Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
“A revolution is coming — a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough; compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough — But a revolution which is coming whether we will it or not. We can affect its character; we cannot alter its inevitability.” (Kennedy, 1966)
Steering the course of global change to a just and sustainable future requires a concerted effort across all sectors. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were adopted by Heads of State on September 25, 2015 – after 4 years of negotiations – offer a widely accepted compass to guide the actions of all players on the global stage. By providing a unifying force amidst enormous global diversity, the SDGs could provide the basis for potentially mounting a concerted movement for positive change. To achieve that outcome, the way in which major obstacles such as financing and accountability are overcome will make the difference in securing transformational change.
Sustainable Development – A Brief History
To understand the SDGs and their importance, we must understand how they fit into the history and evolution of the concept of sustainable development.
The most famous definition of sustainable development is one by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). The Commission had been set up to ‘propose long term environmental strategies for achieving sustainable development by the year 2000 and beyond’ (WCED). It was to recommend cooperation between ‘countries at different stages of economic and social development and lead to the achievement of common and mutually supportive objectives that take account of the interrelationships between people, resources, environment and development.’ (WCED). The definition the Commission gave said:
“Sustainable development is the kind of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” (WCED, 1987).
The purpose of the Earth Summit
Another recommendation was that an international conference be held to take forward much that was in the report. In 1990, countries agreed to a new UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) – 20 years after the first UN Conference on the Human Environment held in 1972 in Stockholm. UNCED was often referred to as the Earth Summit and would be held in June 1992 in Rio de Janeiro.
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