9 August 2015

Countries are getting ready to approve new Sustainable Development Goals for the 15 years to come: What is new compared to the MDGs in 2000?

In September of this year, world leaders will meet at UN Headquarters in New York to agree on Sustainable Development Goals for the coming 15 years. It has been years since discussions were launched on the successors to the Millenium Development Goals (MDG) [read] and an agreement was finally reached earlier this month on 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets.

17 SDGs.jpg

There are a lot of similarities between the SDGs and the ‘old’ MDGs. The main changes can be summarised as follows:

  1. Some additions (e.g. climate change, inclusiveness of growth and of cities, accessible sustainable energy)

  2. Disaggregating of earlier MDGs to highlights some of their dimensions (e.g. hunger which had been added at the last minute to the MDG 1 on poverty is now the domain of one of the SDGs, the MDG on environmental sustainability has now been broken into sustainability of oceans and of forests which have each become an SDG of their own, sustainable consumption now shares an SDG with sustainable production)

  3. Aggregating some of the preexisting MDGs into one SDG (e.g. in the health sector where there are no more specific SDGs for HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, for maternal health or child mortality).

  4. Some objectives have also been strengthened (hunger and extreme poverty have to be ended, not just halved as in the MDGs).

  5. But also, whereas MDGs were for ‘developing countries’, SDGs are for all countries alike, whether poor or rich. Increased awareness of the global nature of climate change is probably the reason why SDGs are now really global and universally applicable.

Changes observed reflect a modification of the perception of the acuteness of issues facing the world, as it occurred during the past 15 years.

The importance of each of the domains for which there is an SDG obviously makes consensus, but the level at which the goals have been fixed calls for comment. For example, one may wonder why it was decided to only “halve the proportion of people living in poverty in all its dimensions”?

The new goals remain largely statements of objectives to be achieved, but little is said on how this could be achieved (apart maybe for extreme poverty eradication where social protection is strongly proposed as an essential part of the solution). For example, in the case of hunger eradication (SDG2), details provided are mostly specific sub-objectives (e.g. access to food, ending malnutrition, doubling of agricultural productivity, prevention against extreme events and shocks, conservation of agrobiodiversity) but nothing specific is said on how this could be achieved. This probably mirrors a lack of consensus among countries on the actual measures to be taken.

In a few cases, indications on action to be taken are more specific: such is the adoption of trade liberalisation as a sacrosanct principle for ending hunger (“correct and prevent trade restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets”) despite clear evidence of international market failure and subsequent adoption of trade restrictions at the time of the 2007-2008 food crisis. In some other cases indications are somewhere in-between, highlighting important aspects without however specifying precisely what needs to be done (“measures to ensure the proper functioning of food commodity markets and their derivatives to help limit extreme food price volatility”).

In September, world leaders will air their satisfaction with the new SDGs and give the misleading image of a world where all are united to safeguard our future, beyond contradictions and conflicting interests, and take care of the most vulnerable. But have we drawn all the lessons from the achievements made (and lack of achievements in some cases) during the previous 15 year period, before embarking on a new decade-and-a-half. Or is the world still the drunken boat it was less than 1000 days ago? Has the world really changed in a way that convinces us that these new goals can be achieved? Are countries really going to adjust their policies to make them fully SDG compliant (in absence of a consensus on what those policies should be…) or will they maintain sufficient policy space to continue business as usual? Is the powerful private sector really ready to align on the goals governments are set to agree? Are we even agreed on the way to measure achievements made? Are we clear on what should be done and by whom, and are all committed to abide?

Because it is impossible to answer with a frank ‘yes’ to all these questions, allow us, at, to have doubts that the result of the coming 15 year period will be any better than what was observed since 2000. Signals provided by the recent Addis Ababa Conference on Financing Development are not there to encourage us to be optimistic.



At, we will try our best to monitor what happens with those SDGs that are most directly linked to hunger and natural resources management.


To know more

  1. -United Nations, Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development -Finalised text for adoption (1 August), 2015

  2. -The 17 Sustainable Development Goals 17 SDGs.jpg

  3. -United Nations, Sustainable Development Goals, 2015

  4. -One, 2015 goals, 2015

  5. -Sundaram. J.K., Opinion: No Aid, No Tax, No Development, Inter Press Agency, 2015

  6. -UN System Task Team on the post-2015 UN development agenda, Review of the contributions of the MDG Agenda to foster development: Lessons for the post-2015 UN development agenda, 2012

A selection of earlier articles on related to the topic :

  1. -Facts and figures on world hunger, 2015

  2. -The latest report on the State of World Food Insecurity admits that the Millenium Development Goal 1 to reduce hunger by half will not be achieved, 2015

  3. -The world of tomorrow: the worrying vision of the High-Level Panel of eminent persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, 2014

  4. -1,000 days before the hunger MDG deadline: Humankind on a drunken boat, 2013


Last update:    August 2015

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