28 Sep 2015
A transformative vision for a better world – the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

September 25, 2015 marked an auspicious moment in the world’s history. The 193 UN member Heads of State gathered together at the General Assembly to ratify an ambitious new plan to achieve global sustainability by the Year 2030. This will require and draw on the efforts and resources of all. It is a plan which boldly states that “no one will be left behind”.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 in New York saw the formal adoption of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for implementation between 2016 to 2030. 

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as “a universal, integrated and transformative vision for a better world”.

“The new agenda is a promise by leaders to all people everywhere. It is an agenda for people, to end poverty in all its forms – an agenda for the planet, our common home”.

The SDGs follow the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which, since the year 2000, had been targeting the eradication of poverty. These have primarily been focused on the developing world. The new SDGs will involve all and meet the needs of all – all nations and peoples and all segments of society.

A massive world-wide conversation followed the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012, known as the post-2015 development agenda. The Rio+20 outcome document, The Future We Want, set a mandate to establish an open working group to draft the Sustainable Development Goals for consideration and appropriate action by the General Assembly at its 68th session.

After lengthy input and debate the open working group of representatives from 70 UN Member countries proposed 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Drawing upon the various successes and setbacks of the MDGS, the delegates have drafted what is believed to be an improved and more specific agenda that has 169 measurable targets under the 17 goals.

The goals are all encompassing. They are described as “a comprehensive, far-reaching and people-centred set of universal and transformative goals and targets”.

“We resolve, between now and 2030, to end poverty and hunger everywhere; to combat inequalities within and among countries; to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies; to protect human rights and promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls; and to ensure the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources. We resolve also to create conditions for sustainable, inclusive and sustained economic growth, shared prosperity and decent work for all, taking into account different levels of national development and capacities.”

The SDGs will be resourced. At the United Nations Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (from July 13-16 this year) 193 UN member countries committed to funding the Sustainable Development Goals which are estimated to be in the trillions of dollars.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was buoyed by the outcomes of the conference: “This agreement is a critical step forward in building a sustainable future for all. It provides a global framework for financing sustainable development.”

A call for action to cities

Whilst most of the 17 SDGs directly relate to cities, a specific goal has been directed to the urban context – Goal 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

The reason for the emphasis and inclusion of cities is well summarised by UNDP (the United Nations Development Programme):

“More than half of the world’s population now live in urban areas. By 2050, that figure will have risen to 6.5 billion people – two-thirds of humanity. Sustainable development cannot be achieved without significantly transforming the way we build and manage our urban spaces.

The rapid growth of cities in the developing world, coupled with increasing rural to urban migration, has led to a boom in mega-cities. In 1990, there were ten mega-cities with 10 million inhabitants or more. In 2014, there are 28 mega-cities, home to a total 453 million people.

Extreme poverty is often concentrated in urban spaces, and national and city governments struggle to accommodate the rising population in these areas. Making cities safe and sustainable means ensuring access to safe and affordable housing, and upgrading slum settlements. It also involves investment in public transport, creating green public spaces, and improving urban planning and management in a way that is both participatory and inclusive”.


The Goal 11 Targets reflect the comprehensive nature of the Sustainable Development Agenda:

  • By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums
  • By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons
  • By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries
  • Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage
  • By 2030, significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to global gross domestic product caused by disasters, including water-related disasters, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations
  • By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management
  • By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities
  • Support positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, peri-urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning
  • By 2020, substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, holistic disaster risk management at all levels
  • Support least developed countries, including through financial and technical assistance, in building sustainable and resilient buildings utilizing local materials

On a finishing note, it worth spending some time with the outcome document for the Sustainable Development Summit (an excerpt from the preamble below)

The Vision of “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”

(from the Draft outcome document of the United Nations summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda)

The Goals and targets will stimulate action over the next 15 years in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet.

We are determined to end poverty and hunger, in all their forms and
dimensions, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity
and equality and in a healthy environment.

We are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through
sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources
and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the
present and future generations.

We are determined to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.

We are determined to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence. There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.

We are determined to mobilize the means required to implement this Agenda through a revitalized Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focused in particular on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable and with the participation of all countries, all stakeholders and all people.

The interlinkages and integrated nature of the Sustainable Development Goals are of crucial importance in ensuring that the purpose of the new Agenda is realized. If we realize our ambitions across the full extent of the Agenda, the lives of all will be profoundly improved and our world will be transformed for the better.

Further information:

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals 

United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 Outcome Document 

Open Working Group Proposal for Sustainable Development Goals 

The future we want – Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development Outcome Document 

The United Nations Third International Conference on Financing for Development

Image Credits: Feature Image and ‘Juagando con Luz’ – Gerardo Borbolla

‘People in the Rynek in the Centre of Wroclaw’ – Klearchos Kapoutsis