Introduction: origins and principles

Published on 19 July 2023

The 2030 Agenda is universal, meaning that it applies to all countries, from the North or the South equally. In this respect, all countries are “on the path to sustainable development” With its 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets (or sub-goals), it outlines a detailed roadmap covering virtually all societal issues.


The 2030 Agenda merged the development agenda and the Earth Summit agenda.

The development agenda

The concept of “development", which appeared after the Second World War and in the context of decolonization, aimed for the “South” to “catch up” with the “North”. In 2000, the United Nations adopted eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for the “countries of the South”, covering the main humanitarian issues to solve by 2015.
For fifteen years, these MDGs structured global solidarity and the mobilization of all actors involved in development aid. They led to significant improvements, albeit uneven and insufficient, particularly in the areas of universal schooling, the reduction of infant and maternal mortality and the fight against major pandemics.

To go further ... The 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) focused on extreme poverty and hunger, access to education, gender equality and women’s empowerment, child mortality and maternal health, fighting epidemics including AIDS, preserving the environment and building partnerships for development.

understanding sustainable development goals

The Earth Summits

A the same time, the Earth Summits, organized every 10 years since the Stockholm conference in 1972, progressively laid down the principles of environmental preservation at the global level, and more recently those of the search for a sustainable development including a social dimension.

In 1987, the “Brundtland” definition aid down the principles of satisfying the needs of the poorest people in particular, and the limits of the planet..

On this basis, the Rio Summit in 1992 led to the adoption of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention to Combat Desertification.


It was at the Rio conference in 2012, known as “Rio+20”, that the States agreed to develop “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs) for all countries.

Three years of negotiation followed, which first made it possible to record that these SDGs would merge with the “post-2015” MDGs and then, at the end of a participatory process unprecedented in its scope at the multilateral level (i.e., including all the “stakeholders” or “major groups”, including local authorities, the private sector, civil society, etc.), to reach the adoption on September 25, 2015, of 17 Sustainable Development Goals covering practically all the issues of society and the future of humanity.

The 2030 Agenda thus consecrates the convergence of “development” and “ sustainable development”.

Throughout this process, France has been very active and has ensured the proper integration of gender equality, universal social coverage, good governance and environmental and climate issues.

Finally, it should be noted that the adoption of the SDGs is linked to the adoption of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development (July 2015) and the Paris Climate Agreement (December 2015).

To go further ... The scope and ambition of the SDGs are thus considerably strengthened compared to the MDGs, offering at the same time a more precise characterization of the path to follow than the definition of sustainable development based on the “meeting of the economic, social and environmental dimensions did.”

Structuring principles

The Agenda 2030 defines the Sustainable Development Program

The 2030 Agenda is organized around the “5Ps” because it serves the planet, people, prosperity, peace and partnerships.

The 17 goals, broken down into 169 more specific targets form the core of the Agenda and describe the ideal horizon for 2030 of a sustainable development that implies social justice as much as economic growth, peace and solidarity as much as the preservation of ecosystems.

Transforming our world: Through global Partnerships, for Peace, for Prosperity, for the Planet, for People

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Transforming our world

  • Through global Partnerships
  • for Peace
  • for Prosperity
  • for the Planet
  • for People

On the social aspect, it is notable that the SDGs include a goal dedicated to equality between women and men (SDG5) and a goal on the right to decent work (SDG8) as well as the eradication of poverty (SDG1) and the reduction of inequalities between and within countries (SDG10).

In terms of environmental and climate issues, there are specific SDGs on water and sanitation, sustainable energy, sustainable cities, sustainable consumption and production, climate, oceans and terrestrial ecosystems.

The 2030 Agenda is transversal

The global ambition of the 2030 Agenda is also reflected in its cross-cutting nature and in the recognition of the links between the different dimensions of development. Each SDG thus refers to the other goals through the title of its targets. For example, environmental issues can be found in targets related to the fight against poverty, agriculture, health, education or growth. Conversely, the environmental SDGs emphasize accessibility issues, particularly for the most vulnerable.

The implementation of the 2030 Agenda must therefore take into account these connections or “nterlinkages” between the different goals (whether positive or negative). For example, by acting on SDG11 (city), one can also act in favor of SDG5 (gender equality). A gendered approach to city planning can improve women’s safety in public spaces or in transport.

To go further ... The "SDGs exploration wheel", an animation to understand the interrelations between the SDGs.

They illustrate the interrelationships between the SDGs targeted for the 2018 High-Level Political Forum, namely the SDG6 (Ensure access to water and sanitation for all) - SDG7 (Affordable and clean energy) - SDG11 (Sustainable cities and communities) - SDG12 (Responsible consumption and production) - SDG15 (Life on land) which are predominantly environmental objectives, as well as SDG17 (global partnership), and the others.

The 2030 Agenda is universal

All 193 UN member states have negotiated these 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets, all have agreed to adopt them, and all have committed to doing everything possible to achieve them. As such, the 2030 Agenda is universal.

No country has reached all the targets, even if the paths to be taken differ from one country to another. As such, all countries are on the path to sustainable development.

Moreover, the success of the 2030 Agenda is not only the business or the responsibility of governments: just as the “civil society” actors participated in the negotiations of the SDGs in a participatory process that is unprecedented at the multilateral level, they also have their role to play: this is true of the private and financial sector, but also of trade unions, NGOs, local authorities or governments, etc.

Finally, all countries, from the North and the South, will have to ensure that the SDGs are integrated into their national policies and strategies and will be invited to report annually on their progress to the United Nations, during the High Level Political Forum (HLPF).