Academic journal article Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

The Journey from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals

Academic journal article Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

The Journey from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals

Article excerpt


A discussion of this topic will not be complete without at least briefly touching on the meaning of these two terms--development and sustainable development. A marked shift has occurred in our understanding of the meaning of development. Instead of being equated with economic growth, development is now seen as being linked with human development. In 1990, the United Nations Development Program ("UNDP") issued its first annual Human Development Report, (1) introducing the Human Development Index ("HDI"), which measured development not by income alone as traditional economists had done, but by indicators reflecting "life expectancy, literacy and command over the resources to enjoy a decent standard of living." (2) In his foreword to the report, then-Administrator of UNDP, William H. Draper III, stated:

   [W]e are rediscovering the essential truth that people must be at
   the center of all development. The purpose of development is to
   offer people more options. One of their options is access to income
   not as an end in itself but as a means to acquiring human
   well-being. But there are other options as well, including long
   life, knowledge, political freedom, personal security, community
   participation and guaranteed human rights. People cannot be reduced
   to a single dimension as economic creatures. What makes them and
   the study of the development process fascinating is the entire
   spectrum through which human capabilities are expanded and
   utilized. (3)

HDI continues to be a composite measure of indicators along the same three dimensions. For example, in the 2014 Human Development Report, the HDI is defined as "[a] composite index measuring average achievement in three basic dimensions of human development--a long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living." (4)

This focus on all aspects of peoples' well-being was aptly captured by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen's perspective of development as freedom, (5) which embodies the concept of human choices, capabilities, freedoms, and empowerment. Meanwhile, in 1996, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development ("OECD") published a paper (6) suggesting a set of "International Development Goals," which formed the basis for the Millennium Development Goals ("MDGs"). Also pertinent is a declaration adopted by heads of State and Government at the U.N. Headquarters, the United Nations Millennium Declaration of September 2000, (7) which enumerates human development goals along with a few targets and a timeframe to measure progress. The world leaders' commitment to reducing extreme poverty by creating a new global partnership, and setting out a series of time-bound targets for the years 2000-2015 became known as the Millennium Development Goals ("MDGs"). As the MDGs expire at the end of 2015, the U.N. General Assembly adopted their successor, the Sustainable Development Goals ("SDGs"), in September 2015. (8)

A study of the process that created the MDGs and SDGs and their impact on various aspects of peoples' well-being will follow this introductory section. However, it is appropriate to discuss here the origin and evolution of sustainable development ("SD"), a concept that integrates economic, social, and environmental considerations into the development process and provides a framework for decision making aimed at ensuring human well-being. I have previously written on this topic (9) and hence will briefly recount the pertinent groundwork to provide a context for the discussion that follows this introductory section.

Almost three decades after World War II, in June 1972 world leaders met in Stockholm at the U.N. Conference on the Human Environment ("Stockholm Conference") to address the challenge posed by continuing environmental degradation. (10) Although the Stockholm Declaration adopted at the conference did emphasize the importance of economic and social development," the conference did not address the relationship between environment and development despite pervasive poverty in many countries. …

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