The idea of ‘sustainable development’ came into the limelight in the 1980s after some extreme events like ‘acid rains’ and the human disasters of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy[i] (1984), Chornobyl Nuclear Disaster [ii](1986), etc. Brundtland Commission Report titled “Our Common Future” has given the idea of sustainable development. As per the report, “Sustainable Development is the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the international community in September 2015 under the UN Sustainable Development Summit, comprehensively cover social, economic, and environmental dimensions and build on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). There are 17 SDGs which have 169 targets to be achieved by 2030.
17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are given below :
- No Poverty-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 for People– Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for 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 a resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation.
- Reducing Inequalities: Reduce income 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 by regulating emissions and promoting developments in renewable energy.
- 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 global partnerships for sustainable development.
These goals are very comprehensive and universal in nature. They are a big improvement over the MDGs because SDGs were developed after a long multi-stakeholder consultation process. However, the SDGs are also criticized due to various challenges in achieving them as well as their lack of focus on social issues:
- The goals are wishful and unattainable. For instance- the eradication of poverty by 2030 will be almost impossible in the wake of low economic growth and various other issues in the conflict-ridden world. The biggest criticism came from The Economist calling SDGs ‘worse than useless’.
- There is also criticism regarding the definition of “sustainable” itself. There is no precise definition of sustainable development. Even UNDP has not taken any effort to define the idea of sustainable development.
- Achieving the goal of sustainability, not only in developing countries but also in the developed world will need a lot of funding. The absence of planning regarding the financing of SDGs is the biggest drawback of these goals.
- There is also a lack of support for developing and poorer countries on the part of developed countries for financing and technology transfer to achieve the goal of sustainable development. For instance-
- There is also a lack of political will to deal with the issue of environmental degradation and climate change in various countries of the world. For instance- Under the leadership of Mr. Trump, the USA has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement.
- Natural occurrences and disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, etc can pose a threat to sustainability.
- The government’s conflict between immediate profit and investment in sustainable technologies can also derail the implementation process of SDGs.
- There is no proper monitoring and ownership mechanism to measure the implementation of SDGs in various countries of the world.
- Many experts also criticized the SDGs for not putting enough emphasis on social issues whilst the goals regarding the environment and economic security are extensively secured.
Challenges for India to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):
- India[iii] accounts for the largest number of people living below the international poverty line with 30% (800 million) of its population living under $1.90 a day. Pulling this massive population out of poverty will be a nearly impossible task for India without international support.
- A new study[iv] estimates that implementing SDGs in India by 2030 will cost around US $14 .4 billion.
- It will be a big challenge for NITI Aayog to monitor and provide innovative solutions to achieve the massive targets of SDGs.
- India’s huge geographical as well as cultural diversity can also be a challenge to achieve the goals of sustainability because the needs and requirements of various regions are varied and they will need context-specific
- India’s federal structure and differences among the States regarding the development indicators can also create challenges but if channelize properly in terms of “competitive federalism” can also turn into an important tool to achieve the goals of sustainable development.
In the context of India with a huge population and social challenges like massive poverty, hunger, malnutrition, acute gender discrimination, and low per capita income, these goals are nearly impossible to achieve. However, India[v] can play an important role in achieving sustainable development goals. In fact, these goals can be treated as ‘ideal goals’ which can act as a guideline for the national and international governments to measure their success in achieving inclusive and sustainable development.