Sustainable Development Goals

SDG: how to achieve sustainable development?

The Sustainable Development Goals replace the MDGs. What is to come after 2015?

The development of new goals had become necessary because the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015, even though not all have been achieved. Their purpose was to improve the living conditions of many people in developing countries, to reduce poverty and hunger, to decrease maternal and infant mortality rates and much more. Those were essentially social goals to be achieved in the poorer countries.

The new goals are much more ambitious. They combine environmental, social and economic goals under one roof. They now apply to all countries, not just to the poor ones – and: They were developed in a broad two-year consultation process, during which not only politics but also science, civil society and the private economy of all UN countries had the opportunity to contribute. 

With the SDGs the United Nations have decided on an agreement of our global future. Many goals, such as completely overcoming hunger, are to be achieved by 2030. We therefore have a common agenda.

Illustration: world map
SDGs: 17 sustainable development goals have been drafted. © Helvetas/Pia Bublies


The SDGs cover all spheres of sustainable development; social, economic and ecological. In contrast to the MDGs, the new sustainability goals will apply to all countries of the world. They go beyond the previous MDGs in that industrialised and emerging nations will be held accountable at least to a degree.

Agenda 2030 is meant to change the world

Highlight of the proceedings will be the UN summit 2015, where the 2030 agenda for sustainable development will be passed. After slow proceedings, a catalogue of 17 SDGs and 169 targets has been published. 

17 Sustainable Development Goals

  1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  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 and decent work for all
  9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization 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 for sustainable development
  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.

(Source: UN)

Criticism and opportunities: What the SDGs hold remains to be seen

The negotiations on the Sustainability Goals did not run without criticism, tough debates and numerous amendments. From our point of view, the final catalogue before the UN summit at the end of September has many strengths, but also some weaknesses: 

  • In the SDGs, hunger is closely connected with an increase in agricultural production. But many people go hungry because they have no money for food. More production alone does not help much. The goals that provide for the overcoming of inequality and the creation of humane jobs are even more important. 
  • The 0.7% goal applies! This much from the Gross National Income (GNI) should be invested in development aid. However, unfortunately, at the finance summit in July 2015, the members of the UN were unable to agree on a time schedule.
  • The agenda is voluntary: because the SDGs are not binding under international law. Countries may, in fact, set individual priorities. The danger of this: The goal to defeat global hunger could become less important than, for example, the development of energy production sites. Because there is more short-term profit here.
  • Furthermore, of great significance is the transparency that can be achieved through goals such as the MDGs and SDGs. It is, however, unclear whether the governments will ultimately agree on robust, measurable and realistic indicators.

Particularly disputed were the goals relating to the funding for implementation of the SDGs. The countries of the South that were joined together in Group 77 (G77) wanted to avoid the mistakes of the MDGs, in which the responsibility of the North was only vaguely anchored in Goal 8.

Thus, the proposed SDG catalogue now contains the stand-alone Goal 17, which invokes the global partnership and measures for the implementation of the successor to the MDGs. In addition, all SDGs were supplemented by sub-goals, which describe the measures for implementation. However, many of these goals are vaguely formulated – and without specific commitments for action.

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Dr. Rafaël Schneider

Dr. Rafaël Schneider

Deputy Director
Policy and External Relations


Marion Aberle

Marion Aberle

Senior Advisor
Food and Nutrition Security

+49 228-2288 122