After a long process, the United Nations has now formally adopted the Sustainable Development Goals.  There are 17 goals, which are intended to guide the world community from 2015 to 2030, following up the earlier Millenium Development Goals.

Although there are still some arguments taking place about the choice of goals, in practice the most important disputes about them are now likely to be about which indicators will be used to measure progress (or lack of it) towards the goals, how to get the finance to implement them, and how to establish appropriate governance structures.  There are also likely to be tensions between some goals and others, including the familiar apparent conflicts between short-term economic and longer-term ecological goals.

From a specifically planetary boundaries perspective, what is significant here is the way the UN has taken on board the need to consider the boundaries.  Following up the UN’s decision, many other organisations are now thinking about how to align their own aims, activities, and funding programmes with the SDGs.  Planetary boundaries thinking is likely to become increasingly influential as a result.

The commitments on planetary boundaries are particularly clear in the wording of the following goals –

·         Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

·         Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

·         Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

·         Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.  Under this heading there is also: 14.3 Minimise and address the impacts of ocean acidification.

·         Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

The word “sustainable” – which PBI argues should be interpreted in terms of the boundaries – also appears in the goals on agriculture (Goal 2), energy (Goal 7), economic growth (Goal 8), industrialisation (Goal 9), and cities (Goal 11).

Without choosing to adopt the whole planetary boundaries framework, the UN has nevertheless ended up endorsing the importance of almost all the boundaries.  This is part of the general move taking place now for the planetary boundaries analysis to go beyond where it started in natural science and out into politics, economics, law, reform of governance structures, and implementation.


Victor Anderson           9.10.15

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