Environment, Development and Sustainability

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 539–554 | Cite as

Can post-2015 sustainable development goals survive neoliberalism? A critical examination of the sustainable development–neoliberalism nexus in developing countries

  • Emmanuel Kumi
  • Albert A. Arhin
  • Thomas Yeboah


The Rio+20 summit of the United Nations in Brazil in 2012 committed governments to formulate a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) that would be integrated into the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) following its expiration in 2015. This decision has pushed sustainable development agenda into the limelight of development once again. Meanwhile, we note that the development agenda of many developing countries has been dominated by neoliberal orientation driven by market reforms, social inequality, and a move towards enhancing the economic competitiveness of the supply side of the economy. In this paper, we discuss the relationship between neoliberal economic agenda and sustainable development. We do so by examining how neoliberal policies of privatisation, trade liberalisation and reduction in governments spending stand to affect the attainment of sustainable development ideals and their implications on the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. The paper then suggests that relying solely on the mechanisms of the market in governing and allocating environmental resources is necessarily insufficient and problematic and therefore calls for a new approach—one which goes beyond just recognising the interdependency among social, environmental and economic goals and places issues of equity and addressing unfavourable power relations at the centre of interventions aimed at achieving the ideals of sustainable development.


Sustainable development goals Neoliberalism Environment Sustainable development 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emmanuel Kumi
    • 1
  • Albert A. Arhin
    • 2
  • Thomas Yeboah
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Agriculture, Policy and DevelopmentUniversity of ReadingReadingUK
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  3. 3.Centre of Development Studies, Churchill CollegeUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeshireUK

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