The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — agreed in 2015 by all 193 member states of the United Nations and complemented by commitments made in the Paris Agreement — map out a broad spectrum of economic, social and environmental objectives to be achieved by 2030. Reaching these goals will require deep transformations in every country, as well as major efforts in monitoring and measuring progress.

The 4DH Strategic Research Centre

To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals1 (Supplementary Table 1) and implement the Paris Agreement, developed and developing countries alike will need to transform their energy systems, ecosystem management, agriculture and land use, urban management, material use, gender outcomes, health, education, governance and other areas2, 3. In addition to requiring greater financial resources and political commitments, these transformations will also place major demands on science to devise data and monitoring frameworks4, to relate planetary boundaries to national sustainability objectives5, 6, to develop innovative solutions and to chart out integrated pathways for achieving the goals2, 7, taking account of the trade-offs and synergies across goals and targets8, 9.

Present and discuss scientific findings

The predecessors to the SDGs, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that expired in 2015, mobilized attention on addressing the challenges of extreme poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease10. The MDGs helped spur advances on many fronts. In health, the MDGs have been associated with a significant acceleration of progress in some of the poorest countries11, 12, 13, which stands in contrast to the lack of progress on environmental sustainability observed under the three Rio Conventions14 and other MDG priorities, such as access to water supply13.

  • Compared with the eight MDGs, which were extracted from the Millennium Declaration by a team of officials working under the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan10, the SDGs represent a political compromise negotiated by the 193 member states of the United Nations that has been critically reviewed9.
  • In particular, the goals combine policy ends (such as ending extreme poverty or ending preventable child deaths) with means such as development finance and maintaining a global partnership for development.
  • Many SDGs focus on flows instead of focusing on stocks, as recommended by many scientists15, 16, 17 since the report of the Brundtland Commission18. Finally, the goals do not.

Smart Energy Systems

Good data and clear metrics are critical for each country to take stock of where it stands, devise pathways for achieving the goals and track progress. The UN Statistical Commission has recommended a first set of 230 global indicators to measure achievement of the SDGs, but many suggested indicators lack comprehensive, cross-country data and some even lack agreed statistical definitions19. More and better data are needed, but it will take years to build the necessary statistical systems even if adequate resources were mobilized, which is currently not the case20. Some governments have begun voluntary national reviews of progress on the SDGs, but they use indicators that are not harmonized internationally and lack comparability21.