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Stephanie Sezen:

In From Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals, Sachs moves away from conventional focuses for economic development, and introduces concerns for sustainable development that is environmentally conscious and socially inclusive. Personally, I believe that social inclusion is contingent upon economic development and environmental sustainability, and therefore must be central to humankind’s effort to combat global poverty. While countries have dedicated themselves to improve quality of life in their countries and expand their riches, they have neglected to foster economic development in low-income areas. Cities, for example, despite functioning as technological reservoirs for innovation and home to entrepreneurial spirits, are also incubators of inequality. Market restrictions and poor infrastructure have made systemic poverty impossible to escape. Cities' exclusiveness have forced poor individuals to the periphery, pressing their hands against an invisible wall that separates themselves from a thriving interior. Moreover, where poverty lies is oftentimes where human-induced climate change has done its worst damage. Low-income areas not only not have the infrastructure necessary to protect themselves from climate change, but are oftentimes concentrated near coasts where rising sea levels may threaten their livelihoods. In the examples that I have mentioned, negligence of disadvantaged communities has permitted the oppression of the poor in highly economically developed cities and potential extinction of poor communities fighting against climate change. Hence, in order to truly ensure sustainable development we must ensure that this development is inclusive and accessible.

Frances McIntosh

In this article, Sachs discusses the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of 2000-2015 and the newer Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I really enjoyed how in depth Sachs discusses both the successes and failures of the MDGs and how those should carry into the SDGs. He does a good job of making the reader feel the gravity of the current trajectory of global environment and poverty issues. For both MDGs and SDGs, broad goals are stated in a way that is easily understood; however I wish there was a little more detail in how countries/companies worked towards MDGs and should work towards SDGs. Sachs states that great strides were made towards achieving the eight MDG goals, but how? I think a pitfall in the article is the lack of specificity. The article argues that global participation and commitment to SDGs from all countries rich and poor are necessary to eliminate poverty and better the environment, but what does participation look like? What does commitment entail? Sachs says the 3 pillars of SDGs are contingent on a yet a 4th - good governance. What does "good governance" look like, so that we can achieve the 3 pillars of economic development, environmental sustainability, and social inclusion.

Mercer Peek

Sach notes that the success of “the three bottom lines will depend on a fourth condition: good governance at all levels, local, national, regional, and global.” This is a pretty broad underlying condition. Most of the world does not have good governance and the minority of countries that does tends to be the best developed and wealthiest. Germany, the Nordic countries, Canada and Japan come immediately to mind. They are in a position to help, but are ultimately not the countries that need the most help. The governments of Central and South America are inefficient at best and wildly corrupt at worst. We have the oppressive regimes of North Korea, Russia, China and much of the Middle East. Some argue that the results of the November presidential election could mark the end of American democracy; even if that fear is a little extreme, there is no doubt that cooperating with the UN to help promote sustainable development is not one of the Trump administration’s priorities. All in all, I think Sach is a little cavalier in saying “And of course we need good governance for this to happen.” He’s right, but he downplays the magnitude of this challenge.

Didi Pace

Sach's argument on the private sector aligned with an article I read in Sustainability Accounting, Morality, Money, and Motor Cars (Bowie 1990). Bowie argues that businesses do not have the obligation to protect the environment over and above what is required by law. Instead, Bowie says business will respond to the market, so it is the consuming public that has the obligation to make the trade-off between cost and environmental integrity. In contrast, Sachs claims that the private sector is crucial to the success of the SDGs because of 1- its far reach and 2- its access to technology/management systems. Since the private sector has the tools, the knowledge, and the ability, are they or are they not morally obligated to act through their policies, production processes, and stakeholder engagement? In my opinion, businesses should act above what is required by law. Some companies, like Walmart, have more power than most countries. For our sustainability goals to be reached, companies need to do more than the minimum required by current legislation.

Additionally, Sachs clearly states that the private sector should avoid political activities that might endanger the SDGs. Bowie agrees with this stance, arguing that businesses have a moral obligation to avoid intervening in the political arena. Traditionally, the government corrects for market failures. Businesses claim to support this, but they simultaneously use their influence/wealth to defeat or weaken environmental regulation. Big oil companies like Exxon, BP, etc. as well as electric companies like General Electric are known to be influential on government policy. How can businesses truly respond to the market when they have significant hold on the government? For the SDGs to be successful, the private sector needs to exit the political sphere.

Olivia Indelicato

Like Mercer and Frances, I am also a bit troubled by Sach’s assertion of the need for “good governance at all levels, national, regional, and global.” More specifically, Sach mentions countries such as China as a middle income emerging economy that would, at the time this commentary was written in 2012, be a crucial leader in fulfilling the SDGs. While I agree that good governance at all levels is necessary in order to make progress on the SDGs, I worry about the growing tensions between countries such as the United States and China that have been exacerbated over the past couple of years. It would be interesting to know what level of cooperation has gone on, not only between the US and China, but between all governments across the globe especially given today’s political climate, 8 years after Sach wrote this initial piece. I wonder if he remains confident and optimistic of these goals and the ability and willingness of the world’s governments to cooperate and work together to complete the goals laid out in the SDGs. Sach also mentions the lack of timely and accurate data reporting as one of the shortcomings of the original MDGs. I would be curious to know what progress has been made toward collecting and publishing this type of data, as it is necessary so that high and middle-income countries are able to assess the progress being made toward achieving the SDGs and act accordingly. If this data reporting is still lagging, I wonder what steps could be taken by global leaders in order to assure the collection of timely and accurate data.

Christina Cavallo

In the reading, Sachs clearly points out the strengths of the MDGs that the SDGs will incorporate as well as the weaknesses of the MDGs that the SDGs will learn from. Rather than starting completely over with new goals and new tactics, building from the past is a more effective way of moving forward. I think the fact that we are truly learning from the past and building upon it with the SDGs is a huge step forward in and of itself. The MDGs are easy to state and explain, they are moral and not legal commitments, and they incorporate practical measures that can be adopted. On the other hand, however, they have no intermediate milestones, they need more accurate lifeblood data, they need the private sector to be more engaged, and they need societies to invest in their success. I thought that the incorporation of intermediate milestones was an interesting addition to the SDGs because although that the MDGS have goals and aspirations the they want to reach, it would be more effective and easier to stick to them if there were steps in between the start and the finish line. When talking about goal setting in general, it is important to not just state a goal, but to discuss and think of ways in which you will reach your goal. It is difficult to reach your end goal without reaching smaller ones along the way. It is also clear that the SDGs need a global approach if they are going to solve the problems that they want to address. In regard to Sachs’ discussion about voluntary financing mechanisms, I am slightly confused about the ways in which the SDGs will combat this. Sachs says that the MDGs relied on voluntary financing mechanisms such as foreign aid outlays voted by each parliament. Through this, however, only some countries held true to their promises to give .7% of their GDP. Sachs states that the “SDGs should be more focused and realistic with regard to financing than were the MDGS.” Rather than relying on “aid voluntarism” where countries choose their individual aid promises, the proposal is for countries to agree in standards of financing such as quotas and assessments related to national incomes. I don’t completely understand how going from countries choosing their own aid promises to agreeing in standards of financing will eliminate the problem of countries not meeting their set finance aid. Since the MDGs and SDGs are not legally bounded, can this be ensured that countries will abide by the agreement? Sachs states that legally binding commitments are “regarded as the gold standard of international diplomacy, but the number of years that are often invested in reaching legally binding treaties on sustainable development are unlikely to counterbalance the heavy transaction costs and delays” and that “they are often ignored in practice because of the absence of effective enforcement mechanisms”. If there is no legal bind, how can the SDGs avoid countries not staying true to their stated aid. Even if the amount of aid is not set by aid voluntarism but rather by quotas, can’t countries still not hold true to these numbers?


In the Corporate Social Responsibility course (BUS 180) I took a few years ago with Dean Straughn and Dean Oliver, we discussed the SDGs extensively. I recognize that this article was written prior to the adoption of the goals by the members of the UN in 2015, which makes Sachs’s perspective even more interesting. What struck me the most interesting were the learning moments that he wanted the UN to take away from the shortcomings of the MDGs. The most ironic point was the emphasis on short, memorable goals. If memory serves, there are now 17 SDGs all with concise names and identifiable, simple graphics, but still a less accessible number. However, I do think the quantity assists with the need for more clear targets and indicators. His point stands however, since I cannot successfully name more than a handful of the specific goals.
The goals both generally proposed by Sachs and presently in effect are undeniably intertwined. Quality education can not be obtained by all until poverty and gender equality are also addressed. My concern is his lack of prioritization when it comes to the new sustainable development goals. Of course, a developing country should be attempting to address all environmental, economic, and social issues while also being self-reflective, but limited resources in these countries make it nearly impossible to distribute finances in such a way. The question arises then of what issues are greater than others, and who should benefit first. Do we improve the education system and then worry about getting girls into schools? Perhaps, we should get all children into mediocre schooling, but sacrifice a generation’s productive capability? The answers to such questions may lie in other research, but Sachs merely states the potential goals without the focus of logistics. The paper does address the major concern of where financing will come from. While a positive of the MDGs is that they were adopted quickly and easily since they were not specific binding, Sachs admits that “free riding on financial assistance is the norm, not the exception.” The nonbinding and relatively undemanding nature of both sets of goals hinders progress by potentially asking to little of the member states who adopt them. Perhaps financial contributions of countries relative to their GDPs must be mandatory. A fund such as this can also be useful to bypass some of the private institutions that refuse to incorporate sustainability into their bottom lines. While Sachs’s ideas were clearly shared in many ways with the final iteration of SDGs, he merely addresses shortcomings without offering clear solutions in anything more than abstract behaviors.


From Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals by Jeffery Sachs details the breadth of the MDGs, establishes its points of weakness, the effects of its shortfalls, and introduces why the SDGs are a better alternative for global progress that will last.

Upon reading, the most interesting aspect of the article was its strong emphasis on preventing and directly addressing the environmental factors that contribute to heightening the severity of poverty. The “triple bottom line” is a term often used in Environmental Studies as it highlights that all efforts toward a sustainable environment involve and depend on economic and social frameworks to collaborate alongside them as well. Again, it is those three sectors working simultaneously in order to accomplish SDGs effectively. Sachs calls on the implementation of the triple bottom line into development strategies with utmost urgency. Even with impending doom and irreparable damage on the horizon the attitudes toward addressing environmental sustainability is not happening at the most ideal speed. Additionally, while I am familiar with the devastating effects of climate change for our Earth, I was surprised to read, along similar lines that, social outcomes could also be deeply destabilizing. For example, as sharp increases in food prices threaten to push hundreds of millions of people into chronic hunger.

Paired with our reading of The Economic Lives of the Poor, it is now easier to see how those in both poverty and extreme poverty are the first and hardest hit as time progresses and issues continue to compound.

Gus Wise

I agree that the SDGs are a positive continuation of the established MDGs as they provide more depth into how to achieve the basic global goals expressed in the MDGs. It is easy to say, “we want to end extreme poverty in the world” or “we are going to push for universal primary education”, but it is harder to implement and carry out real strategies to do this with full cooperation from all parties involved. The goals of the MDGs are broad, and the SDGs provide more concrete goals to achieve the same ideas as the MDGs. SDG 1 sets a numeric goal to help set up basic necessities for all people in the world. SDGs 2,3,4 call for action from governments to ensure basic human rights and development. I also liked how Sachs called for more participation from the private sector. In our global economy, companies and businesses have influence and power, so it is important that they do their part in pushing development as well. Sachs’ SDGs are a step in the right direction; however, they aren’t perfect either. As noted in the article, there is not a great way to enforce rules in this mission. To get countries and corporations across the world to commit to development, they have to be held accountable.

I was troubled by Sachs’ comments about the people living in the lowest income-countries (p. 2208). He says that over half of the people with a low income are in middle-income countries that have the ability to develop on their own. But the other number of low-income people live in countries where, “small financial and technological transfers from high-income and middle-income countries can alleviate their plight.” While he notes that this is small population, it seems like these people are being neglected or left out still. If the idea is to eliminate all extreme world poverty, shouldn’t these people be kept in mind too?

Savannah Corey

In his article, Sachs reveals that "the major goals of poverty reduction, biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation, and primary health for all would need perhaps 2-3% of global income. That small amount, if properly invested, would be transformative." This quantitative evidence resonates with me because it illustrates the tremendous improvement that could result from a collaborative international effort to enhance the quality of human life. Moreover, I appreciate how detailed Sachs is in outlining the pathways towards sustainable development, in terms of global participation. However, I wonder if he is too optimistic in thinking that "governments, international institutions, private business, academia, and civil society" will share the same goals without asserting any self-interest. While I admire Sachs' comprehensive analysis of how to eradicate extreme poverty through the triple bottom line approach coupled with good governance, I wish he provided more concrete milestones and perhaps a more realistic perspective on the diplomatic end. In a sense, I wish he elaborated on how foreign governments would cooperate not only with each other but with the private sector with regards to resource allocation and funding projects towards technological advancements. Furthermore, I completely agree that it is integral to consider the adoption of new metrics to determine the well being of citizens, due to the one-dimensionality of traditional measurements of economic performance in order to increase social inclusion in developing nations. Therefore, it is crucial that shared goals and incremental milestones are established among participating institutions to ensure efficiency and feasibility of the Millennium Development Goals.

Danny Lynch

Danny Lynch
Sachs (2012)

I found the author’s explanations of and justifications for his proposed SDGs to be very strong, although I think the article would have benefited from more suggestions as to how countries would pursue and attain them. For example, he emphasizes the necessity of active participation from the private sector to reach sustainability goals. While this may be true, it will require the development of strong economic institutions that can either regulate or offer some sort of incentive structure to convince profit maximizing companies to participate. While Sachs does caution against engagement with certain large companies involved with lobbying and also offers up certain strategies such as carbon taxation, more explanation regarding how the private sector would fit into the plan of SDG attainment would have been helpful. Similarly, though I found his emphasis on education very convincing, I would have liked it if he had provided specific ideas or examples of the targeted programs that he mentioned. Another comment I have is that I thought the section regarding lessons learned from MDGs was particularly powerful. It is comforting to know that someone who helped develop the MDGs can admit its shortcomings and learn from them instead of blindly pursuing new goals.

Sydney Goldstein

Something that this paper by Sachs touched upon was the concept of responsibility. Sachs describes how MDGs were made as “targets for poor countries, to which rich countries were to add their solidarity and assistance through finances and technology.” Although not directly said, Sachs implies this was a shortcoming of the MDGs by stating that it is necessary that the SDGs “have a different feel about them.” The SDGs are meant to pose goals and challenges for all countries for global wellbeing and betterment. Even though this framing of the challenges and goals for development maybe be favorable to those outlined by the MDGs, I still believe there are shortcomings due to a lack of responsibility. For example, even though it would be better for everyone to limit pollution say Country A decides not to follow the guidelines or agree to to the SDGs in the first place. It appears that there is no true mechanism to hold Country A accountable. Additionally, the atmosphere is a prime example of a public good and thus is subject to the tragedy of the commons. Without a mechanism for countries (and firms operating within countries) to be held accountable for pollution there is not much basis for countries to stop polluting except for on a moral basis and the concept of social responsibility which may not be enough when firms or countries are driven by their own personal interests rather than the greater good.

On another note something that this paper lead me to think about is the fact that establishing clean energy in countries with low levels of development may actually be easier than establishing clean energy in countries with high level of development that are already based on non-renewable energy such as coal. This is for two reasons: 1. People tend to stick to old, reliable ways of doing things such as the rural farmers who wouldn’t grow a new crop even though the plant scientists knew it would be better. This means that it is likely that in countries where people are already dependent on coal, moving them away from coal may be more difficult than in countries or regions where there isn’t that kind of energy infrastructure to begin with. Where there aren’t large coal companies and large businesses running off of coal. 2. In developed countries where infrastructure and mechanisms for coal mining already exist there is often the argument that implementing clean energy is too costly upfront (while long term there is actually data that suggests clean energy is cheaper both directly in monetary expenditure and in term of societal wellbeing through better environment, health, etc. the upfront costs seem to be a consistent argument). Because in less developed countries infrastructure may not exist to start with, there will be upfront costs regardless to build any kind of energy infrastructure so it might as well be clean energy infrastructure due to the environmental benefit.

Adelaide Burton

In a couple of my environmental studies classes, we have looked extensively at the SDGs, so hearing a perspective from 2012 was interesting to see how far we have come. My first impression of the SDGs was that they seemed lofty and unattainable, but Sachs seems optimistic, and there is an implication of unity between nations and a general sense of urgency for environmental, economic, and social issues. I’m not sure that same optimism has translated 8 years later, and I don’t feel like we are on track to achieve what Sachs declared would be attainable in 2030: that “all extreme deprivation—hunger, extreme income poverty, and avoidable disease and deaths—can be eliminated.” What’s difficult to think about is that these goals require extensive resources, time, money, and planning to work, and the idea of the triple bottom line emphasises that countries can’t pick and choose which goals to go for, because they are all dependent on each other. There won’t be good health and well being without also accomplishing clean water and sanitation and climate action. There won’t be zero hunger without economic growth and reduced inequalities. The goals can be connected in a number of different ways, but it’s undoubtedly all co-dependent. I’d love to look into the accomplishments of different countries towards accomplishing the SDGs since they were adopted about five years ago, and hopefully as Sachs suggested, there is continuing timely and accurate data from many countries that proves commitment to these goals.

Austin Lee

I have to agree with with some of what Mercer said. I believe it is a big generalization when Sach’s says “And of course we need good governance for this to happen”. Something I learned in Professor Strong’s Global Politics class is that not all countries, societies can be successful based off of a singular governmental structure. There are many factors that play into what a country needs in order to prosper. This is no difference for the SDG or the prior MDG. Although the MDG mainly focused for poor countries, a singular plan bundling all the targeted poor countries will yield failed results. There are so many different factors that should be acknowledged such as cultural and environmental differences that need to be specialized when making a plan for each individual country. Although a guideline is great for starting the process of helping these countries, I believe taking some of the initial goals of the MDG should be instituted in the SDG. For example, having a “rich country” help a “poor country” may be effective. Having assistance and guidance, and also the attention of the rich country on a singular or a few poor countries may be beneficial to the growth of the poorer countries. I also believe the specialization for poorer countries is important to understand what is sustainable. For example, something Sach's mentions is the increasingly acidic ocean. Smaller villages off the coast of the Phillippines are heavily reliant on the ocean in order to free dive. They make most of their living off of selling what they catch in the fish markets. However, with the acidity levels rising in the ocean, the coral reefs are being affected along with the fish populations in the area. This is something that may not be touched on or noticed if a bunch of these poorer countries are generalized when making a sustainable plan.

Jack Parham

In the paper Sachs does an excellent job of explaining and rationalizing why the SDGs ought to be put in place. I think you would be hard pressed to find someone that wouldn't want to live in a world where the goals of the SDGs have been achieved. The world with completed SDGs would hands down be a better place. However, in reading the paper I found myself constantly wondering "how?". Not only do the SDG's seem a bit unattainable, as other's have mentioned, but Sachs fails to demonstrate exactly how a diverse global population such as ours would even begin to work together. One of the clearest examples of Sachs glossing over the fundamental and procedural issues of the SDGs is when he mentions that "politics, planning, and complex decision making by many stakeholders will be unavoidable." This is quite an understatement. I think a global pandemic is perfect evidence of the current lack of global participation, cooperation, and dedication to a single cause that would be necessary in order to truly attain these lofty goals. While Sachs does mention that certain years and checkpoints ought to be put in place, he does not mention when or how. Without incentives, motivation to achieve a goal is unlikely. You see this lack of motivation from private companies constantly in terms of climate change. It is rare to see a company make a climate sustainable change to their operation especially if that change is going to cost a lot of money. Often, policies such as emissions taxes are what ultimately force the hand of the private company into making sustainable choices. While Sachs does make a good point about the long and difficult process of forming a legally binding contract I still think that without a legal incentive you will be waiting a long time before any action truly takes place.

John Lavette

I found the reading assignment on the transition from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals very compelling. I believe a focus on sustainable development is incredibly important for the future of the global community. Not only because climate change and the exhaustion of the world’s resources are of universal concern but also due to the connection between environmental degradation and poverty. The effects of climate change, such as extreme weather, water stress, and rising temperatures, most greatly impact poorer countries despite wealthier, more industrialized nations leading the world in carbon emission. More developed nations will undoubtedly need to lead the charge in switching to more sustainable economic practices. However, this could pose a problem in the fact that, as the paper stated, enforcing global agreements is impossible without an international governing body which wields significant power. The immediacy of sustainable growth problems only adds to the importance of Sachs’ other two proposed categories, economic development and social inclusion. While many of Sachs’ recommendations are optimistic in their ideals for global cooperation as well as the participation of the private sector, he lacks defined strategies for incentivizing involvement for the achievement of the goals proposed by the SDGs. I feel that the majority of people would agree that the SDGs are a step in the right direction, but I am interested in discussing possible concrete policies which could be successfully implemented. Are these lofty goals only possible through substantial government intervention and leadership, or can they be achieved on a more local basis through individual action and participation? I realize the answer is probably some of both; however, the actual implementation of methods for achieving the SDGs will require significant commitment to a cause outside of typical geopolitical action.

Mason Shuffler

I found this article quite interesting as I personally did not know much about MDGs and SDGs. One thing that really stood out to me is how much progress has been made in the last several decades in terms of poverty reduction. The article cites that the poverty rate in many developing countries has been cut in half from 1990-2010. Especially with continued globalization, it really strikes me how much progress can be made when governments align their priorities with one another and come together to meet their goals. I can't imagine how much further progress will be made on MDGs and SDGs if the private sector were to also play a larger role in meeting such goals. I think one of the most important idea that the article mentions is that it is essential for high income countries to spread their advances in technology, healthcare, etc. to the lower income countries. If this does not take place, then there will be very little development in areas that need it the most and the economic disparity between low and high income countries will continue to increase. What is so interesting about the modern era is that the world is so interconnected due to social media and other developments in technology. This makes the possibility for collaboration significantly easier than it was in the past, and it has the potential to propel the world into a better off and more developed state.

Eric Schleicher

Throughout reading Sach's article about the Sustainable Development Goals, I largely felt optimistic about the world's potential to address the wide range of causes that are largely responsible for the persistence of global poverty and lack of wellbeing. Sach himself demonstrates that he believes all the goals are achievable in full by their timeframe of 2030. Though, that optimism is also paired with a pressing need to address rapidly changing ecosystems and political/societal circumstances. To begin with, I think it is apparent that the greater amount of time we take as a global society to adequately combat climate change, the less opportunity we will have to take preventative measures instead of measures in response. Those in poverty will be more disproportionately affected by these climate change events and trends. Thankfully, some nations are at the forefront of educating their citizens about climate change and taking action, though environmental conservation of course is greatly affected by the present global political sphere. This article was published in 2012, and in subsequent years we have witnessed a shift in perspectives about climate change and proper necessary action amongst some nations, with a few notable ones trending toward less environmental protection being the American and Brazilian governments. An analysis of the current path toward combatting climate change must be looked at in reality, which in some cases has a few current roadblocks that must be considered. Therefore, I think it is even more important than ever when thinking about achieving these sustainable development goals to take into account the agency and influence of each individual on this planet. In this article and in general rhetoric about these subjects, I feel like a lot of focus is put on governments and the private sector, which is of course necessary as they have enormous influence and the power to reallocate resources. Though, I think that not enough attention is paid to the pathways by which individuals can address not only environmental concerns, but also the topics of social inclusion and economic development that were mentioned in the sustainable development goals. For the environmental aspect, I think it is so vital to remind and educate people about the processes that go into producing the food, energy, and material goods they consume. People can also, especially in today's world, continue to pursue empathy and political understanding instead of divisiveness and competition. This will hopefully help lead to common goals that benefit more of the world. In addition, I think there is great room for more empathy and kindness in the world, which can help to address the issues of social inclusion that are currently present across the world. Lastly, I think for economic development, I don't think I fully understand why there is such intense wealth inequality across the world, but even within countries such as the United States. Not to cast judgement or dispersions, but I wonder if each person in this country who has bought more than three Ferraris were to have not bought that last Ferrari and potentially donated or used that money for the benefit of others (imagine not just specifically nice cars but expanded further), what sort of progress that could make toward improving the levels of poverty and inequality that are currently present throughout the world. Just some thoughts. Of course many of these points I make apply to people who have the means to do so and who are not themselves embedded within the world of poverty that needs to be addressed throughout the world. But these people are the ones who likely have the most means to combat some of the systemic issues related to poverty that we currently see.

Sarah Hollen

While reading this article I was reminded of many of the things I read and discussed during my spring term class, Global Urban Sociology. We live in a rapidly urbanizing world, which not only necessitates tremendous efforts to make urban living sustainable, but also presents countless challenges to global sustainable development. As Sachs points out briefly in this article, urbanization poses challenges to sustainable development, particularly as it contributes to ‘human-induced global environmental change’ through pollution and other hazards (2209). Furthermore, in highlighting the need for ‘new critical pathways to sustainability,’ Sachs suggests a focus on low-carbon energy systems, which would call for, among other things, new strategies for ‘urban design’ (2211).

In my opinion, Sachs’ article does not focus enough on the role urbanization plays in sustainable development and humanity’s challenge of setting and hopefully meeting meaningful SDGs.
Because of the inevitability of urbanization and the many valid advantages of urban life (relative to rural life, such advantages include things like better education and access to healthcare), I believe that sustainable urban development ought to be at the forefront of discussions of global sustainability. Urban centers are typically centers of innovation filled with young people, and though they may face difficulties and cause environmental challenges related to energy use, pollution, crowding, and poor sanitation, cities have the potential (and the responsibility) to lead the efforts for sustainable development and change worldwide. As commercial centers filled with young, ambitious workers, cities present tremendous economic opportunities for growth and ingenuity. As places influenced greatly by new technology and ideas and motivated by people’s searches for better lives, cities are ripe with opportunities for green infrastructure and creative solutions. As areas that are increasingly diverse and well connected, cities have the potential to grant people of all walks of life community, representation, and a voice. Overall, urban life provides tremendous opportunities for the successful realization of the three pillars of Sachs’ proposed SDGs—economic development, environmental sustainability, and social inclusion.

Ben Graham

From someone who has little familiarity with the field of development economics, I found this article on Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals to be very thought-provoking and informative. While MDGs did many things right (they were simple and easy to state, a set of moral commitments rather than a legal document, and able to be pursued in practical and specific measures), they also had their shortcomings (no milestones, outdated data, and lack of private sector investment and worldwide commitment). By drawing on what the MDGs did right and what they did wrong, the SDGs can effectively address poverty and environmental decay. With a focus on economic development, environmental sustainability, social inclusion, and good governance on all levels, the SDGs will facilitate much needed change in the world. I found the emphasis on environmental sustainability to be particularly important, given the dangerous emission of greenhouse gases, widespread pollution, and destruction of ecosystems. All of these are urgent problems that require the utmost attention. One part of the article that surprised me was that over half of the 1 Billion people with a low income live in middle-income countries. I expected those living in poverty to be highly concentrated in low-income countries.

carrie morrison

Overall, I found this article very insightful and informative on MDGs and SDGs. Sachs argument for SDGs is very persuasive and optimistic for a future where the world is practicing more sustainable practices and basic human needs are being met. I found Sachs emphasis on the environment as well as improving the lives of poor and middle income countries important. Especially because the environment can be an influencing factor on poverty and human health. If people are living in an area that is unable to support farming they are reliant on buying their food. Moreover, increasing emissions also impacts people's health. When a pregnant mother is living in an area with high emissions it will affect the child's development as it ages, furthering the cycle of poverty. Furthermore, Sachs stated that due to the continued destruction of natural habitats grain production is decreasing leading to higher food prices. The increase in prices pushes those living around the poverty line into chronic hunger. Therefore, focusing on sustainable measures will help improve the conditions for those in poverty.
Despite the good ideas in his plan, Sachs' article seems to lack enough depth to make it seem feasible. He argues that there needs to be government change and that all the countries need to work together. However, he does not go into how to get the countries to agree or even be able to enforce government and social change in these various countries. It makes me wonder how the SDGs goals will be met once it is put into place.


In this article, Sachs introduces the idea of a set of sustainable development goals, discusses the urgency for both developed and developing countries to collectively work towards these goals, and analyzes the realistic strengths and weaknesses of the SDGs. Although I was not aware of the MDGs or SDGs before reading Sach’s article, I found the content and the general idea of a shared blueprint for sustainable development for the entire world to be provocative. The SDGs benefit from having the MDGs come before them in that the effectiveness of and global response to the MDGs can be analyzed and used to increase the SDGs ability to promote economic development, environmental sustainability, and social inclusion worldwide. Since I was unfamiliar with the SDGs before the reading, I really enjoyed going through Sachs’ swot analysis of the SDGs and the impact that the MDGs will have on the success of the SDGs. What stood out to me the most wasn’t the importance of good governance or the triple bottom line approach, but rather the barriers to securing financing and the importance of the private sector. Sachs states that “all but the poorest countries will share in the financing of global public goods, in relation to their respective economic capacities” and that the success of the SDGs relies on adequate, transparent investment from countries worldwide. Yet, the MDGs proved that countries do not always fulfill their pledged amounts of financing and that freeriding is the norm. Sachs suggests that funding for the SDGs should be done through means such as quotas related to national incomes or taxes on greenhouse gas emissions. Although both suggestions sound like an improvement to the MDGs method of funding, I would be interested to know if taxes were ever implemented and if adequate investment from societies worldwide has actually been secured without large, lengthy negotiations.

Bridget Bartley

Many of my peers have already mentioned the hesitations with relying on countries like China, India, and Brazil for the necessary levels of good governance in attaining the SDGs. Upon reading about the corrupt governments operating in such countries, the necessary good governance seems like wishful thinking. There are some outside forces playing into this that certainly don’t help, though. I’ll step back a bit to help explain what I mean. These past few months have been a time in which I have had a lot of difficult and thought-provoking conversations with someone who I am often uncomfortably disagreeing with, my father. My dad is a regional cement sales manager. The cement and ready-mix industries are some of the heaviest polluters out there. Though they are working to be greener, they still have a long way to go. In many of my disagreements with my dad, I resort to one of the most profound facts I have learned in my combined economics and environmental degree: a reduction in fossil fuels in the US would explicitly promote stronger economic efficiency (thank you econ 255). Like clockwork in such a conversation, my dad would resort to pointing his finger at countries like China and India who are doing so much worse in terms of carbon footprint size. I often hear Donald Trump accompanied by an overwhelming majority of the US government doing the same.
Is this what countries holding each other accountable should look like? I feel strongly in thinking that this is not what accountability at such a large level looks like. Pointing fingers is childish and should not be the ways in which strong governments interact with each other, and it certainly isn’t helping to, in this case, reduce anyone’s fossil fuel dependence. I guess strong is an overstatement, but I’m hoping you can catch my drift. Though countries like China, India, and Brazil have the potential to ruin our world’s chances at attaining the SDGs, I don’t know if doubting them is the best way to help this situation. Could incentivizing SDG attainment or even progress towards such a goal prove a better way to go about this? Are there other ways to promote progress towards the SDGs that involve optimism and assistance over hesitation and doubt? Obviously, Sachs thinks these goals are attainable, so what is the harm in holding each other accountable in a more positive way? After all, no country is perfect, especially not our own. Sachs wrote of the necessity for all countries to do their part in working towards the SDGs, and I don’t think its right to point fingers at the countries who seem like they never will.

Jackie Tamez

Sachs’ article From Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals essentially highlights that SDGs are a more efficient and viable metric than MDGs for accomplishing our goals regarding economic development. He stresses the importance of the “triple bottom line” that considers environmental and social factors when working towards these global efforts. I agree with Sachs’ point saying that the private sector needs to be crucially and genuinely engaged in the process, although I would’ve liked to read more details about how particularly this should be done. For example, in my poverty class, we often discussed the popular opinion that if wealthier individuals of society gave more to charity and had paid more in taxes, equality would be more accessible. However, this does not necessarily mean that it is solely their responsibility, which brings me to his fourth point, in which he emphasizes that countries everywhere need to invest efficiently in order for the SDGs to succeed. I agree that this issue will take efforts from all constituents around the world in order to be holistically fruitful, although I am curious to read more about what exactly these efforts will look like for countries at different levels of development. Doesn’t this imply that wealthier countries must inevitably devote more to this, given that they have more resources? Will countries give in to these demands if they don't benefit from them (since we have seen that they usually do not)? Where should they start this long journey? Since not all countries are necessarily on the same page when it comes to environmental efforts and this was identified as a crucial component, I personally think this is a great objective to start with, especially since environmental matters (most importantly, climate change) ultimately impact all individuals. On that note, Sachs’ point concerning the spread of global knowledge for the sake of more effective systems for energy, food, urbanization, etc, also stood out to me since we are discussing this in one of my other courses. Although I agree that globalization is crucial to facilitating better infrastructure, given the readings/discussions in my other class, I am doubtful about whether more developed countries would actually agree to completely engage in this, since it is not always in their best interest. There are also political factors that play a role in hindering this, such as embargos, international tensions, etc. Although I think the article laid out reasonable points, I would’ve liked to have read more specific reasons supporting his reasoning in order to understand his viewpoint better.

Andrew Frailer

Sachs begins this article by discussing the UN's earlier attempt at increasing global development at multiple levels with the MDGs, and goes on to discuss how this can be used as a guideline, through both its successes and failures, for leading to a more comprehensive solution in the SDGs. I found it interesting, but intelligent, that his focuses of the SDGs were so different, but also very interconnected. Particularly it stuck out to me that he said that the success of any one of the 4 facets of the plan required the success of all of them. I wanted to make note of the emphasis that he put on the private sector in being at the forefront of a comprehensive global development goal. Particularly because, as discussed in class on Wednesday, it doesn't seem like there would some sort of model that we could easily choose to show how compassion plays into economics. Sachs says that we need the private sector to avoid lobbying against legislation and progress that will lead to development. As somebody who has grown up in America, where it seems unlikely that the private sector would avoid such behavior, it is easy to see how this is a difficult and necessary goal. I also thought that in his explanation of the successes and weaknesses of the MDGs he made some interesting points. First, I think that many government or in this case global government documents have a tendency to be overly specific and convoluted. It was almost refreshing in a sense to hear somebody at that level say that we need to make the goals easier to understand and more accessible. I know that personally, i would be much more attentive on 8 bullet points rather than a 351 page document outlining all of the specifics in a UN document. Second, i thought his emphasis on milestones that must go in to the creation of the SDGs was almost an obvious aspect of any plan that could be successful in this regard. Specifically, I know that other global non-binding environmental agreements were constructed with milestones in mind, but even still, they lacked the enforcement mechanisms which could have potentially held countries to their promises (which makes it all the more interesting that he identified the non-binding nature of the MDGs as a positive). The last thing which I wanted to discuss was Sachs' general tone of optimism and realism. When he says that the goals discussed in the paper were realistic, I initially was very skeptical. For one thing, he says that it requires cooperation from governments all across the globe. Just thinking about the escalating tensions between the U.S. and China illustrates the complexity that will go into increasing cooperation among global governments. Hopefully countries like the two noted above will be able to put aside their immediate differences in order to increase the likelihood of attaining these obviously desirable goals. He says that technological expansion may be the key to solving the poverty problem around the world, and that it is up to all of the countries, not just the poor ones, to increase access and development within their own borders, with the stipulation that the upper and middle income countries giving assistance to the poorest countries. Overall I think that Sachs' goals are admirable, and his former position with the UN and specificity evident in the paper we just read makes me feel optimistic that the rising generation may be able to bring the much needed change to the globe.

I am sorry that this is a bit late, the reading took me a bit longer than expected.

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