Over the weekend, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were ratified in New York, with celebrities and world leaders from Beyoncé to the Pope getting involved. Today's links will bring you up to speed with the achievements of the SDGs forbears, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and what makes the SDGs different.

  • The MDGs were the world's first set of time-bound targets, agreed by heads of state in 2000, which Bill Gates in 2008 called 'the best idea for focusing the world on fighting global poverty that I have ever seen.' The eight goals, with a total of 21 specific targets, were infamously non-inclusive in their design, with legend having it that they were drawn up by a group of men in the basement of UN headquarters.
  • The development scorecard for the MDGs is mixed. Most famously, halving the proportion of the world's people living in absolute poverty was achieved with five years to spare. Most other targets have also been met, mostly thanks to progress in China and India.
  • There is no conclusive evidence that the MDGs had any influence on how developing-country governments spent their money. It is, however, almost universally agreed that the MDG's acted as a lightning rod for collective advocacy and fundraising efforts that has resulted in many additional billions being contributed in international aid.
  • The approach to developing the SDGs has been completely different, with the UN conducting the largest consultation program in its history over the past four years.
  • This process concluded that the MDGs were too narrow in their focus, and the SDGs have now ballooned to 17 goals with a whopping 169 targets that focus on universal objectives for the developing and developed world alike.
  • While we won't know until 2030 what impact the SDGs will have, the pundits are already lining up. The UN and most global advocates see it as an unprecedented success. Many development wonks are taking a cautionary approach, but there is still an underlying tone of optimism. The Economist, on the other hand, went so far as to call them the 'stupid development goals'. The magazine has since taken a more tempered view.
  • Whatever the outcome of the SDGs, they will help to keep development challenges at the centre of the global agenda and are a unifying force for global advocates, which can't be a bad thing. And at the very least, Manhattan got to have a hell of a party.