The UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Biocultural Heritage Lacuna: Where Is Goal Number 18?

  • Alexandria K. PooleEmail author
Part of the Ecology and Ethics book series (ECET, volume 3)


On 25 September 2015, the Seventieth Session of the General Assembly in the United Nations approved the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through Resolution 70/1 “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” building upon the vision of the original Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Although intended to account for the shortfalls found in the original MDGs, the SDGs still neglect fundamental qualities of cultural sovereignty that are key for maintaining sustainable practices, values, and lifestyle habits. None of the 17 SDGs emphasize the need to protect local ecological knowledge, cultural heritage—nor its interrelation with biodiversity—as a pathway to sustainability. Further, the factors that threaten local ecological knowledge, traditional lifestyles, and alternative economic practices are absent, provoking indigenous and local peoples to argue that they, and their cultural sovereignty, remain unrecognized by this new “sustainable” development agenda. I argue that focusing on indirect drivers that undermine sustainable management practices must be explicitly addressed to address this conceptual lacuna. Indirect drivers include cultural and ethical facets of the human-nature relationship. Biocultural heritage, reflecting the diverse ways of being between human communities and their local environments, is the rich history of language, heritage, cultural memory, ecological knowledge, and values and should be explicitly be articulated as a key component to any sustainability agenda. Consequently, I propose that to accomplish the SDGs’ mission, it is indispensable to include a sustainable development goal “number 18” that recognizes biocultural heritage.


Ethics Local ecological knowledge Biocultural heritage Sustainable Development Goals Human-nature relationship 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Politics, Philosophy and Legal StudiesElizabethtown CollegeElizabethtownUSA

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