STEPS Centre - return to home

Hot topic: Sustainable Development Goals

A new set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals were formally adopted in a UN summit on 25-27 September. Could the SDGs provide a new chance to put sustainability at the heart of international action on development?

The STEPS Centre believes that many pathways to sustainability are possible. Global and local efforts to seek them require inclusive, democratic debate and the recognition of diverse forms and sources of knowledge.


Event: Reimagining Development in Least Developed Countries: what role for the SDGs?

macrosolar_installation_ZamThe challenges and opportunities that the Sustainable Development Goals create for least developed countries are discussed at an event in London on 13 June 2016.

The dialogue is hosted by the Least Developed Countries Independent Expert Group, the International Institute for Environment and Development and the ESRC STEPS Centre.

Find out more about the event

Commentary on the SDGs

un-smallWill the Sustainable Development Goals make a difference?

In this blog post, STEPS Director Ian Scoones looks back at the partial successes of the Millennium Development Goals, and suggests 5 ways in which the new goals might achieve lasting change for the better.

sdg7SDGs: time to rethink energy infrastructure?

A Sustainable Development Goal on infrastructure, industrialization and innovation could provoke new ideas on how people get access to energy. In this article, Adrian Ely argues that off-grid, distributed systems are now seriously challenging the logic of centralized-energy infrastructures.

Achieving sustainable development means no goal leaving gender behind

goal5Goal 5 of the SDGs offers the chance to embed gender equality into transformative approaches to sustainable development. Melissa Leach (former STEPS Director and now IDS Director) argues that gender is vital for the whole SDG agenda. We need approaches that address and challenge the power relations and structures that create and sustain discrimination.

Rethinking Africa’s sustainable development pathways

af-sdgMany countries in Africa have struggled to make progress on sustainable development, despite much investment and effort. In this post, Joanes Atela of the new STEPS Africa Sustainability Hub suggests that the region’s multiple political, institutional, socio-cultural and resource complexities need to be examined more closely. A transformative agenda should pay attention to resource politics, equity and inclusion.

Giving flesh to the science and innovation we need to see

goal9Science, technology and innovation have been integral in successful development and poverty-reduction efforts. But in the rush toward exporting high-tech inventions, there has not been nearly enough emphasis on actors in developing countries. This article by Ben Ramalingam looks at how the SDGs might provoke a rethink.

8 ways to ensure innovation benefits all of us

wef-innov1In this post for the World Economic Forum blog, drawing on STEPS Centre work, Melissa Leach and Adrian Ely suggest eight considerations to help guide the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, and enable innovation across all the Global Goals.  The article is part of a series in collaboration with the Stockholm Resilience Centre.


Key resources

book cover The-Politics-of-GreenThe Politics of Green Transformations

Multiple ‘green transformations’ are required if humanity is to live sustainably on planet Earth. Recalling past transformations, this 2015 book in our Pathways to Sustainability series examines what makes the current challenge different, and especially urgent.

Contributing authors include Erik Millstone, Andy Stirling, Matthew Lockwood, Adrian Smith, Adrian Ely, Mariana Mazzucato, Stephen Spratt, Hubert Schmitz, Ian Scoones, Melissa Leach and Peter Newell.

More about The Politics of Green Transformations

gender-book-sGender Equality and Sustainable Development

Gender Equality and Sustainable Development calls for policies, investments and initiatives in sustainable development that recognize women’s knowledge, agency and decision-making as fundamental.

The book includes an introduction co-authored by Prof Leach with Preetha Prabhakaran and STEPS water and sanitation convenor Lyla Mehta.

More about Gender Equality and Sustainable Development

Innovation, Sustainability, Development: A New Manifesto

What kind of science and technology for development is needed for today’s world? With cutting-edge ideas including the 3Ds agenda and some Southern perspectives, the New Manifesto recommends new ways of linking science and innovation to development for a more sustainable, equitable and resilient future.

Explore the New Manifesto

World Survey on the Role of Women in Development 2014: Gender Equality and Sustainable Development

This flagship publication from UN Women makes strong links between pathways to sustainable development and gender equality in a post-2015 world. The conceptual framing of the report was led by Melissa Leach (former STEPS Director and now IDS Director) and Lyla Mehta (STEPS Water & Sanitation theme convenor), and draws centrally on the STEPS Pathways Approach.

Read more about this report

World Social Science Report: Between social and planetary boundaries

STEPS director Melissa Leach, Kate Raworth (Oxfam) and Johan Rockstrom (Stockholm Resilience Centre)’s chapter for the World Social Science Report 2013 combines the STEPS Centre’s work on the three ‘Ds’ agenda of direction, diversity and distribution, SRC’s work on planetary boundaries and Raworth’s ‘doughnut economics’ to offer a new framework for addressing environmental change, enduring poverty and social inequalities.

Between social and planetary boundaries: Navigating pathways in the safe and just space for humanity

Transforming Innovation for Sustainability

A radical new approach to innovation is urged by STEPS, Stockholm Resilience Centre and Tellus Institute in this paper, published as a contribution to the Rio+20 Earth Summit. We argue that Sustainable Development Goals that keep human societies within a ‘safe operating space’ of planetary boundaries requires far greater recognition and power for grassroots actors and processes, involving them within an inclusive, multi-scale innovation politics.

Read Transforming Innovation for Sustainability

Direction, Distribution and Diversity! Pluralising Progress in Innovation, Sustainability and Development

This paper by Professor Andy Stirling, part of the New Manifesto project, argues for a more deliberate, equitable and accountable politics around progress towards sustainability using the ‘3D agenda’: Direction, Distribution and Diversity.

Direction, Distribution and Diversity! Pluralising Progress in Innovation, Sustainability and Development

Other articles

Our Rio+20 blog series for Guardian Global Development:


Inquiry contributions

UK Parliament – Environmental Audit Committee Inquiry on the Government’s Approach to Sustainable Development – the STEPS Centre’s written submission (PDF) (published September 2015)

UK Parliament – Environment Audit Committee Inquiry on Sustainable Development Goals – the STEPS Centre’s written submission to the inquiry 

UK Parliament – International Development Committee Inquiry – Post-2015 Development Goals The STEPS Centre’s written submission to the inquiry

Our contribution to ‘World We Want’ Civil Society Dialogue with the High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda’ 

Resource collections

Beyond Rio Resource Centreresearch and expertise at the STEPS Centre and the University of Sussex

Rio+20 programme: The STEPS Centre mounted a substantial programme of activities in the run-up to, and at, Rio+20, linked to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) process, including publications, video and media coverage.