Law, Theory and Implementation
Edited by Duncan French and Louis J. Kotzé
Chapter 3: The Sustainable Development Goals: an existential critique alongside three new-millennial analytical paradigms
States agreed on and committed to the achievement of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. If one accepts that the SDGs are the roadmap for the world to achieve sustainable development until 2030, and if one accepts that the only way human and non-human life on Earth can continue is if demands to sustain all life can never exceed the carrying capacity of the Earth, then the following question arises: are the SDGs appropriate and able to guide humanity along a road of sustainability that is possible ad infinitum? To answer this question, this chapter offers a critique of the SDGs through three contemporary analytical lenses of (i) the Anthropocene, (ii) the planetary boundaries theory, and (iii) the Earth system governance theory. The hypothesis is that the SDGs, when they are critically evaluated through these three new-millennial analytical paradigms, are not a suitable roadmap for the type of truly sustainable present and future development that must ensure the continuation of all (not only human) life on Earth. The main reason for this is because despite their reference to, and shallow alignment with, the three-pillared approach to sustainable development (environmental, social and economic concerns), the SDGs mostly push environmental interests to the periphery of their concern while prioritising human-focused social and economic development at the expense of global Earth system integrity. This simply amounts, at best, to a continuation of the Millennium Development Goals approach and experience, with the SDGs likely to exacerbate Anthropocene-inducing conditions and to push humanity further across planetary boundaries.
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