What are the Sustainable Develpoment Goals (SDGs)?

The development of global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed at the Rio+20 conference held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012 could form part of such a post-2015 agenda.The aims should relate to the challenges of poverty eradication, environmental protection, and sustainable consumption and production. Moreover, the SDGs should serve to fill any gaps in the MDGs and link to the ongoing MDG process.

This post-2015 initiative must take the altered global framework conditions and shift in development paradigms into account. The past division between a rich north and poor south is increasingly blurred. Former “classic developing countries” such as India, China and Brazil are today important economic drivers from whose growth many other regions benefit.

Environmental problems associated with the excessive consumption of resources must be taken into greater consideration than in the past, and all relevant actors – both in the north and the south – involved. With their diverse approaches and experiences, municipalities also play an important role here and offer a variety of solutions for the achievement of sustainable development.

UN General Assembly`s Open Working Group proposed SDGs

The UN General Assembly's Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals forwarded to the Assembly its proposal for a set of Goals that consider economic, social and environmental dimensions to improve people’s lives and protect the planet for future generations at the conclusion of the Group’s thirteenth and final session at UN Headquarters on Saturday, 19 July 2014.
The proposal contains 17 goals with 169 targets covering a broad range of sustainable development issues, including ending poverty and hunger, improving health and education, making cities more sustainable, combating climate change, and protecting oceans and forests. 

The proposed sustainable development goals are:
Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture  
Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all
Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all
Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries
Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Goal 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
Goal 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
Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development 


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>> UN Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform

>> UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals  

Have you heard something about the MCGs?

A variety of challenges threaten our future such as poverty, resource scarcities, hunger, disease, and environmental damage. Unsustainable consumption and production methods are underlying causes, hence we must focus on finding integrated solutions that can solve many problems simultaneously. The global economy already uses natural resources equivalent to almost 1.5 earths, with the world’s richest 1.4 billion consuming almost 85 per cent of global output – over 60 times the consumption of the poorest 1.4 billion. Presentday consumption by the affluent is not only ecologically unsustainable but also detrimental to the lives of the poorer population, exacerbating inequalities.

The Millennium Consumption Goals (MCGs) were proposed to the United Nations in 2011 to address just these challenges. They are one option for a comprehensive framework for sustainable development in the post-2015 agenda. Among other goals, the MCGs call for a rethink in the industrialised nations and are seen as a complement to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In contrast to the MDGs, the MCGs concept primarily targets the most affluent 20 per cent of the global population, i.e. not only the “affluent” in the industrialized countries, who are responsible for the consumption of 80 per cent of natural resources, but also those in the southern hemisphere. The MCGs show that a widespread reduction in poverty can only be achieved by decreasing the global consumption of resources. 

Foto: Tobias Hase

Mohan Munasinghe is a Sri Lankan physicist, academic and economist with a focus on energy, water resources, sustainable development and climate change. He outlined the first ideas about sustainomics from 1990 onwards, culminating in a formal paper presented at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which set out key elements of the framework. The aim was a more holistic and practical synthesis that would help to make development more sustainable.

 The Millennium Consumption Goals have three major objectives:

  • Environmental: respect nature and reduce humanity’s use of global resources to a sustainable level within planet earth’s natural capacities.
  • Social: meet the basic consumption needs and render the distribution of consumption more equitable.
  • Economic: promote sustainable prosperity for all, taking economic efficiency and both environmental and social sustainability constraints into account.

 While the MCGs are a novel concept, they are based on the original Agenda 21 from the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, which called for a targeted debate on unsustainable production and consumption habits. The latter were also highlighted at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. Based directly on “Sustainomics”, which sets out a step-by-step methodology to make development more sustainable, people are empowered to take immediate action and eliminate existing unsustainable activities.

The MCGs are seen as one essential brick that can support any of the other post-2015 initiatives, including Agenda 21, Green Economy, and Sustainable Development Goals. They would aim to curb consumption by the affluent in all countries, thereby freeing up resources that could meet the basic needs of the poor. Instead of viewing the affluent as a problem, the latter would be involved and encouraged to contribute to the solution without reducing their quality of life. This change of perspective harbours great potential, for even minor shifts in their huge share in the consumption of resources and their consequences could significantly reduce the environmental burden and free up resources to help the poor. One example here is the present-day overconsumption and associated production of waste: food waste in private households is around 30 per cent in Western Europe and closer to 50 per cent in North America. Healthier diets and lifestyles will not only save resources but also improve the quality of people’s lives.

For this rethink in our society to succeed, both top-down and bottom-up approaches will be required: we must set global targets to manage consumption equitably among countries, sectors, cities, communities, and firms. While top-down, international negotiations on a lasting post-2015 agenda will continue, the Millennium Consumption Goals Initiative (MCGI) has already launched an inclusive bottom-up effort, which has garnered worldwide support. The MCGI emphasises voluntary actions by many pioneering individuals, communities, organisations, firms, cities, regions, and nations, who are willing to establish their own specific voluntary goals. As a network of European municipalities with indigenous peoples of the rainforests, Climate Alliance advocates the Millennium Consumption Goals Initiative, as it recognises and supports the importance of local development processes. Authorities at national and international levels must contribute to the development of a local, country-specific approach. Municipalities are important actors in the development cooperation, capable of bringing about local change due to the proximity to their citizens.

Changing unsustainable mindsets will be a challenge. The Washington Consensus that dominated government thinking in the 1990s and led to the current economic collapse still prevails. However, many citizens, businesses and decision-makers are already ahead of national political leaders with regard to sustainable development. Exclusively market-based development void of any environmental and social criteria will not guarantee sustainability. This is why we urgently need the MCGs, which place the emphasis directly on sustainable consumption and production to ensure a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren.

Mohan Munasinghe 

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>> Professor Mohan Munasinghe

>> Millennium Consumption Goals

>> Video: Lessons from nature