The SDGs: Changing How Development is Understood

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The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) constitute a truly transformative agenda which provides a framework to help us effectively confront the fundamental challenges of development in a way that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) did not. This commentary briefly describes the very demanding, at times antagonistic, process that produced the SDGs, including the crucial role of the Open Working Group (OWG). It points out the strengths of the SDGs by comparison with the MDGs, with respect to both process and product. The SDGs, proposed and championed by a country from the Global South, for the first time defined development as a universal agenda, and upended the traditional division of countries into those who need to act and those called primarily to provide development assistance. Many countries across the development spectrum rejected this proposal, which was finally agreed thanks to persistence, lengthy negotiations and consensus building. In the end, the adoption of the SDGs also broke down the divide between environment and development, offering an integrated and inclusive framework for structuring solutions. Yet an agenda of such deep transformative potential faces implementation challenges, and this commentary emphasizes the need for the sort of analysis contained in the papers in this Special Issue in order to ensure that the SDGs are strengthened and continue to evolve.