Understanding the SDGs: Tom Bigg

In the first of a series of video interviews with IIED experts working on issues relating to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Strategy and Learning Group director Tom Bigg highlights the importance of their universality.

News, 21 August 2015

What are the Sustainable Development Goals?

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), due to be adopted at the UN General Assembly in September, set the framework for a transition from where we are now to a world which is fairer and more sustainable, according to Tom Bigg, IIED's Strategy and Learning Group director.

In an interview for IIED, Bigg explains that the SDGs represent the highest level of agreement among countries on their shared ambition for the next 15 years.

And significantly that shared ambition is for a universal agenda – the goals apply to all countries, not just those countries needing development assistance; the goals are framed around sustainability, recognising the importance of natural resources and the vulnerability of ecosystems; and they are framed as an integrated whole, with progress in one area dependent on progress elsewhere.

The SDGs and the climate

Crucially the SDGs do not stand alone as an international agreement but link closely to the climate negotiations in Paris later this year. Without strong agreement on international action to reduce climate emissions at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21), it will be practically impossible to achieve the SDGs.

But action on climate alone will not solve the wider issues addressed by the SDGs, including poverty and inequality within and between countries.

The significance of the goal to address inequality between and within countries (Goal 10) should not be under-estimated. In the interview, Bigg says he finds this the most interesting because it points to the idea that growing inequality is in itself unsustainable and drives poverty and over-exploitation of natural resources.

Will the goals make a difference?

The goals set out a transformational agenda but they will only deliver on this if the rhetoric is translated into changes in policy and behaviour. This requires action, not just at the national level, but locally and regionally, by a whole range of actors. But the framework the goals provide is a good start.

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