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Sustainable development

What is Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals? In this article, Dr Jennie Sjöholm discusses its background.
Open space in London on a sunny day

The concept of ‘sustainable development’ was introduced in 1987 through the report Our Common Future, which was written on commission of the United Nations (UN). The UN’s conference on environment and development in 1992, also called the Rio Earth Summit, further emphasised the importance of sustainable development and the need for collaboration between states to achieve this goal.

In Our Common Future, sustainable development was defined as a “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Often sustainability is discussed in three, interrelated, dimensions: the environment, the economy, and the society.

The UN adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2015, in a resolution often referred to as Agenda 2030. The SDGs consists of 17 global goals. Each goal has a list of concrete targets that need to be addressed.

SDGs crucial in urban design include Good Health and Wellbeing, Gender Equality, Clean Water and Sanitation, Sustainable Cities and Communities, and Responsible Consumption and Production.

This means, for instance, shaping places that are safe, accessible, and affordable. Promoting walking and cycling is considered to help deliver outcomes including social cohesion, resource efficiency, and better land economy. Urban forms that support mobility without reliance on motorised vehicles are also seen as helping to reduce emissions and pollution. Efforts should be made to protect and safeguard cultural and natural heritage to ensure its conservation. Public spaces and green areas need to be more inclusive and accessible, especially for women, children, elderly, and persons with disabilities. Planning must also help adapting the built environment to climate change.

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