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This article is written by Muskaan Garg from Symbiosis Law School, Pune. This article covers sustainable development goals with its extent from its origin to its implementation at various levels. The article also mentions the role of India in the development and implementation of sustainable development goals.


The alarming magnitude of climate change has been an imperative sign to think and prepare better for the future. The era of the 21st century calls for an immediate and reasonable debate upon what the future further demands of us. The perspective can be in respect of changes in the global environment, development and economy, and their relation of cause and effect. The progress of the global economy taking a toll on the environment needs to be addressed. The development needs to be environmentally efficient and sustainable with a people-centred approach.

Sustainable human development or people-centred development has gained increasing acceptance over the last few years based on its balanced approach between economic development and sustainability of the environment. There are various unprecedented challenges waiting to be dealt with due to the rapid urbanization and globalization. With cities becoming focal points of major developments and mighty opportunities, they act as strong magnets attracting huge populations which are greatly complimented with tremendous challenges like worsening pollution, vivacious use of natural resources and mass exploitation of energy sources.

The advent of the term and its necessity

In 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment took place in Stockholm which highlighted the concerns for preventing pollution and enhancing biodiversity and environment to ensure the rights of humans to a healthy and progressive environment.

In 1987, the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development issued the Brundtland Report which emphasized three fundamental components of sustainable development: environmental protection, economic growth and social equity.

The term sustainable development was defined as a way of development where the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It was coined by Doctor Gro Harlem in the Brundtland Report. The concept of needs in the definition refers to the essential needs of the world’s poor which should be given ultimate priority. There also needs to be an idea of limitation imposed on the environment’s ability to be able to meet present and future needs.

The necessity of sustainable development and its implementation was realized when imperative changes in the functioning and effects of environment were noticed. The changes followed by disasters acted as an alarm to what the future could behold, the understanding of which led to the foundation of concept of sustainable development and living. It was argued that if humans keep acting independently towards pursuing their individual interests then it won’t be long before all the resources exhaust due to over exploitation. It was thereby felt that mankind needed to change its ways and means and diverge to a sustainable development track.
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Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable development goals were adopted in 2015 by all member nations of the United Nations as a universal action to end poverty and pollution, thereby protecting the planet and providing peace and prosperity to everybody by the advent of 2030. They represent the post 2015 development agenda and are a set of 17 goals consisting of 169 targets globally set to be the blueprint towards a better and more sustainable future for all.

The three primary objectives of sustainable development goals are:

  • Economic growth.
  • Environmental protection.
  • Social inclusion.

The sustainable development goals have succeeded over millennial development goals in content and applicability. The previous goals were being criticized for being too narrow in description and superficial in implementation. The millennial development goals focused more on world development through relations between countries and their support towards development of other countries. The newly drafted sustainable development goals were far wider in context and provided a much more inclusive perspective and framework towards development without depending on the relation between the countries. They were more globally applicable and were created by the largest United Nations program thereby providing a firm foundation.

The sustainable development goals are:

  1. No Poverty: By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere.
  2. Zero Hunger: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition by 2030.
  3. Good Health and Well-being: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages by 2030.
  4. Quality Education: Ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education by 2030.
  5. Gender Equality: To achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
  6. Clean Water and Sanitation: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030.
  7. Affordable and Clean Energy: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030.
  8. Decent Work and Economic Growth: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth.
  9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation by 2030.
  10. Reduced Inequality:  Reduce inequality within and among countries by 2030.
  11. Sustainable Cities and Communities: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
  12. Responsible Consumption and Production: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
  13. Climate Action: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
  14. Life below Water: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
  15. Life on Land: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, combat desertification and halt biodiversity loss.
  16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development; provide access to justice for all.
  17. Partnerships to achieve goals:  Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development. 

Environmental programs and movements

UNECE: The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe was established in 1947 in order to promote integration among its member nations. It supports the countries in implementation of the sustainable development goals as it provides a platform for various governments to engage and cooperate with standards and conventions acting in place. It has a multispectral approach which makes it possible to tackle inter connected challenges in a better integrated manner.

Human Development Index: The Human Development Index, introduced in 1980 is a statistical tool to measure a country’s economic and social progress and achievements. It encapsulates dimensions like health, education, sanitation, economy, security and environmental aspects. The Human Development Index is also a measure of ecological footprint. An ecological footprint represents the maximum limit of consumption per person according to Earth’s ecological capacity. Minimum HDI guarantees satisfaction of human needs while anything beyond it represents over consumption of resources thereby making way for compromise for future generations.

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: It was a four years long investigation started by the United Nations in 2001. Over 1200 researchers had the task to assess the consequences that ecosystems’ changes had on human wellbeing. The main findings of the research summarized that evolution of ecosystems have caused large and irreversible biodiversity loss which further aided climate change and more risk of nonlinear changes occurring due to the same.

Elen MacArthur Foundation: The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is a UK registered charity which aims to inspire a generation to re-think, re-design & build a positive future through the framework of a circular economy. A circular economy is based on principles of keeping products and materials in use, reducing waste and regenerating natural systems. They aim to reduce waste and pollution by bringing changes to the root level of the products like the manufacturing process and the designing factors. They profess that the materials and products used by the economy should be reusable and repairable thereby preventing their existence in the landfills. They believe that with protecting we should also actively improve and upgrade the environment. Thereby in its latest reports in 2016, the foundation strongly recommended implementation of circular economy within the country.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: This is an intergovernmental body of the United Nations which is delegated with the task of providing the world with objective and related scientific information for better understanding of human induced climate change and it’s all possible natural, political and economic risks and effects. The agency has been successfully delivering reported data and analysis through regular, annually and special reports. The latest reports, in 2018 and 2019, consisted of analysis on temperature rise, land degradation and changes in cryosphere and oceans. The analysis pointed that immediate actions need to be taken in order to prevent the average temperature from rising beyond two degrees Celsius and its devastating impacts. It requires quickening the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions.

India’s involvement

India has a major contribution in the framing of the sustainable development goals. It was the only country to argue for initiation and adoption of nationally determined contributions to measure and map the progress of sustainable development goals. India has also demonstrated bold commitment to provide funding to the United Nations trust for the institution of SDGs. It was one of the few countries to begin effective planning for the achievement of SDGs even before their final crystallization. India became one of the foremost countries to participate in Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) where various surveys are used to measure and graph the progress of ascertained goals, thereby promoting the inculcation of the sustainable development goals.

India’s role is a long lineage based on three parameters- ideation, diplomacy and institutional. The country has been largely associated with formulation and implementation of international norms which have also been accepted by all member nations with complete harmony. In diplomacy, India has worked with the G77 nations to help them collaborate better with the norms put forth and has worked towards bringing the nations to consensus agreements reaping benefits for all. Institutionally, India’s endeavor has always been to strengthen the purview and aim of the United Nations in economic, political and environmental matters. Even the agreements not pertaining to the UN have been persuaded to follow similar principles and guidelines by active participation and promotion by India.  

Advent of sustainability in India

The doctrine of sustainable development in India was introduced by the case of Vellore Citizen Welfare Forum v. Union of India. It was held in this case that precautionary principle and polluter pays principle are the basis of sustainability. In the case of Narmada Bachao v. Union of India, it was stated that development should be of the extent that can be sustained by nature with no or little mitigation. On similar lines it was held, in the case of Indian Council for Enviro Legal Action v. Union of India, that while economic development should not be done at the cost of ecological destruction, the same should not be hampering economic development. It was stated that economic and ecological developments should be well balanced with effectiveness of both intact.

Related laws and implementations in India

There are several laws which have been passed which include

National Green Tribunal: The legislature enacted The National Green Tribunal Act in 2010 after attending all major environmental conferences around the world. The tribunal aims at effective and quick disposal of cases involving multi corporal issues related to the environment. NGT is empowered to hear all matters related to environment and has furthered the crusade of environment protection aiming for better and effective implementation of sustainable development goals. The tribunal is not bound by Code of Civil Procedure 1908, instead is supposed to follow the principles of natural justice. In the case of Prafulla Samantray v. Union of India, the tribunal ordered suspension of the POSCO ( South Korean steel-making company) steel plant in Odisha with the opinion that though there is need for industrial development, it should be within the parameters of sustainable development and should keep in check all related environmental concerns.

The phrase of the present government “Sbka Saath Sbka Vikas” which translates to ‘collective effort, inclusive development’ is being stated as the countries national development agenda. Several of the government’s programs would directly contribute to advancement of the SDG agenda.These include Swachh Bharat mission, Beti Bacho Beti Padhao, Pradhan Mantri AwasYojana, Smart Cities, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gram Jyoti Yojana and Pradhan Mantri UjjwalaYojana, among others.

The Namami Gange Mission: This integrated conservation mission was introduced in 2014 with the twin objective of rejuvenation and preservation of the national river ganga. The mission encompasses the development and maintenance of sewage treatment infrastructure and also factory effluents handling. It also takes into account public awareness, effective afforestation and riverfront development and cleaning procedures.

National Clean Air Programme in 2019: India formally joined the climate and clean air coalition for effective implementation of the national clean air programme which is a comprehensive plan to reduce air pollution, keep it in check and simultaneously improve the Air Quality Index. This was done in consideration to the recent massive dropping of the quality of air in the northern region of the country.


Undeniably, adhering to the sustainable development goals is the need of the hour. It is time that each one of us adopt an ‘energy-efficient and green’ mind-set and use the natural resources available equitably, judiciously and save them for our future generations, as the best way to predict the future is to create it.

Hence, India needs to hustle towards the attainment of its sustainable development goals by means of proper planning, coordination and implementation of practices and policies which aid in the formation and maintenance of a self-sustainable and developed country.


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