Sustainable Development Goals

Sonia Nellie Samuel, Creative Director (2020/21)


7 min read

In September 2000, leaders of 189 countries gathered at the United Nations headquarters and signed the historic Millennium Declaration, in which they committed to achieve eight goals by 2015. Since then, remarkable progress has been made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). 

According to the UN MDG Report 2012, the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 has decreased from 47% in 1990 to 24% in 2008 (from 2 billion to 1.4 billion). Child mortality has been steadily decreasing globally, and immunisation rates are over 90% in almost two-thirds of all countries. Enrolment rates of primary schools increased from 58% to 76% in sub-Saharan Africa between 1999 and 2010, professional assistance during childbirth has improved from 55% in 1990 to 65% in 2010 and the aimed reduction of slum dwellers by 100 million is already achieved

However, progress across all MDGs has been limited and uneven across countries. An estimated 15.5% of the world population still suffers from hunger, and many countries, particularly on the African continent, are unlikely to meet the targeted two-thirds reduction in child mortality. The reduction in maternal mortality has been slow and mortality remains alarmingly high. In sub-Saharan regions and Southern Asia, where 80% of people in extreme poverty live.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon links the lack of progress to ‘unmet commitments, inadequate resources, lack of focus and accountability, and insufficient interest in sustainable development. For others, the MDGs cannot be fully met because of how the goals were designed.

Creation of Sustainable Development Goals

The Rio+20 conference (also known as the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development) in Rio de Janeiro, June 2012, galvanized a process to develop a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Sustainable Development Goals were launched and in September 2015 by all 193 UN member states. The SDGs, build on the success of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

While the SDGs are not legally binding, governments are expected to take ownership and establish national frameworks for the achievement of the 17 Goals. Countries have the primary responsibility for follow-up and review of the progress made in implementing the Goals, which will require quality, accessible and timely data collection. 

Human rights and Sustainable Development Goals

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development marks a paradigm shift towards a more balanced model for sustainable development aiming to secure freedom from fear and freedom from want for all, without discrimination. Strongly grounded in international human rights standards, the new Agenda strives to leave no one behind and puts the imperative of equality and non-discrimination at its heart. Despite some gaps from a human rights perspective, the new Agenda goes far beyond the MDGs in encompassing issues related not only economic, social and cultural rights but also civil and political rights and the right to development. With its universal applicability and its importance in shaping development priorities, the 2030 Agenda will open up new avenues to integrate human rights into global and national policies in both developed and developing countries. 

With human rights at the core of the 2030 Agenda, more than 90% of the targets directly reflect elements of international human rights and labour standards.

Can Sustainable Development Goals be Achieved by 2030?

In this day and age, development is moving rapidly, thanks to advancements in technology. The only problem is, not everyone considers the downsides that come along with unbalanced economic growth including impacts on people’s well-being and environment. Sustainable development involves satisfying the needs of the present population without endangering the capability of the future population to satisfy its own needs. This means we want companies to expand, people to have the best jobs, everyone to afford nutritious foods wherever they live, quality and affordable education for everyone, freedom of speech without violence, and our economies to grow exponentially. We want to develop innovative technologies while keeping the environment safe. However, many are questioning whether such lofty ambitions can realistically be met.

There are 3 components of sustainable development, economic growth, enviromental stewardship and social inclusion. Countries are recognizing the importance of conserving natural resources, farmers are practicing climate-smart agriculture and industries are realizing as to how much they can save through energy efficiency.

The beauty of sustainable agriculture is that it intersects with multiple SGDs goals. For example, it can contribute to ending poverty (SDG1), ending hunger (SDG2) ensuring availability and sustainable management of water (SDG6), promoting inclusive and sustainable growth (SDG8), taking action to combat climate change (SDG13), and many others. Climate-smart agriculture that gives attention to climate change adaptation and reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint. If we enable rural farmers to innovate and use climate-smart practices, it’s not only hunger and poverty that will decline. Economic growth increases. Jobs are created. And climate change’s grip on our food supply will loosen. Investment in sustainable agriculture can reach all SDGs. There are also SDGs for reducing inequality within and among countries (SDG10) and achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls (SDG5). For climate-smart agriculture to also contribute here, it must give attention to power, gender and social inclusion.

But much more needs to be done. We need to tackle the hardest‑to‑reach sectors, from oil and gas to steel, cement and aluminium; we need to find and scale alternatives. We must ensure that the rapid technology revolution and evolution to 5G utilizes recycled wastewater and renewables to cool and power its data centres. We also must entirely transform our transport and energy infrastructures. The ambitious scope of the SDGs will require financing on an unprecedented scale. Private investment is essential to deliver long-term sustainable development. To make sustainable development the norm, we have to change the vision of the cultures of each country. To change the vision of the culture two things have to occur :

  1. The culture must value a global benefit more than a local one

  2. A responsibility towards providing and sustaining resources for the future must be of more value than profit in the present must be developed.

Both of these are very hard to do because it requires an element of self-sacrifice to be adopted by the present society. The general self-focus of each generation is understandable, but as history has shown in other areas, it can be expanded to include a sense of responsibility towards futures unknown that will allow for different choices to be made in the present.

Few years into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we are not where we need to be and we are faced with the existential threat of climate change. At the current rate, it will be impossible to achieve the SDGs by 2030. This is bad for people, bad for society, bad for the environment and bad for business.

Malaysia - Sustainable Development Goals

Malaysia recognises that a comprehensive implementation of SDGs will require the mobilisation of resources, including manpower, capacity building, and physical spaces as well as funding. Since Malaysia’s national development plan has been geared towards economic, social and environmental agenda, the implementation of SDGs in Malaysia are aligned with the five-year national development plan, which utilises the government development budget.

The alignment of SDG and national development is realised through a mapping exercise. This exercise begins with the Eleventh Malaysia Plan (11MP), 2016-2020, then continue with the Mid-Term Review (MTR) of 11MP, 2018-2020, and subsequently with the Twelfth Malaysia Plan (12MP), 2021-2025 and the Thirteenth Malaysia Plan (13MP), 2026-2030.

Shared Prosperity Vision (SPV) 2030 as announced in 2019. The 12MP, covering three development dimensions 

  • Economic Empowerment

  • Environmental Sustainability

  • Social Reengineering

Malaysia’s Voluntary National Review 2017

Malaysia presented Voluntary National Review 2017 at the High-level Political Forum. The report presenting the achievements of Malaysia on SDGs. 

  • SDG 1 & 2: Absolute poverty reduced from 49.3% (1970) to 0.6% (2014) with no reported cases of hunger.

  • SDG 3: Child and maternal mortality rates are almost at the level of developed countries; eradicated endemic small pox and polio and reversed the spread of HIV/AIDS. Drastic reductions in water-borne diseases, deaths from treatable childhood diseases and malaria.

  • SDG 4 & 5: More than 90% enrolment rates for primary and secondary school levels for both boys and girls and 33% for higher education with gender ratio slightly in favour of girls.

  • SDG 6: Over 95% coverage for water and sanitation, and electricity supply at national level.

  • SDG 7, 12 & 16: Laws, regulations, policies and plans in place to better protect and ensure sustainable use of natural assets.

  • SDG 8: Full employment since 1992, at the work place, various laws has been amended to improve work conditions, anti-discrimination and various aspects of industrial relations.

  • SDG 10: Income inequalities reduced, as indicated by lower Gini Coefficient from 0.513 (1970) to 0.401 (2014). Policies were formulated, which include improve labour migration management including a commitment to phase out outsourcing agencies, clearer statutory responsibility of employers, a minimum wage law that covers migrant workers and bilateral MOUs with countries of origin to limit the fees charged to workers.

  • SDG 13, 14, 15, &17: As of 2015, Malaysia maintained more than 50% forest cover, 10.76% as terrestrial protected areas and 1.06% as marine protected areas. Carbon intensity reduced by 33% since 2009 and renewable energy capacity increased.


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