambitious as the IASS had been recommending, the institute will continue to contribute to their effective implementation – especially in the context of the adoption of the new global agenda on cities (Habitat III) in 2016 and the current efforts in Germany to reinforce vertical political integration and new visions of the ‘future city’. The megatrend urbanisation – by 2030 two thirds of all humans will live in cities – demands our special attention.


Article: “‘Glocal’ discussion as leverage. Debating urban sustainability in Bogotá” (Manuel Rivera in: Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences; December 2014)

Article: “Political Criteria for Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Selection and the Role of the Urban Dimension” (Manuel Rivera in: Sustainability; November 2013)

IASS Policy Brief: “Establishing a Sustainable Development Goal on Cities(Manuel Rivera et al.; March 2013)


Ocean Governance

The Ocean Governance group at the IASS studies the challenges for sustainable governance of the oceans.

In October 2014 the IASS and partners, including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety and the cluster of excellence “The Future Ocean” organised the “2014 Potsdam Ocean Governance Workshop: Entry Points to Sustainability”. The workshop examined the role of oceans in the SGDs and advocated the introduction of separate development goals for the oceans and coasts, with accompanying indicators and targets for successful achievement. The findings were incorporated into the draft of the Open Working Group and evolved into the formulation of a separate SDG (Goal 14).


Short Communication: Charting Pragmatic Courses for Global Ocean Governance (Klaus Töpfer, Laurence Tubiana, Sebastian Unger and Julien Rochette; November 2014)

Working Paper: A Sustainable Development Goal for the Ocean: Moving from Goal Framing Toward Targets and Indicators for Implementation (Katherine Houghton)

Past Events

Workshop: “2014 Potsdam Ocean Governance Workshop: Entry Points to Sustainability” (29–30.10.14, Potsdam)

Workshop: “Wie geht es weiter in der globalen Governance der Ozeane? Mögliche Beiträge aus Deutschland” (29.01.14, Berlin)

Transdisciplinary Panel on Energy Change

One research focus of the IASS’s Transdisciplinary Panel on Energy Change (TPEC) is integrated water and energy governance. The availability of energy is dependent on the availability of water, since water is needed in order to produce electricity and extract oil and gas resources. TPEC examines the trade-offs that arise from the water-energy nexus, a dilemma that is also echoed in the Sustainable Development Goals. SDG 6 aims to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030. At the same time, SDG 7 aims to ensure access to affordable, reliable, and modern energy sources. Managing to achieve both these goals will be a substantial challenge.


Blog post: The Water-Energy Nexus: Seeking Integrated Solutions (Sybille Röhrkasten; March 2015)

Blog post: Interview: Kandeh Yumkella on Sustainable Energy and Societal Prosperity (Sebastian Helgenberger; December 2014)

Past Events

Workshop: “Governing the water-energy nexus: new integrated management practices” (24.08.2015, Stockholm)

Seminar: “Producing Electricity with Less Water – New Perspectives for Renewables in a Water-Constrained World” at World Water Week (01.09.14, Stockholm)

Workshop: “Advancing an International Energiewende Policy: Lessons from North Africa” (29.06.15, Potsdam)

Future Events

Latest Publications

Sustainable Development Goals

  • Goal 1. No Poverty: End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  • Goal 2. Zero Hunger: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  • Goal 3. Good Health & Well-Being: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  • Goal 4. Quality Education: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  • Goal 5. Gender Equality: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  • Goal 6. Clean Water & Sanitation: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water an sanitation for all
  • Goal 7. Affordable & Clean Energy: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  • Goal 8. Decent Work & Economic Growth: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • Goal 9. Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  • Goal 10. Reduced Inequalities: Reduce inequality within and among countries
  • Goal 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  • Goal 12. Responsible Consumption & Production: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  • Goal 13. Climate Action: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts*
  • Goal 14. Life Below Water: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  • Goal 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
  • Goal 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
  • Goal 17. Partnerships for the Goals: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

*Acknowledging that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the primary international, intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change


Source: United Nations