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Beyond the Sustainable Development Goals

By Vidhisha Masrani  |  
September 8, 2021  |  
4 minutes read

A prominent discussion in today’s complex world of impact is: “Are the UN SDGs enough to guide the world towards a sustainable future?The answer is both yes and no. While the 17 SDGs launched in 2015 aptly outline the breadth of all global challenges, they fall short of providing an action plan to address these challenges. I recently took an online course by the University of Michigan on Sustainability and Development beyond the SDGs. Below are some interesting learnings and insights on the scope and limitations of SDGs, and what lies ahead:

Sustainability and Development instead of Sustainable Development

There is an inherent limitation in having “Sustainability” as a mere qualifier to “Development.” The term “Sustainable Development” merely emphasises on development in a sustainable manner. It doesn’t give enough weightage to “sustainability” as compared to “development.” Today, it is not only imperative but also urgent to treat Sustainability at the same, if not higher footing, than Development. The recently released IPCC report stresses the urgency of action required by highlighting that “the world is now living through climate change, not watching it draw near.” It’s time to move to Sustainability & Development, a step beyond Sustainable Development. 

SDGs vs MDGs

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were eight international development goals for the year 2015 that had been established following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) followed the MDGs bringing a broader scope and understanding of global challenges with 169 targets and 232 indicators. While the SDGs are much more comprehensive in nature, there remains the question of how to measure these targets and indicators and what data is available for the same. We at Maanch are working to make this possible by capturing data at source and using technology to allocate SGDs for impact. Read about our metrics here.

SDGs: Scope and Dimension

The UN SDGs cover more ground i.e. they are universal and apply to all countries irrespective of its size, demographics and GDP. They span across 3 dimensions of sustainable development that are interrelated and co-dependent:

  • Economic growth 
  • Social inclusion
  • Environmental protection 

For example, the SDGs highlight that tackling climate change is essential for social development and poverty eradication, and vice versa.  

Are the SDGs on track?

The Sustainable Development Report 2021 states that for the first time since the adoption of the SDGs in 2015, the global average SDG Index score for 2020 has decreased from the previous year: a decline driven to a large extent by increased poverty rates and unemployment following the outbreak of the COVID‑19 pandemic. Apart from the pandemic there are various underlying challenges to why the SDGs struggle to remain on track: 

  • There is often a lack of collaboration and funding at individual and institutional level. 
  • The SDGs are optional. There is no formal mandate or regulation for countries to act or not act on global goals.
  • Due to its large scale and universality, there is sometimes lack of clarity on the local adaptiveness of the SDGs.
  • The SDGs could be in direct conflict with a country’s economic goals making it a tradeoff between SDGs vs. GDP. Eg. the need to create better infrastructure like transport or housing vs. the environmental footprint of the construction process and materials i.e. clearing of trees, water consumption etc.   
  • It is also argued that the SDGs are an organisational framework rather than an implementation framework.

What next?

There is a lot of scope for efficient adaptation and implementation of the SDGs beyond conceptual and academic boundaries. The implementation gap can be bridged with measurable action across all stakeholders. Accountability and collaboration among governments, corporates, investors and philanthropists is key for the 2030 agenda. 

We at Maanch are using tech to put the SDGs to action by mapping, tracking and reporting for impact. Contact us to know more about how we can help you strategise and maximise for impact. 

Blog by Maanch team member Vidhisha Masrani.

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