State-Centered Approaches: Comparing the MDGs and SDGs

The United Nations is a fundamentally state-focused organization. This is not a value judgement of the organization, but rather a recognition of the UN’s structure and its major actors. However, as non-state actors have gained more influence in global affairs, the UN has slowly shifted to recognize this fact. Comparing the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals to their predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals, it appears that the UN has made more room for participation for actors at the sub-state level, as well as for the participation of non-state actors.

Particularly within SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), the SDGs create spaces where smaller actors can participate. In addition to the demands placed upon states to meet the various targets of the SDGs, there are targets which could give initiative to private industry actors. SDG 12’s target to halve food waste at the retail and consumer levels, for example, could likely be handled best by reforms to limit food waste in the private sector; the title of SDG 11 speaks for itself as to the ability of sub-state actors to be involved in meeting the Goals by 2030. The shift in the UN’s development goals to include a wider range of actors reflects the growing influence of non-state actors in international politics.

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