The SDGs are a collection of 17 interlinked goals designed to be a "blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all". They were set out in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and are intended to be achieved by the year 2030. In 2017 the UN also set out a range of indicator metrics and targets to help assess progress towards meeting the goals.
As with the UDHR, the SDGs are written from a human-centred or anthropocentric perspective. The "all" in the definition above is all human beings - not all sentient beings. Even the "Life Under Water" and "Life On Land" goals are exclusively focused on meeting human needs and protecting the "resources" and "ecosystems" we value, not the sentient beings themselves that live on land or under water.
As Sentientism is committed to using evidence and reason and having compassion for all sentient beings, it's interesting to consider what the SDGs might look like if we re-imagine them from a Sentientist perspective. We might call them "Sentientist Development Goals". Just as we might consider upgrading the UDHR to a Universal Declaration of Sentient Rights.
The sections below comment on each of the goals from a Sentientist perspective. Please get in touch to help us improve these observations. The chart below sets out a summary picture:
This goal could be extended to consider the material needs of non-human sentients.
A transition from animal farming and fishing to plant agriculture could reduce the cost and improve the availability of human foods globally. ~77% of farm land is currently used to produce only ~18% of calories and ~37% of protein (OWID) - a stark and expensive inefficiency, subsidised by most governments. Most plant foods are grown to be fed to animals when they could be used directly for human consumption.
This goal could be extended to consider the impact of hunger on non-human sentients.
Good Health and Well-Being
A transition to plant-based diets, compared to the average omnivore diet (a low bar!), would seem to have a beneficial impact on human health. A transition away from animal farming would also reduce the incidence of zoonotic disease and mitigate the anti-microbial resistance crisis.
This goal could also be extended to consider the well-being and health of non-human sentients.
A Sentientist education would focus on applying evidence and reason to the formation and learning of knowledge and the development of broadly compassionate ethics.
As such, while it would remain important to learn about supernatural and religious values and ways of thinking, teaching fabrications as fact would have no role.
This goal could also be extended by considering the need for enriching mental contexts for both human and non-human sentients.
This goal links to SDG 10 "Reduced Inequality" - which could itself be extended to address any form of discrimination not founded in sentience (e.g. gender, sex, race, caste, sexuality, age, disability, worldview, species, substrate...).
Clean Water and Sanitation
A transition from animal farming and fishing to plant agriculture could radically reduce pollution, ease sanitation challenges and improve access to clean water for both human and non-human sentients.
Affordable and Clean Energy
A transition away from animal agriculture would ease climate change pressures through reductions in emissions. The trillions of acres of land that could be freed up, at no loss of nutrient or calorific output, through transitioning to plant agriculture could be used for renewable energy generation as well as for carbon sinks.
Decent Work and Economic Growth
The transition away from non-human animal agriculture, fishing and other forms of exploitation would have substantial impacts on the humans working in those industries and the economies they form part of. The resulting agriculture and industries would be radically more efficient and new innovations and industries (e.g. plant-based and cultured animal products) would be encouraged and invested in. A "Just Transition" would need to be planned, funded and executed to help impacted communities switch to more ethical and sustainable ways of living and working.
This goal could also be extended to consider working non-human sentients; ensuring that their interests, needs and consent are taken into account in situations where animals are asked to work.
Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
A naturalistic worldview helps to enhance innovation and a compassionate worldview helps that innovation be more beneficial for all sentient beings. Areas where a Sentientist perspective might have an impact include Open Data and the embedding of universally compassionate ethics into the development of (or decisions not to develop) new technologies such as artificial intelligence. Ultimately, we might even need to consider the interests of sentient artificial entities.
This goal could be extended to address any form of discrimination not founded in sentience (gender, sex, race, caste, sexuality, age, disability, worldview, species, substrate...).
The goal could also push for institutional representation, protection and justice for all sentient beings.
Sustainable Cities and Communities
This goal could be extended to address the habitat needs of all sentient beings.
Responsible Consumption and Production
Transitioning away from animal farming and fishing would make a substantial contribution to achieving emissions reduction targets as well as mitigating global problems of land use (e.g. deforestation), water use, energy & food waste and pollution / hazardous waste. This #JustTransition should be a central aim of this goal. Fossil fuel and animal/fishing agriculture subsidies should be redirected to help achieve the transition.
Transitioning away from animal farming and fishing would make a substantial contribution to achieving emissions reduction targets as well as mitigating global problems of land use (e.g. deforestation) that worsen the climate crisis. The vast swathes of animal agriculture land freed up by this transition could also be used for carbon sinks and renewable energy generation.
Life Below Water
A genuine concern for "life below water" would lead to an end to farmed and wild fishing and to exploring ways to mitigate the suffering of wild aquatic sentient beings.
Life On Land
A genuine concern for "life on land" would lead to an end to animal farming, hunting and exploitation and to exploring ways to mitigate the suffering of wild sentient animals.
Freeing up vast swathes of land from animal farming would present opportunities for compassionate conservation and improvements in biodiversity that mitigate wild animal suffering.
Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
A Sentientist version of this goal would commit to evidence-based policy and to institutional representation, protection and justice for all sentient beings. In the interests of peace and the reduction of violence it would bring an end to the ongoing "war" humans wage on sentient farmed animals.
The goal would track national and regional commitments to the Universal Declaration Of Sentient Rights, as the current goal tracks commitments to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Partnerships for the Goals
Representation for all sentient beings would be implemented in governance mechanisms and institutional policy at all levels.
A Sentientist commitment to evidence, reason and compassion for all sentient beings would guide all decisions.
In contrast to my amateur attempt, there are some great academic papers that suggest how we could enhance the SDGs to address the interests of non-human sentient animals. In The 18th Sustainable Development Goal, Ingrid J.Visseren-Hamakers suggests adding an 18th goal on animal health, welfare and rights. Previous Sentientism guest Cebby Bliss and Andrea Shapper support this idea in their paper Transforming our world? Strengthening animal rights and animal welfare at the United Nations. Beyond Cruelty run an SDG18 campaign here that aims to get the United Nations to adopt a "Zero Animal Exploitation" 18th SDG.
In Reinterpreting the SDGs: Taking Animals into Direct Consideration, Olle Torpman and Helena Röcklinsberg suggest a more integrated approach similar to the one I've taken above, where non-human sentient animal interests are built into the existing 17 goals. In A life of their own: children, animals, and sustainable development, Verónica Policarpo and Teresa Líbano Monteiro also suggest a more integrated, non-anthropocentric re-working. In this SEI report, the authors suggest three different paths for mainstreaming non-human sentient animal welfare into sustainable development policymaking. This Counterpunch article by Lee Hall proposes veganising the SDGs - again integrating our concern for non-human animals into every goal.