-What are the Sustainable Development Goals?

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are to replace the Millennium Development Goals that expire at the end of 2015. The goals span broadly, from ending poverty to ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns:

  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


-How did they come about?

The work on the post 2015 development agenda has been led by the member states of the UN in close cooperation with major groups and civil society stakeholders. The SDGs have been subject to a broad democratic process. For the past three years, they have been discussed in meetings and open forums all over the world. The UN has also initiated the world’s largest survey ever. 4.5 million people in different countries have given their opinion on what the most important goals are, and how they should be achieved.The formal Intergovernmental Negotiations on the Post 2015 Development Agenda (IGN) began in January 2015 and ended in August 2015. The United Nations General Assembly passed the 17 goals today.


-How are the SDGs different from the MDGs?

The MDGs were intentionally kept at a small number, and with a few sub-goals that were relatively realistic. Goal number one was to halve the proportion of people living in extreme poverty. This was an ambitious target, but it was still met within 10 years. In contrast, there are 17 SDGs, and more than 100 sub-goals. The goals are many, and to some extent conflicting. The number one poverty target is to eradicate all poverty. While the next target is to "reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions". This is in fact a large set of very specific goals as it is defined along many (all) dimensions, but at the same time it is not uniform across countries, and also less ambitious than the first goal to eradicate all poverty. The World Bank has a more realistic specification of the target, that is, to reduce poverty to 3% of the world population by 2030.

-The SDGs have been criticized for being too broad and vague. What are the chances of succeeding?

It will be impossible to meet all the sub-targets. Since the UN has not done the job of prioritizing, it will be essential now to single out a few important goals, and select some essential targets that are realistic. The World Bank has already started this process in the recent Global Monitoring Report 2014/15. They do, however, show that meeting the target of 3% poor people in 2030 will be difficult, although feasible in their most optimistic scenario. This is a scenario where there is still 200 million poor people in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2030, while poverty is practically eradicated elsewhere, including in South-Asia where there is more than 300 million poor people today.

- What are the biggest challenges/which of the SDGs will be the most difficult to achieve?

There are challenges along all the important dimensions. To practically eradicate poverty in South-Asia in 15 year is a big challenge. To end all forms of malnutrition in 15 years when 50% of the children in South-Asia are considered malnourished, seems unrealistic. To reduce child mortality in all countries to 2.5% before 2030, when the rate is still at about 10% in Sub-Saharan Africa, is also unrealistic. Some of the 100 sub-targets may be feasible to reach, but the important targets of reducing poverty, mortality and malnutrition are set at a level that seems out of reach within 2030.

Q&A with Magnus Hatlebakk, senior researcher at CMI

Magnus Hatlebakk

Senior Researcher; Coordinator: Poverty Dynamics