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2014 Annual Meeting: How can the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) advance sustainability?

Since the end of the Second World War, humanity has gone through an unparalleled period of expansion, based on the ethos of economic growth that did not – and did not yet need to – take into account the finiteness of our planet. As foreseen by many in the Balaton Group, most notably by the authors of The Limits to Growth, by the early 21st century the dominant model of development has come under increasing strain, manifested through a series of festering and interlocking ecological, financial, social and political crises.

Following in the footsteps of precedent-setting initiatives such as IUCN’s World Conservation Strategy, Our Common Future, Agenda 21 and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the global community has embarked under these conditions on an ambitious process to redefine the global development agenda for the post-2015 period. A key element of the architecture of the post-2015 development agenda will be a series of high-level sustainable development goals (SDGs).

The Balaton Group’s 2014 annual meeting addressed the question: What would it take to ensure that the SDGs are truly consistent with the concept of sustainability?
We asked many questions about the goals:
  • In which ways are such goals associated with particular values and worldviews?
  • How could such goals become a powerful instrument in accelerating sustainability transformations in the directions and at the scale of effort needed?
  • How could they be a force for transformation, instead of legitimation of what is unsustainable in the status quo?
We examined how the SDGs would fare if rigorously examined through the lens of systems thinking and analysis. We discussed what the SDGs cover, what is missing and how well are they rooted in the deeper systemic interactions that are often the underlying causes of unsustainability. We looked for lessons learned from earlier goal setting processes, such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and explored the potential for goals and related targets and indicators to transform governance and implementation mechanisms. We  envisioned what the world could look like if the SDGs were implemented, and looked to theories of change and worldviews that might tell us how to get there. And to bring this all closer to home, we looked at ways to link global SDGs to national and local strategies and implications for key stakeholder groups.
Speakers included:
Janos Zlinsky, SDG Open Working Group, with inputs by Csaba Korosi, SDG Open Working Group Co-Chair 
Jill Jaeger, Independent Scholar
Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics
Paul Lucas, Dutch Environmental Assessment Agency
Norichika Kanie, Department of Value and Decision Science, Tokyo Institute of Technology
Simon Olsen, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) and Independent Research Forum on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (IRF)
Joe Alcamo, Centre for Environmental Systems Research
Laszlo Pinter, CEU and IISD
Dennis Meadows
Aromar Revi, Indian Institute for Human Settlements
Bob Wilkinson, University of California
Tariq Banuri, University of Utah
Oliver Greenfield, Green Economy Coalition
Hunter Lovins, Natural Capitalism Solutions
Bert de Vries, Utrecht University


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