The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: Beyond goals and targets

May 7, 2021

Javier Surasky
Program Officer Governance and Financing for Sustainable Development

On September 25, 2015, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted resolution A / Res / 70/1: “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. It was the end result of one of the broadest negotiating processes carried out by the United Nations (UN) in its history. Simultaneously, a new stage was opening in the area of ​​international development including new priorities, a new approach, new demands and tools.

The 2030 Agenda marks a milestone for international cooperation where so many variables overlap that it is difficult to address it in its entirety. It is a renewal of the concept of international development, this being the definition of a globally shared political horizon, with shared objectives and measurement of both qualitative and quantitative progress. It also includes a new intergovernmental negotiation scheme that UN diplomacy updated to the new requirements of multilateral negotiations.

Cepei has been involved in the entire process, dating back to the preparatory work for the Conference on Environment and Sustainable Development (Rio + 20) that took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2012. We were an active part of the negotiations and the group that spearheaded the largest global network of civil society involved in the process (Beyond2015), and analyzed each step taken, drawing lessons and sharing them with all stakeholders through publications and events.

After the adoption of the Agenda, one of our priorities was the follow-up and facilitation of the implementation by actively participating in regional and global events on the subject. We are part of the group leading one of the largest global partnerships of civil society for the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals: Together 2030. It promotes multi-stakeholder alliances, supports the use of data for analysis and decision-making, exercises advocacy actions in negotiation processes, creates evidence-based knowledge and promotes the permanent improvement of reporting processes on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.


From the “Post-2015 Agenda” to the “2030 Agenda”

2015 was key in the contemporary history of Development: the eight “Millennium Development Goals” (MDGs) and their targets came to an end.

Source: UN


At that moment, both achievements and missed goals were identified. Governments began to wonder what a “Post-2015 Development Agenda” should have.

The answer to this question had to involve a timely element, since 2015 was also the year set by the States party to the United Nations Framework Convention against Climate Change. It was the limit to reach a legally binding international agreement on the matter, and the year when a new Global Conference on Financing for Development would meet.

Obviously, all three processes were complex and had an impact on each other. The outcomes of each were the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.


2015: Key meetings

Source: Own elaboration


This was taken into consideration during the preparatory meetings for the Rio + 20 Summit. At the regional meeting of Latin America and the Caribbean, Colombia proposed creating the “Sustainable Development Goals”, capable of integrating the different dimensions of development and exploiting the possible synergies between the three negotiation processes during 2015.

This idea was adopted in the final document of the Summit, The Future We Want, where an Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (GTA-ODS) was established with the mission of preparing a first proposal of objectives.

In August 2014, the GTA-SDGs presented a report to the UNGA proposing 17 objectives and their targets. This document was the basis around which the debates for the construction of the 2030 Agenda revolved, and during 2015 through rounds of intergovernmental negotiations, led by Ambassadors David Donoghue (Ireland) and Macharia Kamau (Kenya), facilitators of the construction process of the “Post-2015 Agenda”. After several months of negotiations, on August 1, 2015, a consensus text was reached, and on September 25, the States closed the process by formally adopting the 2030 Agenda, with 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets, leaving the task of designing monitoring indicators by the United Nations Statistical Commission, which established an Interagency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Indicators and is still in charge of completing and refining a list with 427 official indicators.

Analysis of the structure and main elements of the 2030 Agenda

The adopted text is divided into the following sections:

  • Preamble
  • Statement (policy)
  • Sustainable Development Goals and their targets
  • Means of implementation and Global Partnership
  • Follow-up and review


The introduction and statement

The prelude states that the 2030 Agenda seeks to retake the Millennium Development Goals and achieve what they did not achieve: Make human rights a reality, achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, by defining the SDGs as an integrated and indivisible set combining the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental.

Its central element is given by the identification of five “spheres of critical importance for humanity and the planet”, known as the “5Ps“: people, planet, peace, prosperity, and partnerships.

The declaration -which had a clear political voice – analyzed the reasons leading to the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, presenting the visions of the world in 2015 aiming for a desirable future. It also highlights the political and axiological elements supporting the contents of each of the chapters that make up the document.

We highlight the inclusion of certain basic principles that should guide the behavior of States in their implementation of the 2030 Agenda: “Leave No One Behind”, universality and indivisibility of the SDGs, multi-actor implementation, among others. Together, these principles are translated as “Integrated Approach to Sustainable Development”.


The Sustainable Development Goals and their targets

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are the heart of the 2030 Agenda. They are stated numerically, and their targets are arranged numerically or alphabetically, being achievement targets and process targets, respectively.

Almost all the targets have a compliance horizon set in 2030. However, we also find 21 targets to be achieved in 2020 and three in 2025.


The Sustainable Development Goals

Source: UN


Means of implementation and Global Partnership

This chapter of the 2030 Agenda builds on the idea of ​​establishing a revitalized Global Partnership for Sustainable Development that facilitates a strong multi-stakeholder engagement in a common effort to achieve the SDGs.

It announces the operation of the “Technology Facilitation Mechanism”, established in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development.

The means of implementation of the 17 SDGs on partnerships are as follows:

  • Mobilization of domestic and international, public and private financial resources
  • Capacity building
  • Technology transfer
  • Use of international trade as an engine for sustainable development
  • Policy coherence for sustainable development
  • Fostering multi-stakeholder partnerships
  • Promoting the use of data and accountability


Follow-up and review

The 2030 Agenda creates a multilevel system for monitoring and reviewing progress towards the SDGs that is based on the elaboration of Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), the results of which are presented to the main global space for SDGs advocacy work: the United Nations High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), which meets annually at the ministerial level, under the authority of the UN Economic and Social Council, and every four years at the Summit level of Heads of State and Government, sponsored by the UNGA.

In each ministerial-level forum, a subset of objectives is reviewed in depth, to produce thematic analysis. Every four years, the Forum meeting at the Summit level receives the World Report on Sustainable Development, prepared by the scientific sector, which feeds the debates.

The Voluntary National Reviews nourish the study of the status at the global and regional level. Each of the five regions in which the United Nations development promotion system is organized has its Regional Forum for Sustainable Development, as established by the 2030 Agenda.

Two practices not foreseen in the 2030 Agenda have been incorporated into the monitoring and review process:

  • The production of independent parallel reports, where non-governmental actors report their perspective of the process, regardless of their governments point of view.
  • The Voluntary Local Reviews (VLRs), in which sub-national government entities report on their own efforts and progress in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

There is also an annual report from the Secretary General, regional reports and countless other documents produced by the UN Agencies, Funds and Programs, as well as different actors.


The 2030 Agenda and the Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs five years after its adoption

After five years of work, progress towards achieving the SDGs shows stark disparities. Together, they reveal the world is not on track to reach the 2030 Agenda goals on time.

This acknowledgement led the Secretary General to decide the following:

However, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the world, and the “Decade of Action” became a call to “Build Back Better” by aligning post-pandemic recovery processes and SDGs.

Build Forward Better” is one of the new slogans, and aims to take advantage of the current crisis to build new societies, based on sustainable environmental, social and economic practices.

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