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The Shortcomings of SDGs and Possible Solutions

In the year 2000, the United Nations realized the need to better protect the Earth from both old and new challenges. There 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were developed which included ending world hunger and ensuring a healthy environment. The target was set to be achieved by 2015. However, by 2015, even though many countries hit a lot of these goals, overall, there were still many shortcomings [1]. Then in 2015, the MDGs were replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is even more ambitious with 17 goals instead of 8. Under the SDGs, the 17 goals have a deadline of 2030. This massive project involves over 190 member-states and even more civil societies joining.

The SDGs continue the progress of the MDGs such as ending extreme poverty and world hunger. In addition, there are now more clear goals such as instead of having a sustainable environment, there are now goals about climate change, life under water, and clean energy. There are also new goals that were not mentioned in the MDGs like reducing inequalities, as the wealth gap is getting wider and wider worldwide. Progress has been made in the past few years, such as Brazil investing more in their Bolsa Familia Program, a social welfare program to reduce poverty [2]. In Canada, they started Low Carbon Economy Fund in December of 2016, with a fund of 2 billion CAD [3]. More people, especially teens and young adults, are being educated about SDGs and in a decade, they are going to be the main people that are trying to deal with SDGs.

However despite all the good, there has been some problems when it comes to SDGs. At the 2018 High Level Political Forum (HLPF), an annual conference where progress on SDGs is discussed, NGO Major Group hosted a side event discussing some problems with the SDGs. This side event was attended by representatives from numerous member-states and NGOs.

NGO Major Group representatives discussing how to improve the SDGs. Source: Jerry Xiao.

One issue that was brought up repeatedly was the fact that SDGs are voluntary. Even though every country promised to work on the SDGs, there are no consequences if they do not. So far, America and Russia have done the least out of all the countries to achieve the SDGs [4] There is simply no incentive for countries to achieve SDGs other than the fact that they want to.

Another issue that is weakening the SDGs is the fact that corruption is rampant in poor countries. SDGs are aimed at lower income and poor countries as they need it the most. However, in these countries, corruption is often rampant. Funds that are given to these countries to help them achieve SDGs are being mismanaged. The funds are being used for personal and private uses. However, it is not just poor and low-income countries that deal with money being diverted. In highly developed countries, the same thing happens, but with a different angle. Tax evasion and offshore bank accounts cost countries a lot of lost revenue in taxes. Each year, over 1.2 trillion dollars worth of tax is lost due to this [5].

Further discussion on the improvement of the SDGs. Source: Jerry Xiao.

One final issue is the difficulty of language. United Nations operates with only six languages, which are Arabic, English, French, Chinese (Mandarin), Russian, and Spanish. That means in many countries where most of the population don’t speak any of these languages, it will be difficult to translate the SDGs. It is going to take additional time and effort to translate and educate the population.

Finally, there is not enough data to show clear results on how effective the SDGs are. Not enough countries have departments where they monitor SDG achievements and produce data to show what is being done.

Even though every single country in tandem with numerous civil society organizations are working together on implementing the SDGs, it is not an easy battle. There can still be a lot more than can done to make SDGs more achievable. Often, multilateralism and synergy are having a negative connotation due to the fact that it seems like bigger countries are coercing or bullying smaller countries [6]. However, despite all this, the Sustainable Development Goals is the way forward. We have to start somewhere. The Millennium Development Goals was a good start, however the Sustainable Development Goals brought in more state actors, civil societies, and resources. Since the year 2000, almost 50 million lives has been saved that can be attributed to the MDGs and the SDGs. Flaws are intrinsic when we try to commit change. However, that does not mean we should give up. It means we need to put more resources to ensure success.


[1] ECOSOC, . “The Millennium Development Goals Report UNITED NATIONS 2015.” United Nations. Accessed August 10, 2018.

[2] Secretariat of Government of the Presidency of the Republic, , and Ministry of Planning, Development and Management. “VOLUNTARY NATIONAL REVIEW ON THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS.” Brazilian Government . Accessed August 2, 2018.

[3] Government of Canada . “Canada’s Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Voluntary National Review.” Accessed August 1, 2018.

[4] Kroll, Christian. “Poor Implementation: Rich countries risk achievement of the global goals.” Bertelsmann Foundation. Accessed August 10, 2018.


[6] Keiber, Jason. “We’re in a new era of international cooperation against terrorism. Is that good or bad?.” Washington Post . Accessed August 5, 2018.

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