Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015 a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) replaced the Millennium Development Goals. This followed a two year process of global consultations and intergovernmental negotiations. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development brings together the three aspects of sustainable development – the economic, environmental and social - and includes 17 Global Goals, 169 targets and 230 indicators that apply to all countries, with the aim of achieving them by the year 2030.

Girls working on laptop computer

Read the full set of goals and targets

SDGs vs MDGs – what's new?

There are significant differences between the MDGs and SDGs, including:

  • The SDG framework has brought all three aspects of sustainable development – the economic, social and environmental – in a much more integrated way than the MDGs ever did.
  • There were only eight MDG goals and while some have argued that this made them more achievable, others have argued that the process that resulted in the SDGs was a much more transparent and open process with a lot more consensus on the framework that was ultimately created.
  • The SDGs take a universal development approach and apply to all countries, rich and poor alike.
  • The world has changed significantly since the MDGs were created in 2000. Notions of developed and developing have changed. International development is less about the transfer of aid from rich to poor countries and more about progressive change for everyone, everywhere. Rising powers such as China, Brazil and India are becoming increasingly influential and have established a New Development Bank. Technology has advanced significantly and the world is a much more interconnected places with challenges and opportunities experienced globally as well as locally.

Leave no-one behind 

A central part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is the commitment to ensure that the benefits of achieving the goals are felt by everyone equally, including those hardest to reach, such as persons with disabilities, people living with HIV, older persons, indigenous peoples, refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants. 

Through the Participate Inititative IDS is delivering the Participatory Monitoring and Accountability programme, working with groups of people living in poverty and marginalisation to strengthen processes of citizen-led accountability. It builds on Participate’s global participatory research network, and its track record in demonstrating the value of participatory action research - in its many forms and approaches - as enabling people living in poverty and marginalisation to exercise accountability.

Voluntary National Reviews

As part of the ongoing monitoring of the progress of the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development (or SDGs), UN member countries are encouraged to conduct regular progress reports, called Voluntary National Reviews, reviewing the progress the country has made to date at a national and sub-national level. By September 2017, 113 voluntary reviews have been submitted so far. Countries yet to submit a report include the UK and the USA. 

Related resources

Building Sustainable Inclusion: From Intersecting Inequalities to Accountable Relationships

This project focuses on the need to consider and address intersecting inequalities – the spatial, economic and identity-based drivers of poverty and inequality - if the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are to be successful. More details

Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index - HANCI

HANCI measures and ranks governments’ political commitment to reduce hunger and undernutrition on an annual basis. More details

International Climate Fund: Enhancing Capacity to Deliver on Gender

A partnership between Coffey, IDS and RICARDO AEA has been formed to improve mainstreaming and targeting of women and girls in the International Climate Fund. More details

Participate: Participatory Monitoring and Accountability

The Participatory Monitoring and Accountability (PMA) programme marks a new phase of the Participate initiative. It aims to foster and support PMA learning processes that enable citizen participation for accountability to be embedded in development policy and practice. More details

Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability (STEPS) Centre

The STEPS Centre is an interdisciplinary global research and policy engagement hub, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. It aims to develop a new approach to understanding, action and communication on sustainability and development. More details

Water Justice Programme

The Water Justice Programme critically examines the politics and pathways of water and sanitation policy and practice through interdisciplinary research on access, rights and control over these key resources More details

View all Research Theme's publications

Use this search to display this theme's publications and filter by journal, author, country and much more.


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Automation, Women, and the Future of Work

Impact Initiative Rapid Response Briefing 1 (2017)

Will women benefit from the rapid automation and digitisation that is set to change the world of work as we know it? How can we ensure that women’s economic interests are brought into focus, and that debates on the future of work are not about the changing relationship between man and machine, but between people and machine? More details

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Northern Ghana Millennium Villages Impact Evaluation: Preliminary Report on the Fourth Round of Data

Report (2017)

The Millennium Villages Project (MVP) has been designed to demonstrate how an integrated approach to community-led development can translate the international Millennium Development Goals into results. The project in northern Ghana is one of several projects instigated over the past 10 years, which together are set to reach nearly half a million people across 10 countries in Africa. More details

Image of Participate Policy Brief Issue 04

Participatory Accountability for the SDGs: Beyond Social Accountability

People who are most marginalised need to participate in the monitoring and accountability of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) if the ‘leave no-one behind’ ambition is to be met. Participatory accountability is necessary for their realities to be understood and for their voices to be heard. More details

Image of cover of Participate Policy Brief Issue 03

Using Knowledge from the Margins to Meet the SDGs: The Real Data Revolution

Participate Policy Briefing 3 (2017)

As efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) gain momentum, we need to consider the inclusiveness of the data revolution. Knowledge from people living on the margins of society needs to be recognized, valued and embedded in the data to make visible the complex realities of their lives. More details

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How Do State–Business Relations Shape Sustainable Development?

IDS Policy Briefing 141 (2017)

The achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals will depend on the ways in which states and businesses engage with one another. While state–business interactions can take many forms, they inherently involve processes of negotiation through which actors in both camps pursue their own interests. More details

This is the cover to the book, 'Pathways to Sustainable Agriculture'

Pathways to Sustainable Agriculture

This free book highlights some of the major findings that have emerged over the last decade of the STEPS Centre’s research on sustainable agriculture. More details

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Reframing Gender Justice in an Unequal, Volatile World: IDS’ Directions for Future Research on Gender and Sexuality in Development

At a time of major changes in global politics and trends, and major shifts in international development following the establishment of the global Sustainable Development Goals in Agenda 2030, the Gender and Sexuality cluster at the Institute of Development Studies engaged in collaborative discussions and consultations over nine months with partner organisations, networks, external experts and policymakers. More details

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Reframing Gender Justice in an Unequal, Volatile World: IDS’ Directions for Future Research on Gender and Sexuality in Development

We here aim to outline priority directions for future research on gender and sexuality in development, which are needed to advance our understanding of gender and sexuality in an increasingly unequal, polarised and volatile world. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Introduction: security in the vernacular and peacebuilding at the margins; rethinking violence reduction

Journal of Peacebuilding, Special Issue: Security in the Vernacular 5.2 (2017)
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Equality, Security and Sustainability: In Search of Virtuous Circles

IDS Evidence Report 219 (2017)

Many people and institutions are conducting research on inequality, security, or environmental sustainability. Some are looking at two of these issues together. None, to our knowledge, are examining all three simultaneously, or looking in detail at the interactions between them. This matters. More details

IDS publications on international development research

El Acceso Universal a una Energía Asequible, Fiable, Sostenible y Moderna

El Objetivo de Desarrollo Sostenible (ODS) número 7 compromete a la comunidad internacional a garantizar 'el acceso a la energía asequible, fiable, sostenible y moderna para todos'. More details

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A Typology of Market-based Approaches to Include the Most Marginalised

Grey Literature (2017)

In recent years there has been a surge of interest in the role that markets and the private sector play in development, and interest to understand how development actors may most effectively support ‘inclusive economies’. What is missing, however, is a systematic analysis of what it takes for market-based approaches to include the most marginalised e.g. those with disability. More details

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Creating Safe and Inclusive Cities That Leave No One Behind

IDS Policy Briefing 128 (2016)

Half of humanity now lives in urban areas, and a growing number of cities are leading the way in generating global GDP. However, cities have increasingly become key loci of violence over the last 50 years, which particularly affects the most marginalised. More details

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State–Business Relations Beyond Growth: Bringing in Development

IDS Evidence Report 215 (2016)

The signatories of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have called on a wide range of businesses ‘to apply their creativity and innovation’ to address sustainable development challenges. Yet the role of business in contributing to development depends profoundly on its interaction with the state. This paper asks how states and businesses interact in different contexts to shape development outcomes. More details

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‘Leave No One Behind’: The Post-2015 Universality Agenda and Youth Employment

IDS Evidence Report 212 (2016)

This report aims to present a clear road map for implementing the new universal agenda of the UN in terms of youth employment. It examines what this might mean for the global youth employment agenda, specifically focusing on a cross-cultural comparison of what young people are actually doing in terms of work and employment. More details

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Violence and Violence Reduction Efforts in Kenya, Uganda, Ghana and Ivory Coast: Insights and Lessons towards Achieving SDG 16

IDS Evidence Report 210 (2016)

This report develops evidence-based insights into contextual dimensions of violence and practices on reducing violence, from multiple perspectives and at multiple levels of governance. More details

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Gender, Sexuality and the Sustainable Development Goals: A Meta-Analysis of Mechanisms of Exclusion and Avenues for Inclusive Development

IDS Evidence Report 206 (2016)

Through its work, the Institute of Development Studies Sexuality, Poverty and Law programme provides new evidence-based knowledge and policy options support efforts to strengthen the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. More details

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Integrating Sustainable Development: A Foresight Analysis of Interactions Among Competing Development Challenges

IDS Evidence Report 204 (2016)

This report documents explores the interactions among three key goals of international development policy and practice, namely reducing inequalities, accelerating sustainability and building secure and inclusive societies. More details

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Achieving Diverse Development Goals: How can Different Goals be Pursued Together?

IDS Policy Briefing 125 (2016)

In 2015, the international community adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to focus development policy globally. The Goals range across diverse fields of public policy from industry, finance and agriculture to education, sanitation, social protection and environmental stewardship. More details

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