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We geven het toe, de Sustainable Development Goals zijn vrij complex. Wat zijn ze juist, wat stellen ze voor, maar ook, wat hebben ze met ons te maken? Daarom, een poging om de Sustainable Development Goals uit te leggen in 6 vragen!


As early as the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 (known as Rio+20), it was decided to devise a number of universal goals that provide an answer to the urgent social, economic and environmental issues plaguing society and our planet. On 25th September 2015, the 193 member states of the United Nations (UN) ultimately signed the accord for Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. This new global agenda is intended to put an end to poverty, inequality and climate change.

The SDGs were not all conceived within the walls of the UN, as it happens. Anyone was allowed to join in the discussion. Almost 7.8 million people voted for their favourite themes by means of an online survey. In this manner, civil society, the private sector, the UN system and the member states together formed 17 Sustainable Development Goals that leave no-one behind and offer the world a path towards a sustainable future for us all.


Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development is expressed in concrete form in 17 sustainable development goals (or SDGs). Achieving these goals will put an end to poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people live in peace and prosperity. The 17 goals are described in an official document: ‘Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’. Besides the goals, this documents also describes the 169 sub-goals which serve to further crystallise the goals. Alongside this, the Agenda also includes action and evaluation to give us an idea of how to measure the progress and achievement of the goals.

Agenda 2030 stands atop 5 pillars: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace & Justice, and Partnership. This puts all aspects of sustainable development on offer. As the name of the agenda suggests, we must achieve these goals by 2030. 15 years may seem a long time, but given how much work will be required, we must get started straight away. The goals cover topics such as health, poverty, education, clean drinking water, sustainable energy, reducing inequality, climate change, etc.

One of the most important aspects of these goals is that they apply to everyone in all countries. Indeed, ‘to leave no-one behind’ is the slogan behind these SDGs. It is also important that all SDGs are mutually intertwined - we cannot achieve 1 SDG without also bringing the others to fruition. The Agenda is, in other words, whole and indivisible!


Eight Millennium Development Goals were proposed by the United Nations in 2000. These 8 goals were largely related to tackling poverty. They were also only intended for developing countries. The MDGs came to an end in 2015 - it is quite difficult to measure just how much we were able to achieve there. It did become clear very quickly, however, that there is still much more work to be done. This is why a successor to the MDGs was conceived - this is the SDGs - which are also far more ambitious according to the UN.

The SDGs, then, build upon the MDGs. There are twice as many SDGs as MDGs. In so doing, the MDGs were complemented by new areas including climate change, inequality, innovation, sustainable consumption and production, peace and security. The SDGs are concerned with sustainability, and not merely development as the MDGs did. Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development also applies to all countries, while the MDGs were a form of aid from the richer nations to developing countries.


Achieving the SDGs will require money - a lot of money. The estimates range from 2 billion to 5 billion dollars per year. This amount equates to 4 percent of global GNP. On the one hand, these goals will be funded by the public sector (including through bilateral development aid). But everyone agrees that the private sector will need to do its bit too. The private sector and the United Nations have since launched the ‘Financial Innovation Platform’, which aims to stimulate innovative financial solutions for the SDGs. Just as the financial sector can/must play a major role in the funding and achievement of the SDGs.


The Sustainable Development Goals are in principle voluntary and so are not binding. This means there will be no consequences should certain countries not achieve certain goals. The political and moral pressure to achieve the Agenda, however, is significant. Moreover, a great many SDGs refer to existing international agreements, which are legally binding, such as ILO conventions around decent work or Human Rights, for example.

It is true that the challenges and the efforts needed to overcome them will be huge, but it is certainly not unachievable. On the contrary, many countries are already well on their way with a great many goals. And providing we see the necessary efforts from everyone (and a bit of courage), there is nothing to stop us from achieving the goals!

We are also working hard at a Belgian level to implement the SDGs in the policy. Belgium will participate in the National Voluntary Review during the High-Level Political Forum in New York in July 2017. Belgium intends to demonstrate its engagement with the national and international implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda in this manner.

The challenges will naturally vary for each country. But this does not mean that we can just choose a few goals and let the rest fall by the wayside. It is important to remember that there cannot be any priority goals, only priority actions! To keep up with Belgium's progress, you can take a look at the website of the Belgian Federal Planning Bureau (link is external).


As mentioned earlier, these SDGs apply to everyone. This does not just mean all countries in the world, however. It also means every citizen, organisation, local authority and company. Everyone will need to do their bit! By making sustainable choices and undertaking sustainable actions, you too can contribute towards achieving the SDGs.

To nudge you in the right direction, the United Nations has summed up a few practical tips on how small efforts by all of us could make a gigantic step towards achieving the SDGs! View the tips here (link is external):


Download the 17 individual SDG logos in Dutch, English and French (jpg) here

Guidelines (link is external) for using the official SDG communication material from the UN. 

Here (link is external) you can find more official UN communication material.