Three necessary conditions for establishing effective Sustainable Development Goals in the Anthropocene

Albert V. Norström, Astrid Dannenberg, Geoff McCarney, Manjana Milkoreit, Florian Diekert, Gustav Engström, Ram Fishman, Johan Gars, Efthymia Kyriakopoolou, Vassiliki Manoussi, Kyle Meng, Marc Metian, Mark Sanctuary, Maja Schlüter, Michael Schoon, Lisen Schultz, Martin Sjöstedt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


The purpose of the United Nations-guided process to establish Sustainable Development Goals is to galvanize governments and civil society to rise to the interlinked environmental, societal, and economic challenges we face in the Anthropocene. We argue that the process of setting Sustainable Development Goals should take three key aspects into consideration. First, it should embrace an integrated social-ecological system perspective and acknowledge the key dynamics that such systems entail, including the role of ecosystems in sustaining human wellbeing, multiple cross-scale interactions, and uncertain thresholds. Second, the process needs to address trade-offs between the ambition of goals and the feasibility in reaching them, recognizing biophysical, social, and political constraints. Third, the goal-setting exercise and the management of goal implementation need to be guided by existing knowledge about the principles, dynamics, and constraints of social change processes at all scales, from the individual to the global. Combining these three aspects will increase the chances of establishing and achieving effective Sustainable Development Goals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number8
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2014


  • Social change
  • Social-ecological systems
  • Sustainable Development Goals
  • Transformations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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