What is the difference between Global Challenges and Sustainable Development Goals?

Contributed by our Director of Research – Dr. Cristiano Varrone

If we want to simplify, the Global Challenges can be regarded as the consequence of a continuous exponential growth of human population, coupled with an unsustainable development of our societies, which can be associated with problems such as pollution, global warming, but also unequal distribution and access to resources, etc.

All this has led to several challenges worldwide, in all societies, which we might call “Global Challenges”.

For this reason, the UN proposed 15 Global Challenges for Humanity, as a result of continuous research, studies, interviews, with participation of over 4,000 experts from around the world, since 1996 (The Millenium Project).


Global Challenges


These challenges are all interconnected, so there is no topic that is more important or comes first. Moreover it has been recognized that they cannot be addressed by any government or institution acting alone.

The Millenium Global Challenges were then substituted by the so-called Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, when the UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY adopted a set of 17 new goals to end poverty and protect the planet, as part of a new sustainable development agenda.

Each goal has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets seek to build on the Millennium Development Goals  (launched in 2000 – 2015) and complete what they did not achieve.

In general, they seek to fight poverty, realize the human rights of all and to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.

They are integrated and should balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental (the Sustainability Triad).


Main difference between Global Challenges and Sustainable Development Goals:

The Global Challenges targeted the reduction of poverty, hunger, inequality… but the Sustainable Development Goals are targeting a statistical “zero”  hunger, poverty, etc. This implies a much larger commitment.

While the Sustainable Development Goals are not legally binding, governments are expected to take ownership and establish national frameworks for the achievement of the 17 Goals. 

Important Facts:

  • Most countries recognize now that sustainability and sustainable development cannot be neglected any more
  • We live in a complex and interconnected system and the actions of one single element will most probably have effects on the other parts : To reach those goals everyone need to do their part: we are all involved!
  • In fact, the interdisciplinary nature of the Challenges requires collaboration among governments, international organizations, corporations, universities, NGOs, and creative individuals.
  • Furthermore, the solutions require technology breakthroughs through research and innovation in academia, industry and policy

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