2030 Agenda

Lindiwe Dlamini, Programme Associate/UNDP South Africa


The 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development was adopted by UN member states in September 2015. It is an agenda for people, planet and prosperity, which also “seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom”. The new agenda will be implemented by “all countries and stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership.” It consists of four parts:

Vision and principles: We need to ask why governments agree to this new agenda, what is their vision and what are the principles that will guide them in this journey to change the world.

Goals and targets: the 2030 Agenda consists of altogether 17 Goals, 169 Targets and 231 Indicators. With regards to the targets, they are defined as aspirational and global, with each government having to set its own national targets guided by the global level of ambition but also taking into account national circumstances.

  • Means of implementation: The scale and ambition of the new agenda requires the inclusion of new partners e.g. national parliaments, regional and local authorities, academia and volunteer groups.  The revitalised global partnership will endeavour to deliver the means of implementation through ways such as domestic public resources, international trade as an engine for development, and debt, while also addressing systemic issues as well as science, technology, innovation and capacity building.
  • Follow up and review mechanism: The agenda will be underpinned by a vigorous follow up and review mechanism at the global, national and local levels. The bedrock of such will be at the national level and led by governments, with the participation of parliaments, local authorities, academia, the private sector, civil society, minority groups and others, with the support of the UN System. This will feed into regional and global mechanisms.  Such efforts should inherently draw as far as possible on the existing network of follow-up and review institutions and mechanisms in the countries. Follow up and review processes at all levels will be rigorous and based on evidence, informed by country-led evaluations and data which is of high quality, timely, reliable and disaggregated by income, sex, age, race, ethnicity, migration status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts.

Transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the SDGs

The adoption of Agenda 2030 presents significant opportunities and challenges to Africa, particularly in ensuring that “no one is left behind” in the development process. There are 3 fundamental differences between the 2030 Development Agenda and the MDGs, which have a bearing on development cooperation:

(a) The SDGs are broader and more ambitious than the MDGs. They go beyond social development and include all three dimensions of sustainable development – social, economic and environmental;

(b) The SDGs are complex and integrated, with the integrated approach implying the need to manage trade-offs and maximise synergies across targets;

(c) The SDGs are universal whilst the MDGs were not, implying that the goals and targets are relevant to all countries and all stakeholders within the countries. The principle of “no one left behind”, which is one of the overriding messages of the new agenda, advocates for countries to go beyond averages. The SDGs should benefit all – eradicating poverty and reducing inequalities. The promotion and use of disaggregated data cannot be emphasised enough.

According to the 2016 UNDP Policy and Programme Brief on Support to the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the breadth of the agenda implies, more than ever, a need to go beyond silos and take an integrated approach to development interventions with the MDGs the question was: What are the goals that are lagging the most, what are the gaps, and how can we fill them? With the SDGs, the question becomes: What are the actions that will take us forward more quickly across a broader range of interlinked goals? Addressing this question requires thinking through the connections and synergies across the goals, and pointing out how actions in one area draw dividends in others e.g. investments in biodiversity and climate change adaptation can lead to a wide range of co-benefits and multiplier effects in advancing other SDGs, including health, food security and job creation.

The Brief also highlights that the universality of the new agenda implies a more rigorous approach to addressing common and shared challenges. Common challenges include the need to expand decent employment and the coverage of quality education and health services. These are tackled primarily at the national and local levels within a country. Shared challenges include the need to address the health of our climate, oceans and other global commons, implying that the provision of global public goods will be an imperative. Sometimes common and shared challenges connect, as sometimes seen through the issues of economic migration or labour mobility.

Mr Osten Chulu, UNDP Senior Economist, in his 2015 SABC News article on the Lessons Learned from the MDG Era, does advise that the global successes of the MDG agenda prove that global action works and is the only way to ensure that the new development agenda leaves no one behind.

The Interrelatedness of the SDGs

Referencing the UNDP SDGs Advisor, Ms Alessandra Casazza’s Working Paper on How Agenda 2063 Aligns with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs: Implications for Joint Mainstreaming into National and Regional Plans, the structure of the 2030 Agenda clusters the SDGs into five categories (5Ps):

People, relating to social development. The first six goals of the 2030 Agenda build on the MDGs, raising their ambition and adding complexity. For example, while MDG 1 called for halving poverty by 2015, SDG 1 calls for the eradication of poverty by 2030. The way targets have been formulated also adds complexity to the new global agenda; while the MDGs promoted a silo approach to development (i.e. education, health, water etc.) the way the new goals and their underpinning targets are developed highlights their interconnectedness across all goals and sectors, which promotes an integrated approach to development through greater policy coherence.

Prosperity, regarding economic development. Economic development is promoted in the 2030 Agenda by five SDGs, from 7 to 11. These goals cover areas spanning from access to modern and affordable energy, to inclusive growth and employment, infrastructure and industrialization, equality and sustainable cities.

Planet, about environmental sustainability. The thinking is that environmental sustainability was not adequately covered by the MDGs. In the new global development agenda, issues related to our planet are well articulated across four SDGs, 12 to 15.

Peace, referencing peaceful and inclusive societies. A truly innovative element of the new global development agenda is the goal on peaceful and inclusive societies and responsive institutions. SDG 16 calls for effective governance, grounded on effective, inclusive and accountable institutions, the rule of law, the protection of human rights and freedom from fear and violence.

Partnerships, on the means of implementation. The successful implementation of an ambitious agenda such as the 2030 Agenda requires an ambitious set of means of implementation and a revitalised global partnership. Building on MDG 8, SDG 17 calls for a renewed global partnership for development and for the mobilisation of the ways necessary to implement the new agenda. The means of implementation comprise the largest part of the SDGs framework, being covered by 19 targets under Goal 17 and 43 additional ones, mainstreamed throughout the other 16 goals, for a total of 62 targets.

Alignment of the Global Agenda to Regional and National Agendas and Plans

When, in 2013, the Open Working Group was having its first sessions to develop the new agenda for sustainable development, Africa had already set its priorities for the next half a century. At the African Union (AU) Summit of May 2013, in their 50th Anniversary Solemn Declaration, the Heads of State and Government of the AU laid down a vision for the “Africa We Want” including eight ideals, which were

later translated into the seven aspirations of Agenda 2063. The African Union Commission views its Agenda 2063 as “both a Vision and an Action Plan” (http://agenda2063.au.int/en/about  last accessed on 29 June 2016).

As more than 190 countries, including in Africa, have adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015, the above mentioned Working Paper states the importance of understanding how the universal agenda and the continental one relate to each other and where they converge and diverge, ahead of integrating to national development plans and strategies.

An analysis revealed that the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and Agenda 2063 broadly converge on:

social development – people;

inclusive economic development – prosperity;

peaceful and inclusive societies and responsive institutions – peace; and

a number of environmental sustainability issues – planet.

However, there are also areas of divergence: SDGs areas that are not, or are only marginally covered by Agenda 2063 including (i) inequality within and between countries; and (ii) issues related to the sustainable management of terrestrial ecosystems, forests, desertification, land degradation and biodiversity.

Agenda 2063 areas of focus which are less central to the 2030 Agenda relate to the AU’s Pan-African drive, African cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics; the African Renaissance; and the strong focus on the security agenda. Against this backdrop, African countries and their development partners face both challenges and opportunities, especially as governments decide on their priorities.

As a country that has attempted to align the SDGs to its National Development Plan (NDP), it is necessary to highlight that South Africa has played a vital role in the context of a number of global and continental processes that unfolded in the course of 2015 and led to the development of the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063. It was under South Africa’s chairpersonship that the AU, at its 2013 Summit, laid down a vision for the “Africa We Want”. In 2014, at the side-lines of the UN General Assembly, South Africa was elected as a rotating Chair of the G77+China and had the challenging task of leading the group in the context of major international negotiations taking place in 2015. As of 2012, South Africa had its NDP and Vision 2030, aimed at addressing the country’s triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality. Considering an initial analysis by Ms Casazza and Mr Chulu, shared in their article on Aligning the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to the National Development Plan (NDP): Towards Domestication of the SDGs in South Africa, the NDP objectives and the SDGs show broad convergence between the national and global development frameworks, related to all 5Ps of People, Prosperity, Planet, peace and partnerships. Areas where the degree of convergence is lower include around food security and sustainable agriculture (SDG 2), resilient infrastructure and sustainable industrialisation (SDG 9), as well as sustainable consumption and production (SDG 12). One area where there is no, or very little, convergence between the NDP and the SDGs is that of gender equality and women empowerment (SDG 5).

UN Support for Integration and Implementation of the SDGs.

Responding to requests from Member States for coordinated support from the UN System in implementing the 2030 Development Agenda, the UN Development Group (UNDG), under its Sustainable Development Working Group, adopted a common framework for effective and coherent implementation support of the SDGs – using the acronym MAPS. MAPS stands for Mainstreaming, Acceleration and Policy Support and is elaborated on below.

Mainstreaming: The intention is to generate awareness amongst all relevant actors and help governments land the agenda at national and local levels; and ultimately integrating the agenda into national plans, strategies and budget allocations. This means helping to sensitize national stakeholders – government departments, civil society, parliamentarians, the media and business about what the new agenda means. This would be followed by mapping of what a country is already doing, and where it may need to change direction to meet the goals, or confirming the course and validating the tools.

Acceleration: UNDG’s intention is also to help governments accelerate progress, by providing tools to identify critical constraints to foster progress across a number of goals and focus on those development objectives that are more relevant to their context. The previously mentioned UNDP Brief shares that since 2010, UNDP has helped galvanize the UN System around the MDGs Acceleration Framework (MAF), a common tool for accelerating progress on the MDGs. UNDP is to build on this work and assist countries in identifying root bottlenecks that, if unlocked, can accelerate progress across a number of SDGs at the same time.

Policy support: UNDG members aim to provide coordinated and pooled policy support to countries that request it. The UNDP’s intention is to have multiagency and multidisciplinary teams that are able to offer support to countries on specific issues, while also helping them to strengthen institutional capacities. This is also about making the skills and expertise held in the UN System available in a timely manner and at the lowest cost possible.

These components will often not be separate or follow in chronological order, but they can act as framing to describe the support that the UN development System intends to deliver. Beyond these three dimensions, the UNDG’s Sustainable Development Working Group will also provide enabling support on Partnerships, Accountability and Data (PAD).

The UNDG Reference Guide of October 2015 describes eight areas for mainstreaming the 2030 Development Agenda and adapting the SDGs to national contexts. These are:

Raising public awareness

Applying multi-stakeholder approaches

Tailoring SDGs to national, sub-national and local contexts

Creating horizontal policy coherence (breaking the silos)

Creating vertical policy coherence (reflecting both local and global considerations)

Budgeting for the future

Monitoring, reporting and accountability

Assessing risks and fostering adaptability

The eight guidance areas are meant to provide an integrated

approach. It’s recommended that governments embark on efforts across all of them, to go beyond ‘governance as usual’, and match the transformative ambition of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. Four of the areas should be initiated as soon as possible given their core role of landing the SDGs at the national level, these being the first three above and including number seven. The other guidance areas address deeper levels of mainstreaming and can be initiated over time.


Sustainable development implies that we change the way we use our natural resources and recognize their value to livelihoods, societal progress and economic growth, for both current and future generations. However, taking corrective or preventive action does not condemn us necessarily to lower standards of living today or in future. It can, in fact, create new business opportunities and pursuing these business opportunities can lead, instead of to a world of resource scarcity, to trillions of dollars in profit.

The transition from the MDGs to the SDGs calls for realism. As we confront implementation of the new agenda, no one has all the answers at the outset. As countries and people strive to implement the SDGs, there will be a process of learning and adapting to support their implementation. The UN Secretary General’s Africa Day message on 25 May 2016 was that “the successful implementation of the new agenda will require a renewed partnership for development cooperation among African governments, UN entities, the African Union Commission, the NEPAD Agency, the Regional Economic Communities and development partners. The private sector has a key role to play, including through creating jobs and promoting innovation in technologies and services”.

Visit the dedicated site: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/

By: Lindiwe Dlamini