Skip to main content

Ellis Douglas

“Sustainability” and “Reversibility”: A Genealogical Investigation into the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG)

This research aims to investigate the development of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), critically reflecting on the neoliberal discourses dominant within the SDG framework, and uncovering the potential for a concept of reversibility in environmental policy and planning. Reversibility, which is grounded in the work of Hans Jonas and Hannah Arendt, connects with the already existing concepts of the precautionary principle and radical uncertainty, found within planning as with the policy language of international organisations in relation to the SDGs. In short, the political concept of reversi- bility is understood as the commitment to avoid irreversible consequences in the face of uncertainty. The research will genealogically investigate (a) the emergence of three SDGs (9, 11, and 13), to uncover the dominant discourses, key actors, and their main interests and concerns; (b) the extent to which irreversibility was taken into account in the development of the SDGs; and (c) the added value that a political conceptualisation of reversibility could have for policy planning.