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Biogas – the future of agricultural waste recycling

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 best business case

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.

The MDG experience suggests that global goals can serve as a management tool and report card that focus attention on complex sustainable development outcomes10 and accelerate progress towards these outcomes. Yet success is far from guaranteed. Inter alia, it will require educating decision makers and the public in sustainable development; mobilizing science for diagnosing challenges, identifying solutions, developing long-term pathways and tracking progress; mobilizing governments, businesses, and civil society for action around shared goals; and cooperation across countries to address planetary boundaries5 and other areas requiring international collaboration, such as implementing the Paris Agreement or aid-financed investments in developing countries.

  • 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 propose a hierarchy among the 17 goals and associated targets.
  • In this paper, we focus on how baselines for the SDGs can be established without aiming to resolve the criticisms of their design.
Profitable and sustainable growth

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.