An environmentally sustainable world with universal education and zero poverty sounds pretty awesome, doesn’t it? Well, that’s exactly what the 193 countries that compose the United Nations are attempting to implement right now.
It began with the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) in 2000 and has carried on through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) from 2015 onward.
But why did we shift goals in 2015? MDG vs SDG?
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Here’s everything you need to know about the differences between MDGs and SDGs.
What Are Millennium Development Goals?
The 1990s brought a sense of determination and renewal to the spirit of the world following the cold war. Experts and world leaders alike recognized that unity was needed between countries to progress the social needs of the world’s people.
They interpreted this at the time as wealthy countries assisting poorer or undeveloped nations.
In 1995 Copenhagen hosted The World Summit on Social Development. A long list of difficult and intertwining progressive commitments was drafted during this summit.
A year later in 1996, the list had been broken down and categorized into a report that was much easier to understand and build upon.
This report built the foundation of the new Millennium Assembly, a group that was comprised of countries that were part of the United Nations.
Feeling the pressure of a new century dawning, leaders from 189 countries in the United Nations gathered for the Millennium Summit which discussed and agreed upon a set of 8 goals suggested by experts to help the globe progress over the next 15 years: the Millennium Development Goals.
At this point in time, MDGs were intended for the poorest or most underdeveloped nations. Wealthy nations provided financial support by working with the World Bank and other global financial organizations to cancel billions of dollars of debt that the poorest nations owed.
It was believed that by freeing up funds in these poorer countries, that the monetary resources could be used by each country individually towards these goals.
To measure progress, the UN broke each goal down into specific targets that applied to each goal.
So What Were Each of These Goals?
- To Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger. There were 3 different targets to focus upon this goal:
- To halve the proportion of individuals living on less than $1.25 per day by 2015.
- To help achieve “decent employment” of young persons, women and men.
- To halve the proportion of individuals suffering from hunger by 2015.
- To Achieve Universal Primary Education. This goal had only 1 target:
- To ensure that all children, boys and girls, have the ability to enroll and complete a course of primary education regardless of parental income or means.
- To Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women. This goal also had 1 target though it was only focused on the disparities in education systems:
- To completely eliminate gender disparities in children’s education by 2005 and to eliminate gender disparities in education across all levels by 2015.
- To Reduce Child Mortality Rates. There was only 1 target point for this goal:
- To have a 66% reduction in mortality rates of children under 5 by 2015.
- To Improve Maternal Health. This goal looked at the mortality ratios of new mothers, the number of births overseen by medical personnel, contraceptive access and knowledge of family planning and has 2 targets:
- To reduce the global maternal mortality ratio 75% by 2015.
- To achieve universal reproductive health access by 2015.
- To Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and Other Diseases. This goal was designed to tackle the world’s most deadly diseases, especially those affecting children and young people. There were 3 measurable targets associated with this goal:
- To completely halt the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015 and then begin to reverse it.
- To provide universal access to HIV/AIDS treatments for all individuals who need it.
- To completely halt and begin the reversal of malaria and other deadly diseases.
- To Ensure Environmental Sustainability. Followed by Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2006, this goal recognized that both the environment and communities were taking a toll from human expansion and livability. Taking into account some statistics from land, air and sea locations, this goal had 4 targets:
- To pair country polices and programs with sustainable development principles and begin the reversal of lost environmental resources.
- By 2010, to reduce and achieve a significant rate reduction in the loss of earth’s biodiversity.
- To halve the amount of people without access to sanitation or safe drinking water.
- To make a significant improvement in the lives of 100 million “slum-dwellers” by 2020.
- To Develop a Global Partnership for Development. This goal described a wide variety of globally beneficial ideas and included 6 measurable targets:
- To further develop, “an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system.”
- To observe and address the needs of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
- To acknowledge and address of both developing small-island states and land-locked developing countries.
- To make the debt in developing countries sustainable long-term.
- To make essential drugs available to developing countries by working with pharmaceutical companies.
- To make developing technologies widely available.
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The Shift From MDG to SDG
The Millennium Development Goals were intended to be met and completed by 2015.
While some of these goals had obviously not been achieved, others saw some success though the rate of that success differed by country.
Pulling together reports on the MDGs, the UN, world leaders, civil society organizations and other groups met in 2015 at the UN Sustainable Development Summit.
Following the MDG reports and summit the United Nations General Assembly agreed upon a 2030 Development Agenda that included the new Sustainable Development Goals that was finalized and began implementation in 2017.
What Are Sustainable Development Goals?
The uneven rates of success for MDGs prompted a revision in the way that the goals were monitored for the SDGs during the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit.
There are a total of 17 sustainable development goals that were drafted.
These goals still have 1 or more targets assigned to each of them but with the SDGs it was determined that each of the targets also needed their own separate indicators.
The indicators are intended to better define the progression of success in these goals and to help monitor levels of success.
The largest difference between the MDGs and SDGs however, is that all countries who agreed to the 2030 Global Development Agenda have taken on these goals, not just the world’s poorest and most underdeveloped countries.
It should also be noted that the impacts of climate change and human development had been better observed throughout the early 2000s and world leaders recognized that this impacted everyone across the globe.
The SDGs are based upon developing a more sustainable world for all people.
- No Poverty: to end poverty in all its forms everywhere.
- Zero Hunger: end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
- Good Health and Well-being: ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
- Quality Education: ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
- Gender Equality: achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
- Clean Water and Sanitation: ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
- Affordable and Clean Energy: ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
- Decent Work and Economic Growth: promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
- Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure: build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.
- Reduced Inequalities: reduce inequality within and among countries.
- Sustainable Cities and Communities: make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
- Responsible Consumption and Production: ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
- Climate Action: take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
- Life Below Water: conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
- Life on Land: protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
- Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions: promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
- Partnerships for the Goals: strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.
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How do MDGs and SDGs Differ?
First and foremost, the focus of the goals has widened from solely socially-focused millennium development goals to a wider range of targets like economic development and growth, environmental action, and social responsibilities in the sustainable development goals.
The development of the different sets of goals also differed in that a group mainly comprised of financial and social experts drafted the MDGs based on the world’s poorest countries whereas individual UN member states, stakeholders and civil society organizations all contributed to the final SDGs.
Additionally, the MDGs were intended to lessen or halve the rates of poverty, mortality and other detrimental social occurrences. The SDGs are building upon the previous goals to implement finality and completely solve these issues.
The SDGs take a deeper look at our world’s issues today and define these goals into a more comprehensive manner. This can be observed in distinguishing the difference of poverty and hunger (goals 1 and 2 of the sustainable development) vs the grouped number 1 goal of the millennium development.
Finally, the SDGs are more integrative and “transformative for the planet” as a whole.
The Similarities Between MDGs and SDGs
While these two sets of United Nations goals have many differences they’re also extremely similar. Cut from the same cloth, their intentions are to better the world as a whole and make individual lives more livable.
The MDGs and SDGs both looked at worldwide statistics on extreme poverty, inequality, and other disparities to determine what action was needed.
They’ve operated from a stance of global prosperity and introduced frameworks from which world leaders could agree upon and enact worldwide strategy. Both MDGs and SDGs include quantifiable targets and objectives.
Perhaps the most unique commonality between both sets of goals is the need for access to new and developing technologies across the globe.
The Information Age has impacted every facet of our lives and world leaders recognized the benefits that sharing information and new technologies can have on individual lives.
What Did the Millennium Development Goals Achieve?
The SDGs weren’t built from nothing. The Millennium Development Goals achieved several measurable goals, even if they didn’t exactly hit the mark on each target.
Some of these achievements include:
- Lifting more than 1 billion people out of extreme poverty.
- Dropping the child mortality rate by more than half but not quite the 66% the goal was going for.
- The number of new HIV and AIDS infections dropped 40%.
- More than half of the children previously out of school were enrolled.
The millennium development goals also brought together the United Nations on a scale that hadn’t been seen before. Through the partnership of almost 200 countries they showed the world that it would be possible to come together for societal benefit. This ultimately laid the groundwork for the cooperation found in the drafting of the SDGs.
Through the early 2000s people began to take notice of the impact the MDGs were having.
At about the halfway mark through the MDGs, in 2008, the UN held a high-level event that not only included governments but businesses, civil society organizations and foundation groups that raised over $16 billion in funds to further contribute to the MDG agenda.
This contribution and recognition of positive impact contributed to the expansion in the next set of goals.
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What Have the Sustainable Development Goals Accomplished So Far?
As the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stated in 2015, “Development cannot be sustainable if it does not address the challenge of climate change.” The added emphasis for these goals on environmental sustainability is unprecedented.
Adding to the emphasis on environmental sustainability, the SDGs are also being tracked and measured with much more accuracy, accessibility and efficiency. The transparency of information related to the progress of these goals is key to staying on track and can be observed on the open-access SDG tracking website.
While progress with these goals had made some impact between 2015 and early 2020, the Coronavirus Pandemic severely impacted and has even begun to reverse some aspects of the SDGs.
Unfortunately, the following statistics are likely to occur within the next few years due to the pandemic:
- The number of people expected to re-enter extreme poverty status is upwards of 70 million.
- The employment of about half of the global workforce is uncertain.
- 1.57 billion children have missed some school over the course of the pandemic so far. This also affects food security for children as some have missed out on necessary school meals.
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The Future of Sustainable Development
To continue on the path of achieving the UN’s current SDGs, the world needs to solve the global pandemic crisis together.
While all of these goals are crucial to a sustainable future, the pandemic has routed funds away from sustainable development goals towards vaccines, PPE and other life-saving measures.
Tackling the most immediate threat to humanity has put SDGs on the back burner. However, the pandemic has given us a more urgent reason to quickly expand access to healthcare, end poverty and has shown us the importance of many of these goals.
Hopefully, the world will take this experience and pour what we’ve learned into achieving the SDGs once resources have been freed up again.