The Sustainable Development Goals in Peril: Getting Back on Track for 2030 The Sustainable Development Goals in Peril: Getting Back on Track for 2030


By Felix Dodds and Chris Spence published on Taylor and Francis Sustainable Development Goals Online 


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offer a far-reaching and inspiring vision for achieving a better world by 2030. But as we pass the halfway mark since the SDGs were first agreed in 2015, our efforts to create this better world are in peril. Multiple crises—from climate change to regional conflicts, pollution to the COVID-19 pandemic—have derailed our endeavours. As of 2023, only 12 percent of the SDGs are on track. Almost one-third of the goals have seen either no improvement since 2015 or have actually gone backwards. The multiple crises assailing humanity have thrown millions more into poverty and the international community appears more fractured than it has in many years.

How did we reach this point? Can we get the SDGs back on track?

This article reviews how the SDGs were developed and why progress has been disappointing to date. We evaluate the impact of the recent September 2023 SDG Summit in New York, which was an attempt to reinvigorate efforts as we pass the halfway point in delivering the SDGs. Finally, we assess what actions are needed over the coming years to get us back on track.

A Brief History of the SDGs: The Millennium Development Goals

How did the SDGs come about? The SDGs are actually the successor to a previous set of pledges known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs were based primarily on a set of goals that the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD DAC) proposed in a report, ‘Shaping the 21st Century’, as far back as the 1990s.

This document inspired the UN Millennium Declaration, which was adopted by the international community in 2000. The Declaration echoed much of the OECD’s ideas but did not include a clear set of goals. This would come a year later through then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s ‘Road map towards the implementation of the UN Millennium Declaration’. This collated what would later be known as the Millennium Development Goals.

The development of the MDGs had not been developed through a particularly inclusive approach. The result of this was that many stakeholders, particularly NGOs, questioned their validity. They rightly felt there had not been an inclusive process and that fundamentally the ideas it contained reflected the Global North’s vision of development. Many felt this approach addressed the symptoms of poverty, not its underlying causes.

In addition, some observers felt some key issues were not dealt with, such as human rights and agriculture, and that the indicators chosen by the UN were inadequate. Nevertheless, the MDGs represented a start in terms of setting out a vision for humanity’s development.

There were eight Millennium Development Goals, 21 targets and 48 indicators.

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