Overline: IASS Research on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
Headline: The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

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.

United Nations

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