Beyond Cockpit-ism: Four Insights to Enhance the Transformative Potential of the Sustainable Development Goals

04-02-2015 | Publication

The Sustainable Development Goals need to go beyond the cockpit and address not only governments, but also other potential agents of change such as business, cities, citizens and civil society.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) have the potential to become a powerful vision that can support the urgently needed global transition to a shared and lasting prosperity. However, the final goals and targets that will be adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2015 risk falling short of expectations because of what we call “cockpit-ism”: the illusion that top-down steering by governments and intergovernmental organizations alone can address global problems. 

New agents of change for the SDGs

The SDGs need to additionally mobilize new agents of change such as businesses, cities and civil society. Multiple perspectives on sustainable development are needed that respond to the various motives and logics of change of these different actors. Four perspectives can strengthen the universal relevance of the SDGs: “planetary boundaries” to stress the urgency of environmental problems; “the safe and just operating space” to highlight the interconnectedness of social and environmental concerns and its distributive consequences; “the energetic society” to benefit from the willingness of a broad group of actors to take action; and “green competition” to stimulate innovation and new business practices. To realize the transformative potential of the SDGs, these perspectives should be reflected in the focus and content of the SDGs.