05/10/2015 8:01 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Demystifying The Sustainable Development Goals

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The United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 took place on 25-27 September in New York. The purpose of the Summit was the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda, now formally called "Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development". Post-2015 implies that the previous agenda (the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs) had a target date of this year, 2015. There were eight MDGs adopted in 2000 that had 21 targets and 48 indicators. There are 17 SDGs being adopted this year that have 169 targets and an as yet undetermined set of indicators.

Developing and agreeing to these goals, targets and indicators has been, and continues to be, a political process (the indicators have yet to be agreed to). And understandably so. For the entire world to agree to a framework towards achieving common goals is no trivial task. According to an article in The Guardian, the UN conducted the largest consultation programme in its history to gather inputs on what the SDGs should include. This included working group discussions, a series of "global conversations" and door-to-door surveys! This monumental undertaking sought to design a holistic framework to act within, for all of humanity.

"[George] Varughese's explanation of the SDGs truly hit home with me. He (with members of his organisation) developed the analogy of a journey in a vehicle -- consisting of destinations, the engine, the fuel and the driver..."

That being said, an absence of a sense of ownership or understanding of these goals by individuals and institutions may become an impediment in the journey towards achieving them. So the question I found myself asking (as I'm sure many individuals and institutions have asked) is what do these SDGs (which are essentially vision statements) mean to me? What can I do? How does it align with me or my organisation's vision or commitment to sustainable development? Or, alternatively, how do I align myself or my organisation with these goals?

This issue of context and personal meaning became clearer to me during a panel discussion I sat through at the 10th Sustainability Summit in New Delhi, on 15-16 September, 2015 organised by the CII-ITC Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development. On the second day of the summit, there was a session on "SDGs & Post 2015 Development Agenda" and the dais had distinguished panellists. Two individuals in particular were the most knowledgeable on the SDGs: Mr Yuri Afanasiev (UN Resident Coordinator & UNDP Resident Representative in India) and Mr. George Varughese (President, Development Alternatives Group). They collectively shed light on the SDGs, and Mr Varughese's explanation of the SDGs truly hit home with me.

He (with members of his organisation) developed the analogy of a journey in a vehicle -- consisting of destinations, the engine, the fuel and the driver - to simplify and break down what the SDGs mean. After consulting with them and with their permission, I have described below, what I hope you too will find to be, a simple and relatable characterisation of the SDGs.

The destinations or desired outcomes (6 goals)

These six goals signify what we want to achieve collectively. In other words, it's the desired future state of humanity.

  • Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  • 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 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
  • 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

The engines or means of achieving these outcomes (7 goals)

These seven goals highlight the actions that need to be taken to get to the destinations. This is where we all have a tangible part to play, as individuals, and organisations (public and private).

  • Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  • 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 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  • Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

The fuel or inputs to the means (3 goals)

These three goals essentially aim at protecting, preserving and rehabilitating, our natural environment.

  • 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

The driver or humanity (1 goal)

Lastly, this goal highlights the importance of placing global partnerships, cooperation and collaboration in the driver's seat.

  • Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development

I hope that you find this categorisation as useful as I did, and join hands in an undertaking that will, undoubtedly, define the future of our planet.

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