The document articulating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) contains thousands of words, over and above the 169 Targets. An alternative visual concept of sustainable development has been developed over recent years by a partnership of earth scientists and human development experts.

Scientists from the Stockholm Resilience Centre have examined the sustainability of the planet’s natural life support systems by assessing nine critical areas of anthropogenic impact. They conclude that four of these measures – climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land-system change, and altered biogeochemical cycles (phosphorus and nitrogen) – exceed their “planetary boundaries”, the point at which the biosphere is at risk of instability. To be sustainable, future human activities must address all of these excesses, not just climate change which currently attracts most public attention.

Led by a discussion paper published by Kate Raworth, then employed by Oxfam, development agencies have pointed out that tolerance thresholds also exist for individual families, whose social boundaries are measured in dignity rather than a test tube. To impose policies which remedy environmental damage caused by affluent lifestyles, without priority for eliminating poverty and hunger, would offend any sense of global justice.

Image: Kate Raworth & Christian Guthier/The Lancet Planetary Health

 

The conceptual gap between these planetary and social boundaries therefore delineates “a safe and just space for humanity,” a “doughnut” vision of sustainable development. The SDGs must steer all humanity into this safe space if they are to gain universal support. Data models used to analyse this visualisation confirm that the lifestyle changes required to achieve the objective are very demanding.

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more SDGs briefings (updated March 2018)
What is Sustainable Development?
Resistance to Sustainable Development
From MDGs to SDGs
GDP and Green Economics
Source material and useful links