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Introduction to the sustainable development goals

Introduction to the sustainable development goals

Agreed on in 2015, the SDGs set the global development agenda until 2030. Here you can find more information on what they are, how they were created and how the sport and development community has been responding to their introduction.

What are the sustainable development goals?

The sustainable development goals (SDGs) are a universal plan for all countries to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. They are a set of 17 goals which include 169 targets.

They provide a focus for the international community’s development efforts until 2030 and are the yardstick by which progress will be measured. They are intended to be tackled as a group rather than individually - the 17 goals are interlinked.

How were the sustainable development goals created?

Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon described the run-up to the announcement of the final goals as “the most transparent and inclusive process in UN history.” Unlike the MDGs, which were written by a group of individuals at the UN headquarters, the sustainable development goals were created by a number of consultations.

The 2012 Rio+ Summit led to the creation of a UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, established in January 2013. The group involved members from 70 countries and published its final draft in July 2014.

Alongside these discussions, there had been 11 thematic and 83 national consultations. The general public were also asked to share their views on what the goal priorities should be through the online My World Survey and a door-to-door survey.

Member state negotiations followed the July 2014 publication of the final draft. The final wording of the goals and targets were agreed in August 2015.

What was the role of the sport and development community in the consultation process?

Sport and development organisations held their own discussions on the topic, including through an e-debate on sportanddev.org. Much of the conversation focused on how to get sport’s contributions to development recognised in the SDGs. Influential organisations such as the International Olympic Committee - which has observer status at the United Nations - also lobbied for the inclusion of sport.

These efforts were a success, with the following paragraph being written on page 10 of the final outcome document, “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”:

We recognize the growing contribution of sport to the realization of development and peace in its promotion of tolerance and respect and the contributions it makes to the empowerment of women and of young people, individuals and communities as well as to health, education and social inclusion objectives."

What are the final goals?

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How are the SDGs different from the MDGs?

The lives and livelihoods of millions of people improved under the MDGs, but many have been “left behind” - they are marginalised and living in poverty. This is particularly true for vulnerable groups such as refugees, people with disabilities, indigenous people, the elderly and women.

Some entire countries are also left behind. Challenges that can make them especially at risk range from having weak governance structures and a history of conflict to being landlocked and susceptibility to climate shocks.

“Leave no one behind” - and reach the furthest behind first - has become the rallying cry of the SDGs. This is not only reflected in the goals; it is also emphasised in the vision of a “just, equitable, tolerant, open and socially inclusive world in which the needs of the most vulnerable are met” and “a world in which every country enjoys sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and decent work for all” (paragraphs 8 and 9).

These principles led to some important changes in the way the SDGs have been formulated when compared to the MDGs. The differences include:

A global focus. Inequalities are overlooked when progress is measured using national averages. Unlike the MDGs, which focused primarily on lower and middle income countries, the SDGs include every country - which means also reaching those who are not benefitting from the economic prosperity of wealthier countries.

A holistic approach. The SDGs cover a range of topics. They are interconnected and should be tackled simultaneously rather than individually.  

A greater focus on inclusion. The MDGs and other development policies have failed to address systematic patterns of discrimination – the SDGs aim to change this. Seven SDG targets focus on people with disabilities, for example, and six refer to people in vulnerable situations.

An emphasis on three dimensions of sustainability. The SDGs define sustainability as having three components – social, economic and environmental. These are interlinked, with one leading to the others, and should be addressed simultaneously.

The incorporation of both systems and lifestyles. Successfully achieving targets on climate change, for example, does not only include policies at the international, regional or national levels; it also requires that our lifestyles, thought processes and behaviour changes.

How are sport and development organisations responding to the sustainable development goals?

The SDGs provide an important framework for organisations using sport to focus their work on. Many have adjusted their priorities since they were published.

sportanddev.org published a five-part article series between the date they were agreed upon, on 3 August and the date they were formally confirmed, on 27 September. The initiative sees its main role as contributing to goal 17 on partnerships, while also contributing indirectly to the other 16 through the support it gives to a variety of organisations. sportanddev.org’s new strategy, which will be published in 2018, will include a position paper on the topic.

On the policy level, the Commonwealth Secretariat is the frontrunner in providing analysis of sport’s role in addressing the SDGs. In late 2015, it published the results of a consultation on the topic, followed by a 2017 publication to support policy makers in contributing towards six prioritised SDGs. The Commonwealth has also held debates on the subject and supports its member states in using sport to address development challenges.

The SDGs were also an important topic at the International Conference of Ministers and Senior Officials Responsible for Physical Education and Sport (MINEPS VI) in July 2017. The resulting Kazan Action Plan, named after the event’s host city, focuses on eight policy areas and initiates a process for developing indicators to measure sport’s contribution to prioritised SDGs and targets.  

On the operational level, the Swiss Academy for Development published a new strategy in 2016. It is an example of an NGO who has written a strategy including an analysis of the NGOs contribution to the SDGs. The organisation’s work focuses on SDG 3, 4 and 8.

Beyond Sport holds an annual awards ceremony to celebrate organisations using sport for social change. In 2017, the award categories changed; they are now aligned with the SDGs.

Following a call for submissions, sportanddev.org will publish more detailed case studies on sport and the SDGs in spring/summer 2018.

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