Understanding SDGs: The UN's Sustainable Development Goals

Briefing 16-06-2022

In 2015, the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be attained by 2030, as a follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015) and the Rio+20 Summit (2012). Unlike their antecedents, the SDGs commit both developed and developing countries, and embrace the economic, environmental and social aspects of development. The SDGs and the broader 2030 Agenda for sustainable development, of which they form the core, are based on findings that human activities have triggered dramatic changes in the conditions on Earth (climate change and biodiversity loss), which in turn have contributed to the deterioration of human wellbeing. To reverse the trend, there is an urgent need to simultaneously address the multiple causes and consequences of environmental depletion and social inequalities, by developing synergies and managing trade-offs between the SDGs. Challenges in pursuing the SDGs include the fact that countries do not necessarily have an equal starting point and, even more importantly, that regardless of their stage of development, they can no longer afford to apply the current development model, where production and consumption happen at the expense of natural resources. According to many observers, this model creates unsolvable tensions between SDGs, notably between the safeguarding of natural resources and the aspirations for improved wellbeing. The structural transformation that would bring about the desired change requires a joint effort by the international community, but equally so from natural and public or private legal persons, to speed up the process. The European Union has been a leader in drafting the SDGs; it is also a frontrunner in mainstreaming the SDGs in all its policies. The European Parliament regularly assesses the EU commitments on achieving the SDGs. This briefing updates a previous edition by Marta Latek and Eric Pichon, published in December 2019.