Roads from Rio+20: Pathways to achieve global sustainability goals by 2050

The core of sustainable development is the twin challenge of satisfying human needs and aspirations within the carrying capacity of our planet. In the report ‘Roads from Rio+20. Pathways to achieve global sustainability goals by 2050’ we have – jointly with ODI – analysed pathways to achieve internationally agreed goals and targets in two thematic clusters, i.e. food & biodiversity and energy & climate. The analysis is related to the Rio+20 agenda and beyond, also addressing the issue of international goal setting for sustainable development in the coming years.

The preparatory process for Rio+20 resulted in the idea of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)  to shape the international goal-setting process for sustainable development. The Rio+20 Conference comes three years before the expiry, in 2015, of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Discussions on a successor to the MDGs have already started. The closeness of Rio+20 and the expiry of the MDGs provides opportunities to develop a new global goal-setting framework – more closely integrating development and environment concerns.

Current goal-setting for sustainable development can be characterised as relatively unbalanced: goals are often unrelated, use different timeframes, have different degrees of concreteness and, in important areas of concern, are even sometimes missing.

A new framework of sustainable development goals can build on the strong features of the MDGs – in particular their time-bound and quantitative nature as part of results-based policy-making. They can be applied to a broader set of sustainability goals for all countries to drive changes in policy and behaviour. Nevertheless, there are also key differences between a poverty agenda, such as the MDGs, and a much broader sustainable development agenda. In addition to the immediate and individual-focused goals of poverty reduction to which everyone can easily agree, sustainable development implies a set of outcomes that are more contested. This would make both agreement and implementation more politically difficult for SDGs, regardless of the structure of an agreement.

If SDGs were to be successful as a successor to the MDGs, it is crucial to find a set of goals that are meaningful in sustainability terms for all countries, but that also would be politically feasible. The report gives insight in what current agreements mean for the required long-term technological and behavioural effort and potential policies that would bring about the required transformations. Furthermore, the report identifies a number of issues that would arise in designing a set sustainable development goals that bring development and environment together, including issues they would cover, over which time period and to which countries they would apply, how to expand their impact on policy and actions and which indicators to use.

These questions will be on the international policy agenda in the coming three years, partly dependent on the outcomes of Rio+20. The analysis in this report could be further expanded and focused as input in this agenda.

For more information, or to download the full report or contact the authors, please visit

Written by Marcel Kok, Paul Lucas and Detlef van Vuuren, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.

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