What is sustainable development?
The most widely used and official description of sustainable development has been provided by the Brundtland Report, 1987 also known as “Our Common Future”. It is as follows:
Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Yet in the end, sustainable development is not a fixed state of harmony, but rather a process of change in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development, and institutional change are made consistent with future as well as present needs.
Sustainable development defines how societies can be managed to ensure their long-term existence. This stems from a realization in the second half of the 19th century by Western societies their economic and industrial polies was taking a toll on environmental and social balance. For e.g. issues like the Bhopal Gas Tragedy (1984), Chernobyl (1986), American banking Crisis (1907), Oil shocks (1973, 1979), to name a few.
A brief history of SDGs:
1. In 1992, at the Earth Summit in Brazil, Members States adopted Agenda 21, a plan to build a global partnership for sustainable development.
2. In New York, 2000, Member States adopted the Millennium Declaration. This elaborated the eight-point Millennium Development Goals to reduce extreme poverty by 2015.
3. At the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Brazil, in June 2012, Member States decided to set up UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development and a process to develop a set of SDGs that builds upon on the MDGs.
4. In 2013 the General Assembly set up a 30-member team to draft a proposal for developing SDGs.
5. In September 2015, at the UN Sustainable Development Summit, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with 17 SDGs was adopted.
What are the 17 SDGs?
• Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
• Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
• Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
• Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
• Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
• Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
• Goal 7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
• Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
• Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
• Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
• Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
• Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
• Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts*
• Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
• Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
• Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
• Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
Where do we stand today, India and world?
In 2020, UN launched the Decade of Action to meet its Agenda 2030. As per the SDG Report 2020, the world is not on track on achieving these goals by the set target. This was so even before Covid 19 struck, perhaps the worst health, social and economic crisis of our times. In fact, while progress was already cruising way below the speed limit, the pandemic has it rusting away in a garage.
As per 2020 report, the pandemic has negatively affected SDGs 1, 2,3,8,10 and brought temporary relief to SDGs 12, 13, 14 and 15.
In India, Niti Aayog, the government’s premier think tank has been given the task of mapping the SDGs to relevant schemes and ministries. It is also responsible for releasing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) India Index , the second edition of which was released in Dec , 2019. The second edition of the index covered 16 SDGs as opposed to the initial index which covered only 13. Also, the composite score has increased to 60 from 57 in 2018. India has made progress in areas of water, sanitation, power and industry but suffers in areas of nutrition, education, gender matters.
As per the Sustainable Development Report 2020 released by sdgindex.org India ranks 117 in the world with a score of 61.9.
While the progress towards goals seem lamentable, let’s not remember the difference adopting sustainability has brought about in the way societies, communities and nations function and importantly think. Election campaigns across the globe see parties adopting policies aligned with sustainable development. And forging ahead is the only path ahead , sustainability is not essentially a quantifiable target but rather an ideal , a thought that should inhibit our minds , dictate our action much like human rights.