Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off one whole year of Unlimited learning. Subscribe for just £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only T&Cs apply

Find out more

Key challenges to sustainable development

Watch Prof Carol Newman describing the key challenges to achieving sustainable development in our world.
Hello. My name is Carol Newman, and I’m a professor in economics at the Department of Economics at Trinity College, Dublin, and chair of the Trinity International Development Initiative, known as TIDI. My research focuses on the microeconomics of development. I’m interested in what determines the behaviour of individuals, households, and firms in developing country settings. Currently, I’m involved in a number of major projects in Southeast Asia and Africa. In my work, I try to address many of the challenges associated with achieving sustainable development. In the last step, we introduced the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, but as you will see in this course, there are many challenges to achieving these goals. We can break these down into three main challenges– instability, implementation, governance.
Increasing global instability, including the recent financial crisis, the political turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa, and the problems caused by changing climate conditions has brought about growing insecurity. What we mean by insecurity is a lack of protection that we have in our lives. The effects of these processes are felt most in developing countries, where problems such as hunger, poverty, community stability, and access to education and health care are most acute. Another challenge is translating development aims and targets into local level programmes by financing and delivering policies and packages that are relevant to the local context. The SDGs provide a set of targets and outcomes for sustainable development, and identify a number of principles for delivery of these outcomes.
Translating these into concrete programmes that create real change is of course a complicated process. Some people think that focusing on these broad aims and targets takes away from meaningful community work. When we talk about outcomes in the development space, these are often measured by indicators based on many different areas of human life. This can include outcomes measuring income and wealth and the development of individuals, which is supported by the Human Development Index tool. How the macro level targets are broken down into real world programmes and practise, how they are delivered, how they are financed, and how individuals and economies are affected remains a challenge for discussion and debate.
We will look specifically at impact evaluation of development programmes later in the course. A final challenge is the way in which good governance among nation-states is coordinated and facilitated. The World Bank defines good governance as the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development. There are two aspects to this. First, how relationships between the development sector, nation-states, and civil society are fostered; and second, how nation-states can coordinate with each other to address the common concerns identified at the global level. For example, good governance is needed to transform development programmes into sustainable, long-term practises.
It is really important for nation-states to work together meaningfully to address common concerns at the global level. For example, SDG 13, calling for climate action, is impossible to achieve without coordination and cooperation across nations. Indeed, awareness of challenges such as these is evidenced in the cross-cutting nature of the SDGs, including in particular SDG 17– partnership for the goals, which calls for a revitalised and enhanced global partnership that brings together governments, civil society, the private sector, the United Nations system, and other actors, and mobilises all available resources. These high level challenges will be seen in many of the case studies and examples we will be exploring in this course.
Without addressing these challenges, it will be very difficult to achieve sustainable development and reach the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

In this video, Carol explores the three key challenges to achieving sustainable development.

Throughout this course, many of the case studies we will examine have these challenges at their heart.

These key challenges are:

  • Instability, such as conflict between nations
  • Implementation, such as ensuring programmes fit the local context
  • Governance, such as political will to transform development programmes into sustainable long-term practices

Download the image used in the video describing the key challenges here. Use this to reflect on the challenges faced in many of the case studies presented in this course.

This article is from the free online

Achieving Sustainable Development

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now