What are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

In 2015, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with its 17 goals was adopted at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York. The agenda provides a shared blueprint for the peace and prosperity of people and the planet.

The 2030 sustainable development goals (SDGs) are:

  1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
  11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts*
  14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
  16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

What is sustainable development?

Sustainable development is the principle of meeting the goals of human development while maintaining the ability of natural systems to provide resources and services that the society and economy depend on. It is often described as “meeting the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

When was the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted?

The agenda was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015 at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit (25-27 September). The 17 goals are to start being implemented from 2016 through 2030 in every country.

How are the SDGs implemented?

It is mainly the responsibility of the countries and their sustainable development policies and programs to implement the SDG’s successfully. These goals concern everyone and should be a priority to all people, governments, and international organizations. We all share the responsibility of doing what we can to help, and these goals can only be achieved through cooperation between all people and countries.

Who follows up on the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs?

The United Nations High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development has a central goal in the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals at a global level. The HLPF is the main UN platform on sustainable development. The forum meets annually for 8 days and every four years for 2 days. Its first meeting was held on 24 September 2013 and it replaced the Commission of Sustainable Development which had met every year before that from 1993.

On the local level, governments have the responsibility to follow up and review the progress that has been made in implementing the SDGs. They can achieve that by developing indicators that assist with the monitoring process. However, actual progress in achieving these goals can only be made through the mobilization of resources at both the domestic and international levels.

What is Agenda 21?

Agenda 21 is a sustainable development action plan that the UN adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1992. The “21” refers to the 21st century. The aim of the agenda was to achieve global sustainable development. An important outcome of the agenda was that every local government was tasked with drawing its own local Agenda 21 as well.

The resulting document had four main sections: Social and Economic Dimensions, Conservation and Management of Resources for Development, Strengthening the Role of Major Groups, and Means of Implementation.

In a way, Agenda 2030 with its 17 goals was a culmination of all the work that had been previously done starting with Agenda 21. The principles set in Agenda 21 were reaffirmed in Agenda 2030. The sustainable development goals of Agenda 2030 revolve around the same principles which are the people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership.

What are some indicators used to monitor the progress of SDGs?

A solid framework of indicators and statistics is required to monitor progress in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. That is why the UN General Assembly adopted a global indicator framework in July 2017. The framework is based on a list of indicators that monitor each of the 17 sustainable development goals. There are several indicators for each goal which are subdivided according to the statistical data they are related to. For each indicator, a 2030 target is also set. In addition, a definition of each indicator, the data sources and collection methods used, computation methods, and limitations of the data are all included in the handbook created by the UN statistics division (Source).

What progress has been made towards achieving the SDGs?

Several indicators can be used to monitor the progress being made towards achieving the goals of sustainable development. Here are some statistics that show great results achieved so far:

  • The global under-five mortality rate has dropped 47% from 2000 to 2016 (9.9 million to 5.6 million deaths). The maternal mortality rate has also been reduced by 35% in sub-Saharan Africa during the same period. These can be classified under SDG 3 which aims to promote the well-being of everyone at all ages.
  • In Southern Asia, the risk of a girl marrying in her childhood has declined by over 40% due to international efforts. Not only does this affect SDGs 4&5 (quality education and gender equality), but it also helps eradicate poverty in the long run (SDG 1).
  • The number of people living without electricity has fallen below one billion. This number is still huge, but progress is being made to ensure that resilient infrastructure and reliable energy becomes available to everyone (SDGs 7&9). For example, the number of people with access to electricity has more than doubled in the least developed countries from 2000 to 2016.

Are there issues in achieving the goals of sustainable development?

There are always unforeseen issues that can cause setbacks in achieving any goal. Some of the setbacks in recent years include:

  • World hunger is on the rise again after a long period of decline. This can be mainly linked to climate change which has caused droughts, disasters, and conflict. The number of undernourished people has risen from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016.
  • Extreme poverty rates still persist in many places. As of 2015, 10% of people still live in extreme poverty conditions living on under $1.90 per day. Although this number has greatly decreased from its level in 1990 (36%), current projections show that extreme poverty would not be eradicated completely by 2030 if we continue on the same path.
  • Malaria cases have not decreased and malaria may not be eradicated by 2030 according to the current trajectory. Actually, malaria cases have increased from 210 million in 2013 to 216 million in 2016. There are four different species of malaria and they are constantly evolving. Finding a vaccine that works for all malaria strains is unlikely, and this makes it a complex and difficult problem for now.

How can individuals help in reaching the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

Everyone needs to do their part if the SDGs are to be reached by 2030. That is why it is important to do what you can even if it doesn’t seem like much. The effects of our actions can only be seen when we combine them with the actions of our families, neighbors, and communities. However, it all starts with the individual. So what can you do to help change the world to a better place? Here are some simple ideas to get you started:

  • Turn off unused electric appliances and lights to save electricity.
  • Pay your bills online and avoid printing bank statements to save paper.
  • Recycle paper, plastic, aluminum, and glass products.
  • Try to eat less meat and poultry. These require much more resources than plants.
  • Take shorter showers to save water.
  • Bike, walk, or use public transport instead of cars. I’ve written an article on just how fast biking can be as a method of commute.
  • Share interesting social media posts about the issues that matter.

Are you a lazy person? Try the UN’s Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World! (Source). For more information on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, you can visit the official website here.