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Global Goals

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are a universal plan to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure global peace and prosperity.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed in 2015 after several years of complex negotiation.

They provide a common plan to address some of the most pressing problems facing the world today. There are 17 goals covering challenges ranging from poverty, climate change and conflict. Each goal is linked to a set of measurable targets to be achieved by 2030 (Figure 1).

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Figure 1 - The Sustainable Development Goals set out an ambitious agenda for creating a better world.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) build on the earlier Millennium Development Goals but are more ambitious in their scope as they attempt to address the root causes of problems. It is also important to note that many of the goals are interconnected. This means that success in one area will depend on tackling issues in another. Everyone is responsible for implementing the goals including national governments, businesses, community groups and individuals. It has been estimated that it might cost around 4% of world GDP to achieve them.

The goals have been criticised as being too ambitious, messy and complicated.  Furthermore it has proved difficult to devise a set of goals which are appropriate to countries with very different needs. The goals have also been seen as contradictory because they fail to reconcile the tension between economic growth and environmental limits. This perpetuates the shortcomings which are inherent in concept of sustainable development itself. Despite these reservations, getting the nations of the world to agree on a common agenda is itself a remarkable achievement and the SDGs have the potential to become a driving force around which people can coalesce in creating a better future. 

1) Find out more about each SDG by visiting the United Nations Development Programme website.

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2) Discover why Nick Dearden thinks the SDGs ‘miss the point’

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"There are at least two contradictions at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals - they are based on growth which is not sustainable in the long term and they fail to challenge the political economy of neoliberalism which has failed to reduce global disparities and climate change."
Faculty of Education Senior Lecturer


"Any attempt to compartmentalize sustainable development into categories will always fall short of the complexities of the real world. However, we need a common language that enables cooperation and action. The SDGs are wide enough to be identifiable worldwide, and yet allow for local interpretation."
University Sustainability Manager

a) Which three SDGs do you think are (a) most important (b) least important?

b) Do you think that the SDGs really are the blueprint for a better world and will it be possible to achieve the targets by 2030?

Sachs, J. (2012) ‘From Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals’ in Lancet 2012; 379: 2206–11

Stables, A. (2013) ‘The Unsustainability Imperative? Problems with 'Sustainability' and 'Sustainable Development' as Regulative Ideals’ in Environmental Education Research 19(2) 177-186

Visit www.globalgoals.org to learn more about the SDGs in numbers. For further analysis go to www.economist.com/news/leaders/21647286-proposed-sustainable-development-goals-would-be-worse-useless-169-commandments

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Last edited: 10/07/2017 11:43:00