Several criteria have been identified for crafting the Sustainable Development Goals. They should be:
- Universal: The goals should be applicable to all countries. In particular they should address the needs of low-income, middle-income, and high-income countries.
- Comprehensive: Together, the ten goals should spell out the principal challenges of sustainable development and provide a normative framework for the global partnership needed to address the profound and interconnected challenges the world faces. For example, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) feels that climate change is such an important challenge that these words need to appear in the title of one of the goals.
- Operational: To the extent possible, each goal should address and mobilize clearly defined knowledge communities comprising government departments, business, civil society, international organizations, and academia/research. Some goals therefore focus on specific operational or place-based challenges, such as urban management, climate change, or sustainable agriculture. Others focus on cross-cutting issues like gender equality or water management that must be addressed in every goal, but should also be highlighted through a dedicated goal.
- Jargon-free and easy to understand: Children should be able to learn the goals at school as a clear introduction to sustainable development. To this end the wording of the goals needs to be free of jargon. Where important technical concepts (e.g. ecosystems) are needed these should be included and become part of the introduction to sustainable development.
- SMART Targets: In general, targets should be “SMART”: specific, measurable (though some targets should remain fairly general and may require the setting of national/local targets or new metrics), attainable (though some will be “stretch” goals that can be attained only with considerable effort), relevant (to the four dimensions of sustainable development), and time bound to 2030 or earlier.
- Applicable to all stakeholders: The goals should apply to governments at all levels, business, civil society, international organizations, and other stakeholders.
- Integrated: The goals should promote integrated thinking and put to rest the futile debates that pit one dimension of sustainable development against another
- Limited in number: The Sustainable Development Solutions Network believes that ten is the maximum practical number. Beyond ten, the goals would lose the benefit of public understanding and motivation.