Schoolchildren from the Srnicka-Kalinka kindergarten in Macedonia is the country’s first energy-efficient school. Goal 7 of the SDGs is to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.” Photo by: UNDP Europe and CIS  / CC BY-NC-SA

This autumn, the United Nations should once again demonstrate that whatever the grievances made toward it, it continues to be an engine for building international consensus on some major issues. This will be the case with the new “road map” for global development, the sustainable development goals, which will be taking over from the Millennium Development Goals.

But the SDGs are already being criticized before even being adopted. They are said to be too vague, too numerous, and to come under the register of a “pious hope.”

Before analyzing these arguments, we should remember that the SDGs represent a universal agenda, and no longer simply an agenda for least-developed countries and for the donors who support them. They do not focus on social issues — the trademark and the limitation of the MDGs — but integrate economic and environmental issues too. Does mankind not deserve a universal ambition that specifically allows us to effectively fight against climate change?

Are they more vague than the MDGs? Not really. They incorporate a number of formulations from the MDGs — for example, on maternal and infant mortality or on access to education. They also generally have more ambition: Hunger and poverty, for example, must no longer be reduced — as with the MDGs — but eliminated once and for all by 2030.

Is it “vague” to reach an international agreement on the need to make states and other institutions effective, responsible and open? On the contrary, not mentioning this would suggest that institutions do not have a role to play in terms of development.

The SDGs are undoubtedly higher in number, 17 versus eight MDGs. But will it really be a source of regret that objectives have been added concerning economic growth, the fight against inequalities, changes in consumption and production patterns, the sustainability of our cities, and the survival of our oceans? Should we sacrifice such an ambition — a hard-won consensus — on the altar of simplification? What are 17 objectives in view of the future of the planet?

The SDGs are said to be too numerous and in danger of being weighed down with countless indicators. We would tend to state the contrary: With 300 indicators, is it really possible to monitor such a complete universal framework? Bearing in mind that France’s ecological transition strategy for sustainable development adopted in early 2015 comprises nine areas and 39 indicators, and bearing in mind that the European Union’s sustainable development strategy comprises 45 policy indicators and 98 analytical indicators, one might say that the SDGs deserve rather to be commended for their simplicity.

The success of the MDGs lies in the fact that they renewed public opinion in support of development assistance. The SDGs are the heirs to this: Their definition has involved over 1 million people who wished to go beyond the simple framework of aid. It is not development agencies that will implement the SDGs alone. They fall within the competence of governments, cities, companies and others. The SDGs, by taking into account all issues and by their universality, provide a tremendous opportunity to put the planet on a path to new and more sustainable development models. This is a first in the history of mankind. It is up to the world to seize this opportunity and make it happen if it wants to open up a sustainable future by 2030.

This guest opinion is published in association with ID4D, an international blog for exchanges and constructive debates on development. Hosted and facilitated by the AFD, the French agency for development, ID4D is aimed at all development stakeholders.

Sustaining Development is a three-month online series exploring the post-2015 development agenda hosted by Devex in partnership with Chevron, FXB, Global Health Fellows Program II, Philips, Pfizer, UNIDO, U.N. Volunteers and the U.S. Council for International Business. We will look at the practical steps needed to move the sustainable development goals from concept to reality. Visit the campaign site and join the conversation using #SustainDev.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the authors

  • Philippe Orliange

    Philippe Orliange is the director of strategy, partnerships and communication at the Agence Française de Développement. He holds a degree in international relations from the Paris Institute of Political Studies and is a career diplomat. Representing the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he has served in Congo, Kenya, New York (permanent mission to the United Nations), Colombia, Vietnam and South Africa. He has also held several positions at the Ministry’s central administration (Africa, United Nations, International Cooperation and Development). From 2006 to 2008, he held positions as geographical regional coordinator (Lebanon, Egypt), then as deputy director of AFD’s Mediterranean and Middle East department. In 2011, he was appointed deputy director, then director, of the Latin America and Caribbean department.
  • Hubert de Milly

    Hubert de Milly is an agricultural engineer and holds a Ph.Dd in economics. He is a development practitioner who gradually moved from operational positions to strategic management. He has in-depth knowledge of the world of international assistance and today follows issues concerning the redefinition of official development assistance and loan concessionality for Agence Française de Développement, after having worked for over five years at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.