The idea of sustainability has dominated global environmental affairs for several decades, though sustainable development has nowhere been achieved in practice. Established conceptions of sustainable development asserting that growth, justice, and environmental protection can be mutually reinforcing now need to be rethought under the more challenging circumstances of the Anthropocene. Sustainability needs to become more reflexive: more open to a range of understandings about its own essence, more ecologically grounded, more dynamic in its responsiveness to changing social and Earth system conditions, more far-sighted in anticipating future problems (such as state shifts in the Earth system), and more effectively integrated with other social values (such as justice and democracy). These requirements are demonstrated by a critical examination of one of the largest global efforts to advance sustainability and associated values: the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015.
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