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Policy Topics: Sustainable Development


Units: 6


In September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly approved The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which establish an ambitious set of goals for achieving development progress in a prescribed time frame. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent the latest effort by the international community to encourage and facilitate broad-based progress across multiple sectors in individual countries.  But unlike in the past, the SDGs include social justice goals, climate-related commitments, a true focus on gender equality, and a commitment for all nations - not just those considered "developing countries" - to address sustainable development issues domestically.  The SDGs have also opened the space for innovation, including a robust effort by regional authorities, city governments, and even institutions such as Carnegie Mellon University to adopt the Goals as a framework for expressing and planning around sustainable development commitments.

The SDGs highlight the tremendous progress in improving the quality of human life that has been made during the past 200 years, and in particular since the end of World War II. Building on this record, achieving the SDGs will mark a notable step forward in addressing the most serious inequities that exist across the globe, including extreme poverty, food insecurity, illiteracy, and inadequate health care.  However, pessimists worry about the enormous challenges currently confronting the international community, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. They note that by 2050 global population will reach 9.6 billion people. To feed an increasingly affluent number of people, we will need 70 percent more food production and a doubling of available water and arable land, which will come at the expense of existing natural systems.  Additionally, the growing geopolitical tensions between the United States and China complicate efforts to achieve a global consensus on these challenges.

For Americans, the SDGs provide a useful vocabulary and broader perspective for considering contemporary political, economic, and societal trends.  In contrast to the history of American exceptionalism, the SDGs demonstrate the myriad ways that the United States is part of a global community.  This course prepares CMU students to help shape the future of the planet, improve one's arguments in favor of sustainable development, and link up effectively with other leaders who are engaged in these efforts.

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of the course, the student will have: 1) a much broader and deeper understanding of global development issues and stakeholders after exploring the history, landscape and current challenges; 2) a greater appreciation of the influence and limitations of the Sustainable Development Goals on policy and practice at the international, national and local levels; 3) enhanced analytical skills to serve as an effective policy-maker; and 4) the requisite tools to engage as a global citizen, including the use of science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. Attainment of these course objectives will be assessed through class participation, a policy memo and a team project.

This course aims to educate students in analyzing and engaging in the rapidly changing world of global development. The starting point is the perspective of a policy entrepreneur faced with designing a 21st century international development strategy in an environment of competing priorities and paradigms, complex problems, diverse constituents, and multiple international stakeholders. The perspectives of a variety of development actors will be highlighted throughout the course, including the US Government and other donor countries, multilateral and philanthropic institutions, developing countries and their multiple constituencies, and non-governmental organization and private sector companies.  At the end of the course, all students are expected to use their knowledge to become fully engaged global citizens.

Prerequisites Description

The course presumes no previous experience in global development, but assumes an interest in contemporary international affairs.  Background working on international development issues helpful, but not necessary.  As part of the course, students will be required to: keep up with readings; follow the news; participate in class; and submit assignments in timely manner.