A step change in our approach to development

IIED's chief economist Paul Steele says the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognise the crucial challenge of achieving zero poverty and zero net emissions.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent "a real step change" according to IIED's chief economist Paul Steele, who was being interviewed as part of the "Understanding the SDGs" series with IIED experts working on issues relating to the global goals. Not only do they transform the focus of development by integrating environmental, social and economic objectives, they are universal and so must be taken seriously be all countries.

Development aid

This reflects a shared understanding of development that goes "beyond aid" and that is about more than how rich countries finance activities in the developing world. While development assistance is a crucial part of the development package, Steele argues that the universal nature of the goals show that 'development' extends beyond that.

The goals set an ambition for sustainable consumption and production (Goal 12), which must be addressed by northern countries. Equally, the goal on urgent action to tackle climate change (Goal 13) applies to all countries, but particularly the biggest emitters of carbon pollution.

Transforming finance

What is less clear is whether the ambitious agenda set out in the SDGs will mean more money to support implementation, he says. This question was the subject to much debate at the Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in July.

The landscape of aid is changing with some traditional aid donors imposing austerity policies, while new players from emerging economies are providing more aid. Finance will be needed if the ambitious agenda is to be achieved, but who pays, and how much remain to be seen.

Zero poverty, zero emissions

While all 17 goals are equally important, and all 17 goals can be interlinked, Steele highlights the goals to end poverty in all its forms everywhere (Goal 1) and the goal to take urgent action to tackle climate change as being the most important in terms of shifting the world to a zero poverty, zero emissions future.

These, he says, are central to making sure the SDGs are truly sustainable development goals.

Watch the 'Understanding the SDGs' series of videos with IIED's experts on YouTube, or read the individual interviews below: