Radical Goals for Sustainable Development

The UN's Sustainable Development Goals, to be established in 2015, will seek to protect ecosystems, conserve resources, and lift millions of people out of poverty. Unfortunately, the SDG negotiations reflect the relatively little that is currently possible in a multilateral framework.

BERLIN – Let us imagine for a moment that we could change the world according to our wishes. Dramatic economic inequality gives way to social and political inclusion. Universal human rights become a reality. We end deforestation and the destruction of arable land. Fish stocks recover. Two billion people look forward to a life without poverty, hunger, and violence. Rather than paying lip service to climate change and resource scarcity, we start to respect and uphold the limits of our planet and its atmosphere.

That was the aim in 2001, when the United Nations adopted the Millennium Development Goals. And it will be the aim next year, when the MDGs expire and the UN adopts a successor framework for environmental and development policy. The coming set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will seek to protect ecosystems, conserve resources, and, as with the MDGs, lift millions of people out of poverty.

Combining environmental and developmental frameworks is a good idea – one that builds on the success of a host of legally binding international conventions and agreements crafted under the UN’s auspices to protect the climate, conserve biodiversity, uphold human rights, and reduce poverty. Though they may not be perfect – and, unfortunately, the countries that ratify them do not always achieve the targets – they have led to the creation of institutional processes that encourage countries to meet their promises and embolden citizens to hold governments accountable.

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