World leaders launched the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on 25 September 2015, boosting global aspirations to improve the conditions and opportunities that shape people’s lives and their interactions with the planet. These aspirations are highly relevant: 800 million people live in extreme poverty and 60 million people are currently displaced by conflict (UN 2015a, 8). Limiting global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, let alone below 1.5 degrees Celsius, will be a challenge for all.
The concept of “transformation” is central to the declaration of ambitious normative intent launched at the UN Sustainable Development Summit, Transforming our world: The 2030 agenda for global action, which sets out the SDGs. Yet the 2030 Agenda is imprecise about what is meant by transformation and the mechanisms of change that might bring it about.
This report asks whether it is possible to define more clearly what transformation is and, if it is, whether we know how to achieve it, or at least work towards it. In doing so, the report takes a somewhat different tack in the ongoing debate amongst academics, development practitioners and other commentators about the merit of leaders making another grand statement and setting collective goals.