From MDGs to SDGs


There is an international consensus that the 2030 Agenda represents a historic milestone. Following a lengthy negotiation process, all member states reached a consensus to adopt the Agenda and thereby to assume joint responsibility for achieving global sustainable development.

The 2030 Agenda unites two key strands of the international debate in recent years and decades – the poverty and development agenda of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the sustainability agenda, known as the Rio Process. This began with the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, at which the international community agreed on the goal of global sustainable development. The Rio+20 Conference in June 2012 then resolved to develop the SDGs as a contribution to the Post-2015 Agenda (the former name for the 2030 Agenda). The subsequent UN Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa in July 2015 paved the way for realising the jointly set goals. Go here for more information on the post-2015 process.

The 2030 Agenda goes far beyond the MDGs. It accomplishes the remaining tasks of the MDGs, compensates for their recognised weaknesses and builds on experience with their implementation. For the first time, it unites development issues with environmental questions. It is the outcome of a participatory and transparent process. It is universally applicable, i.e. it applies to industrialised nations and emerging economies as well as developing countries. It contains a review mechanism and defines its own means of implementation. (Fact sheet ‘New features of 2030 Agenda')

A United Nations working group has drawn up a set of 231 indicators for measuring the 17 goals and 169 targets of the 2030 Agenda at global level. These will be supplemented by indicators at national and regional level that are to be developed by the member states. You can find more information on these here and in the factsheet 'Global Indicator Framework'

Building on experience...

The deadline for achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expired in 2015. Their aim was to improve living conditions for people in developing countries, to reduce poverty and hunger, and to improve education and health. Even if not all goals have been achieved, the MDGs are rated internationally as a great success of globally concerted poverty reduction.

Considerable progress was made around the world with regard to many of the MDG targets, but this progress was irregular in individual regions and countries, especially in fragile contexts. Large gaps still remain. Millions of people were left behind, particularly those with low income and those who are disadvantaged due to their sex, age, disability, ethnic group or geographic location. ‘Despite enormous progress, even today, about 800 million people still live in extreme poverty and suffer from hunger. Over 160 million children under age five have inadequate height for their age due to insufficient food. Currently, 57 million children of primary school age are not in school. Almost half of global workers are still working in vulnerable conditions ... About 16,000 children die each day before celebrating their fifth birthday, mostly from preventable causes. With global action, these numbers can be turned around.’ These remarks are taken from the Millennium Development Goals Report 2015, which describes the achievement of all eight MDGs. See also the MDG progress charts with regard to goal achievement.

Unlike the SDGs, the MDGs focused on the social dimension of sustainability, even though MDG 1 (eradicate extreme poverty and hunger) addressed the economic dimension, and MDG 7 the environmental dimension of sustainability. The SDGs are much more ambitious. They bring together environmental, social and economic objectives under one roof. With their consistent demand to leave no one behind, the SDGs recognise the fact that the achievement of goals cannot be measured by national averages, but that special consideration must be given to disadvantaged people and groups.


With regards to some SDGs, for example SDGs 1, 2, 3 and 4, efforts that were made in line with the MDGs can be continued.

SDG 1, 2 and 3 (poverty, hunger, health): Even if the continuity between MDG and SDG is comparatively high here, the goals have been expanded significantly. For example, an important strategy for combating poverty, which is now explicitly anchored in the sub-goals of SDG 1 “no poverty”, is the development of social security systems to protect citizens against emergencies due to individual life risks such as illness, accidents, disability, old age, crop failure and death. The SDGs also emphasize the role of social security in reducing inequalities (SDG target 10.4) and establish a link to labor market policy (8.5 decent work).

SDG 2 “no hunger” has been adapted and, in addition to ending hunger and malnutrition, addresses all forms of malnutrition and thus also includes overeating.

Reducing child mortality (MDG 4), improving maternal health care (MDG 5) and combating HIV / AIDS, malaria and other infectious diseases are still central goals of the development agenda under SDG 3 “Health and Wellbeing”. A new aspect is the reduction of the mortality rate caused by non-communicable diseases, for which a separate sub-goal (3.4) was formulated for the first time. In addition to the treatment of these diseases, the prevention of risk factors also plays a central role. In order to enable a healthy life for everyone, universal health coverage (UHC) is aimed for.

SDG 4 (education) as well as 3, 5, 8, 12 and 13: In contrast to the MDGs, education is not just a goal, but also a means to achieving other SDGs and the entire global sustainability agenda. Education is therefore not limited to SDG 4, but is explicitly expressed in five sub-goals (3.7 Health and Well-being, 5.6 Gender Equality, 8.6 Decent Work and Economic Growth, 12.8 Sustainable Consumption and Production and 13.3 Climate Protection and Adaptation). While MDG 2 was initially focused on children and their access to primary education, the subsequent action program “Education for all” pursued a broader agenda aimed at satisfying the basic learning needs of children, adolescents and adults. The 2030 Agenda is a continuation of previous efforts but goes even further by obliging all countries to provide equal access to high-quality learning opportunities at all educational levels. It aims to ensure lifelong learning, including early childhood education, care and upbringing, primary, secondary and higher education as well as literacy training and the opportunity for young people and adults to earn basic qualifications. Another new aspect is the focus on the relevance of learning outcomes, with regards to both the world of work and civic participation in a global and closely connected world. The Education Agenda therefore includes the objectives of the previous Education for All (EFA) and MDG agendas, and expands them to include 'lifelong learning', 'inclusion and equal opportunities' and 'quality and learning outcomes at all levels of education' worldwide. The 2030 Education Agenda: Framework of action for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 4, which was created in a multi-year, participatory process by the international educational community (under the leadership of UNESCO), is the framework document for educational work with regard to the 2030 Agenda.

With the 2030 Agenda, a paradigm shift has taken place that takes a much more comprehensive view of education and emphasizes the importance of tertiary education for sustainable development. Universities serve to educate persons in positions of responsibility, specialists and scientists who are urgently needed to develop and implement solutions to local and global problems. A strong higher education system is thus of central importance for the achievement of all SDGs, especially in developing countries.

The expansion of scientific research is explicitly addressed in several goals of the 2030 Agenda: Food security and sustainable agriculture (MoI 2.a), health (MoI 3.b), sustainable energy (MoI 7.a), innovation and infrastructure (sub-goal 9.5), Climate protection (target 13.3) and protection of the seas (MoI 14.a). Capacity building within and through universities is central to achieving SDG 17. Global partnerships are intended to promote access to technology and science in emerging and developing countries and the exchange of knowledge. Such processes are unthinkable in these countries without a partner at eye level (17.6, 17.8, 17.9).

According to the Technology Facilitation Mechanism (TFM) agreed in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA), states are obligated to create suitable framework conditions for the promotion of science, innovation, technology and capacity building.

The Framework for Action Education 2030 (FfA) explains the targets for the educational goal and specifies implementation strategies.