What are the UN's Sustainable Development Goals?

Sustainable Development Goals (17 SDGs) Image


In 2015, over a hundred world leaders gathered at the United Nations (UN) and agreed upon a set of 17 global development goals to put an end to poverty, protect the environment and promote prosperity for everyone by 2030. These goals are widely known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which UN member states are expected to use in framing their agendas and political policies for the next 15 years. Achieving these goals will require collaboration and participation among governments, the private sector, civil society and individuals.

Building upon the successes of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the SDGs are part of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which aims to be “a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity that seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom.” These goals put together the strands of peace, the rule of law, human rights, development and equality to create a comprehensive and progressive framework. More importantly, the SDGs intend to balance the three dimensions of sustainable development, namely the economic, social and environmental.

The SDGs were created to address the fact that current levels of economic development are not sustainable. Human activity, in particular, is causing an increase in the levels of greenhouse gases, which consequently causes the atmosphere to retain heat. With this in mind, policy makers must prioritize sustainable development over economic development.

What is sustainable development?

The UN defines sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Sustainable development is vital in reversing the negative environmental effects of economically inefficient and wasteful use of the Earth’s natural capital. It also promotes an inclusive and environmentally sound growth that can continue to meet the needs of future generations.

Sustainable development aims to achieve long-term stability of the economy and the environment, yet this is easier said than done. This would require the integration of economic, social and environmental objectives across sectors, territories and generations into policy makers’ decision making processes.

What are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 17)?

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which took effect in January 2016, compel world leaders to accomplish the following by 2030:

Goal 1 End poverty in all its forms
Goal 2 End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
Goal 3 Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all
Goal 4 Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Goal 5 Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Goal 6 Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Goal 7 Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Goal 8 Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Goal 9 Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Goal 10 Reduce inequality within and among countries
Goal 11 Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Goal 12 Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Goal 13 Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Goal 14 Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Goal 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
Goal 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
Goal 17 Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development


Within these 17 goals are 169 particular targets that further outline the responsibilities and collective action required. These set of goals are interconnected, and succeeding on one goal will depend on how governments tackle the issues commonly associated with another. Though the SDGs are not legally binding, UN state members are compelled to establish national frameworks in achieving them.

How are the SDGs different from MDGs?

Though the MDGs created a framework in developing policies and overseas programs to eradicate poverty, these were inadequate in addressing the root causes of poverty. Furthermore, the MDGs failed to specify actions against gender inequality, and made no mention of human rights. The MDGs provided a starting point in addressing the world’s most pressing issues, but a lot of work still needs to be done.

On the other hand, the SDGs are broader in scope and universal. Whereas the MDGs focus on instigating actions in developing countries, the SDGs are used to spur actions in all countries. Another core feature of the SDGs is their focus on means of implementation, or the mobilization of financial resources, along with capacity building and technology.

“No one left behind”

Another key aspect of these goals is that these aim for a better world where “no one will be left behind.” This phrase is at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals: at its core, the SDGs promote efforts to lift up the most vulnerable people living on the margins of society. These people, including the youth, refugees and migrants, rural farmers and indigenous populations, are often overlooked by the society.

Leaving no one behind is also one of the key lessons learned from the MDGs. In gauging its progress, countries resorted to averages, consequently leaving out core segments of society. By ensuring that no one gets left behind in achieving the SDGs, governments are pledging to work towards shared progress – a progress that benefits those on the margins as much as those at the top of society.

Can these goals be achieved?

As ambitious as these goals may sound, progress with the SDGs can actually be achieved in the next 15 years. It starts by building upon the progress created through the MDGs and going further in addressing today’s social, economic and environmental problems.

Innovation and technology play a key role in achieving these goals. As the digital revolution rages on, policy makers can make the most out of innovations to create solutions that create a positive socio-economic impact on individuals, businesses and governments. Collaboration between the public and private sector will also be vital in fully realizing the SDGs. With the creation of public-private partnerships (PPPs), world leaders and corporate leaders can develop turnkey projects that address problems in the areas of energy, food, economic preservation, water, sustainable cities and economic vibrancy.

With the SDGs, the UN envisions this generation as the first to “end extreme poverty, the most determined generation in history to end injustice and inequality, and the last generation to be threatened by climate change.” Everyone has a role to play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and everyone is urged to get involved. There’s no doubt that the world has the resources, the knowledge and the technology to drive towards sustainable development – the challenge is to find the will and investments to unlock this future.

To learn more about how you can be a part of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, Contact ADEC Innovations today.