Do we need the Sustainable Development Goals?

Saturday 17 October, 16.00 until 17.00, Free Stage, Barbican Hot Off the Press

At a recent UN Summit the international development community officially ended the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Its replacement, a sprawling list of 17 goals with 169 targets, is according to some critics, like a utopian shopping list for the 21st Century. Nevertheless, as a declaration of intent it is hard not to be impressed by their scale or to find fault with their ambitions. Full employment, safe migration policies, ending preventable deaths and even a commitment to encouraging economic growth all while ‘leaving no one behind’. One key question is, will they work?  But there are broader questions about why there is an emphasis on sustainability this time round; whether they have become all things to all people.

And when we look at expectations of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), should we not take into account realistic appraisal of their predecessors, the MDGs. The evidence is far from clear whether they were successful. China, for example, had huge success lifting people out of poverty but generally ignored the MDGs. Aside from these complexities and the ambiguousness of many of SDGs’ stated aims, the most significant development in these new targets is that all countries - not just poor ones – are expected to meet them by 2030.  This has the effect of blurring the boundaries between the domestic and the international; developed and developing world; humanitarian crises and ongoing societal problems. While it is clear that some co-ordination between businesses, charities and governments is needed to meet the challenges facing humanity, will the SDG framework go beyond the MDG’s limitations or might other efforts like economic growth and more targeted poverty-reduction measures suffice? At the start of a new era in Development, how are we to judge what success might look like? Who is responsible for meeting it? And what should be prioritised?

Listen to the debate


Daniel Ben-Ami
journalist and author, Ferraris for All: in defence of economic progress and Cowardly Capitalism

Anna Mdee
research fellow, Overseas Development Institute

Myles Wickstead
visiting professor (international relations), Open University and King’s College London; coordinator, Aid and Development: a brief introduction

Joel Cohen
communications manager, BeyondMe

Produced by
Anwar Oduro-Kwarteng promotions manager, Academy of Ideas; writer on politics and ideology

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