Global “Grand Challenge” of Inclusive Sustainable Development

Development is one of the most pressing challenges facing the world today. Historically, most human populations have progressed and developed at the expense of the environment and its health. Since the Industrial Revolution the world has exploited its resources for the sake of economic prosperity. We haven’t viewed the earth as a partner to respect and protect, but as an asset that we can abuse and capitalize on. In recent decades, there has been an increasingly urgent call to adjust our modes of development and apply sustainable solutions to our environmental problems. Governments, civil society organizations, and corporations are developing new strategies to minimize our impact and preserve the earth’s resources for future generations. This is a challenge involving every nation and population and will require a great deal of cooperation and collective action.

The United Nations, an intergovernmental organization and significant international player, has established ambitious goals for the world to meet in the coming decades. In 2000, The Millennium Summit of the United Nations established the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to be reached by 2015. The eight goals addressed issues such as extreme poverty and hunger, universal primary education, gender equality and female empowerment, child mortality, maternal health, disease, environmental sustainability, and a global partnership for development. Debts owed to the IMF, World Bank, and African Development Bank by heavily indebted poor countries were settled by F8 finance ministers to allow their economies to redirect resources towards the development goals. Unfortunately, most of the MDGs were missed (narrowly) by 2015 and significant progress still needs to be done. However, the MDGs made substantial progress and have been hailed as the most successful anti-poverty movement in history.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) replaced the MDGs in 2015 and provide a more inclusive and structured action plan for development in the future. All United Nations Member States adopted the goals and strive to achieve them by 2030. The SDGs expand upon the MDGs in order to create a framework beyond the foundations of past decades. 2015 was an important year for international cooperation with the adoption of several major agreements concerning disaster risk reduction, financing for development, and climate change. 

Sustainable development will look different for each country depending on their history of development. It is important to remember that developed countries such as the United States were able to exploit their resources to whatever extent they deemed necessary to support their population and prosperity. Now these countries are able to adopt more sustainable methods due to increased technology and knowledge, as well as a stable economy to support them. Developing countries are in a different situation and it’s unfair to impose the same standards on them as developed nations. Their development was largely stalled due to colonization, and it is important to take this into account when establishing international goals.