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Goal-setting for a better world: Millennium Development Goals and Post-2015 Development Agenda

Updated Wednesday, 12th August 2015

The 2000 Millennium Goals set targets, aspiring to make the world a better place. As we reach the end of the year by which they were to be achieved, Yoseph Araya asks how we're doing.

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Unveiled in 2000, by the largest-ever gathering of world leaders till theYosephn, Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) are aspirational goals for combating poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women. They were set with measurable goals and were timebound for achievement by 2015. A recent report summarises what has been achieved so far.

Sustainable Development

One of the tenets of the MDG’s is the concept of sustainable development. Brundtland report (1987) defines it as: Sustainable development being development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. As such, it weaves together social, economic, cultural and environmental issues with focus being made on world’s poor as well as the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.

Sustainability’s connotation of “maintenance over indefinite time period, while overcoming disturbance”, has been around in the scientific realm. However, it is relatively recent that is has been used in conjunction to humanity’s relationship with the earth. Some of the milestones in the concept’s development towards global platform are given in this table:


Club of Rome publishes controversial Limits to Growth.

Predicts dire consequences if growth is not slowed. Northern countries criticize the report for not including technological solutions while Southern countries are incensed because it advocates abandonment of economic development.


World Conservation Strategy released by IUCN. The section “Towards Sustainable Development” identifies the main agents of habitat destruction as poverty, population pressure, social inequity and trading regimes. It calls for a new international development strategy to redress inequities.


Our Common Future (Brundtland Report). Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development weaves together social, economic, cultural and environmental issues and global solutions. Popularizes term “sustainable development.”


Earth Summit. UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro. Agreements reached on the action plan “Agenda 21” and on the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Framework Convention on Climate Change and non-binding Forest Principles.


UN Millennium Summit and the MDGs. The largest-ever gathering of world leaders agrees to a set of timebound and measurable goals for combating poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women. Now known as the Millennium Development Goals, to be achieved by 2015.


World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg marking 10 years since UNCED. In a climate of frustration at the lack of government progress, the Summit promotes “partnerships” as a way ahead.


UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) Rio 2012 or Rio +20 or Earth Summit. The official discussions focussed on two main themes: how to build a green economy to achieve sustainable development and lift people out of poverty; and how to improve international coordination for sustainable development.


Sustainable Development Goals for future international development arrive, following UN’s largest consultation process. September 2015’s meeting in New York will hopefully endorse for application to 2030.

Source: International Institute for Sustainable Development

What about post 2015?

To date as we proceed from the MDG’s to the Post-2015 Development agenda, it is worth reviewing the achievements as well as rethinking the goals. There are already a number of activities being undertaken by the global community feeding towards this, not least led by the UN (e.g. MDG Report).

A panel discuss the development goals post-2015 Creative commons image Icon DFID under CC-BY licence under Creative-Commons license The High Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda Opening talks on Thursday 1 November 2012 with the United Nations High Level Panel - Indonesian President Yudhoyono, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Liberian President Johnson Sirleaf.

A recent book by interdisciplinary, multi-institution research collaboration from London International Development Centre (entitled Thinking beyond sectors for sustainable Development) contributes to this effort critiquing what progress has been made so far on the MDGs and introducing current debates to help set the post 2015 agenda. Some of the points raised are: on the limitations of focus of previous goals e.g. deciding whether it is climate change adaptation and or mitigation required; presence of entangled goals e.g. agriculture/food production was embedded under poverty reduction; data-limited estimations which were not always accurate e.g. on poverty assessment indices; presence of unassessed aspects of health e.g. non-communicable diseases and mental health; lack of integration/synergy of goals with other development activities e.g. on education, health and gender.

In all, for the post 2015 agenda emphasis is made on the need for goal setting on national governance and institutional levels, where responsibilities are to be defined, accountability systems put in place, and human capacities built.

In conclusion...

Despite the challenges in goal-setting and assessment of progress made, MDG’s have helped galvanise global effort towards tackling many of our world’s major environmental/social issues. It is sincerely hoped the post 2015 development agenda will have learnt from its predecessor and will deliver even more.

Find out more

Jeffrey Sachs: The Age of Sustainable Development

Study with The Open University: You may try Environment: Journey’s through a changing world or Earth in crisis: environmental policy in an international context

UN Millennium Development Goals portal

J Waage and C Yap Thinking beyond sectors for sustainable Development  published by Ubiquity Press, 2015. Find out more about the book on the dedicated Tumblr.







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