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What is the purpose of the sustainable development goals?

Working Papers N°13/2013. Iddri, 2013. 20 p.

An article on the possible role of the sustainable developement goals (SDGs) within the governance of sustainable development: making sustainable development operational, both by an international compromise and by national political compromises on its translation into economic reality.

Highlights:

  • MEETING THE CHALLENGES OF COHERENCE AND IMPLEMENTATION

The negotiation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was one of the key outcomes of the Rio+20 Conference. What is their added value in relation to existing agreements, treaties and conventions? What can we reasonably expect of them? The retrospective analysis of the achievements and limitations of the first Rio conference in 1992 shows that the SDGs must help to address at least two challenges: that of the implementation and that of the coherence of sustainable development policies, in all countries regardless of their income level.

  • FOSTERING EXPERIMENTATION AND LEARNING

Sustainable development is a political compromise between countries with different or even conflicting interests, which has not yet been translated into economic reality. The SDGs therefore need to make it happen by encouraging learning and experimentation processes, given the lack of solutions or recipes available to governments. The value of the SDGs is thus not only substantial (the “what” question) but also procedural (the “how” question).

  • ABANDONING THE ILLUSION OF WIN-WIN SOLUTIONS

The translation of sustainable development into economic reality must now urgently follow on from its translation into political reality 20 years ago. Yet this process will create losers. Making sustainable development operational requires the creation of an internal political compromise in each country or region, and the rejection of the overly simplistic idea of win-win solutions.

  • NO INTERNATIONAL COMPROMISE WITHOUT INTERNAL COMPROMISE... AND VICE VERSA

A compromise between countries made the concept of sustainable development viable in 1992; a compromise within countries will make it operational from 2015, providing the negotiations are not limited to deciding what is good for others—especially the developing and least developed countries—, but are instead an opportunity to answer the eminently less consensual question of what is good for oneself.