The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), were introduced in 2000 to address global challenges such as poverty, education, and health. However, as the target year of 2015 approached, it became evident that the MDGs would not be fully achieved. As a result, a new framework, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was developed to offset the perceived unattainability of the MDGs and provide for a more comprehensive roadmap for sustainable development. Though seemingly an appreciable effort, it was also a ploy to avoid the socio-political fallout of inadequate response to the MDGs.
The MDGs, consisting of eight goals and eighteen targets, galvanised global efforts to address poverty, hunger, education, and health disparities. The global poverty rate declined from 36% in 1990 to 10% in 2015, surpassing the MDG target of halving extreme poverty. The primary school enrollment rate in developing countries increased from 83% in 2000 to 91% in 2015. There was a significant reduction in child mortality. The global under-five mortality rate declined from 90 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 39 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2015. The global maternal mortality ratio also decreased by 45% between 1990 and 2015, although it fell short of the targeted 75% reduction.
However, apart from geo-political manoeuvring, several limitations were realised in achieving the MDGs. The critical dimensions of development such as environmental sustainability, climate change, and gender equality were ignored. The MDGs lacked adequate indicators and mechanisms for tracking progress. This resulted in uneven monitoring and evaluation across countries, making it difficult to assess the impact of specific interventions accurately. The absence of reliable data hindered the formulation of evidence-based policies and adequate resource allocation.
The MDGs primarily targeted developing countries, overlooking the shared responsibility of all nations in achieving sustainable development. Developed countries often fail to address their own internal disparities and contribute adequately to global development efforts. Less developed countries (LDCs) were stressed to mobilise adequate funds to pursue the MDGs.
To address the limitations and unfinished agenda, the international community embarked on an inclusive and consultative process to define a new framework that would overcome the shortcomings of its predecessor. The SDGs, adopted in 2015, expanded the focus of the MDGs and aimed to create a more holistic and integrated approach to sustainable development. The new dimensions such as environmental sustainability, climate change, gender equality, and inclusive economic growth were given greater thrust.
The SDGs provided a more comprehensive framework, consisting of 17 goals and 169 targets. These targets were supported by a robust monitoring framework that included specific indicators for each goal. This enhanced system of measurement and evaluation enabled better tracking of progress, facilitated evidence-based decision-making, and allowed for more effective funding and accountability.
The SDGs emphasised that achieving sustainable development requires the collective efforts of all nations, and global partnerships, cooperation, and shared responsibility. Developed countries were expected to ensure financial resources, technology transfer, and capacity-building support to facilitate the implementation of the SDGs in less developed countries (LDCs).
The SDGs acknowledged that sustainable development was a complex and multifaceted endeavour that required governance transformation to address new imperatives. Inclusivity and equity were prioritised in the SDGs to ensure that no one was left behind. The goals specifically addressed the needs of marginalised and vulnerable populations, aiming for equitable progress and addressing disparities.
The inclusion of goals like climate action (SDG 13) and life below water (SDG 14) reflects the urgent need to mitigate climate change and protect the planet’s ecosystems. The SDGs acknowledged that sustainable development was only possible within the boundaries of environmental sustainability. The Paris Agreement united countries in combating and mitigating climate change and striving for a more sustainable future.
India played a crucial role in defining the SDGs. Indian diplomats and representatives were actively involved in the negotiations leading up to the adoption of the SDGs. They provided inputs on various issues, including poverty eradication, sustainable development, climate change, and gender equality
At home, India recognized the relevance of the goals to its own development agenda and incorporated them into its domestic policies and plans. The country demonstrated its commitment to implementing the SDGs through various initiatives and policies. It launched the National Indicator Framework to track progress on the goals and established the NITI Aayog, a policy think tank, to coordinate and monitor the implementation of the SDGs at the national level.
India has made substantial progress in achieving the SDGs. The country has lifted millions of people out of extreme poverty. It has achieved near-universal enrollment in primary education and has made significant progress in achieving gender parity in primary and secondary education. The Right to Education Act implemented in 2009, has played a crucial role in ensuring free and compulsory education for children. The under-five mortality rate in India has decreased substantially with a discernible decline in the maternal mortality rate.
India surpassed its target of achieving 40% cumulative electric power capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030, reaching 45% by the end of 2020. The Swachh Bharat Mission (Clean India Mission) launched in 2014 aimed to eliminate open defecation and improve sanitation infrastructure. As a result, the country witnessed a remarkable increase in toilet coverage, with over 99% of rural households having access to toilets.
However, serious challenges are still persisting. The country still faces significant disparities in income, education, healthcare, and infrastructure across different regions and socio-economic groups.
When compared to other developing countries, India’s achievements stand out due to its sheer population size and the complexities of governance and managing development on such a scale. The progress, however, varies across different countries based on factors such as governance, resources, and historical context. Each country faces unique challenges and opportunities in its pursuit of sustainable development, and sharing best practices and lessons learned can contribute to collective progress worldwide.
The SDGs surely emerged as a response to the perceived limitations of the MDGs. Addressing the incomplete scope, inadequate monitoring mechanisms, and lack of universality of their predecessors, the SDGs provided a more comprehensive and ambitious framework for sustainable development. With their integrated approach and transformative agenda, the SDGs are fostering a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable future for all. However, achieving these goals will require collective action, political will, and long-term commitment from governments, civil society, and the private sector to overcome the challenges that lie ahead.