UN Sustainable Development Goals

To tackle environmental changes and make the planet liveable for future generations while pursuing development, the United Nations sets a collection of 17 goals designed to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all in 2015 UN General Assembly. As it is going on and intended to be by the year 2030, here we give the highlights of the background and the 17 goals. We will give the more details of each goals and the current updates in other articles.


The Background:


In 1972, Stockholmes, Sweden, delegates from various countries met for the United Nations Conference on Human Environment to consider the rights of the family to a healthy and productive environment.

In 1983, the United Nations created the World Commission on Environment and Development (The Brundtland Commission), which defined sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” And In 1992, the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) or the Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro, where the first agenda for Environment and Development, also known as Agenda 21, was developed and adopted.

The Rio+20 outcome document mentioned that, “at the outset, the Open Working Group (OWG) will decide its method of work, including developing modalities to ensure the full involvement of relevant stakeholders and expertise from civil society, indigenous peoples, the scientific community and the UN system in its work, in order to provide a diversity of perspective and experience.” 

Again in 2012, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNSD), also known as Rio+20, was held as a 20-year follow up to UNCED. The idea of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed by Columbia at a preparation event for Rio+20 held in Indonesia in July 2011 was picked up by the United Nations Department of Public Information 64th NGO Conference in Bonn, Germany in Sept. 2011.

The outcome document proposed 17 Sustainable Development Goals and associated targets. After lots of discussions about the idea of SDGs at the Rio+20 Conference, a resolution known as “The Future We Want” was reached by member states. This was the beginning, and among the key theme agreed on were poverty eradication, energy, water and sanitation, health and human settlements.

In January 2013, the 30-member UN General Assembly Open Working Group (OWG) on SDGs was established to identify specific goals for the SDGs. The OWG was tasked with preparing a proposal on the SDGs for consideration in the General Assembly. On 5th Dec. 2014, the UNGA accepted the Secretary General’s synthesis report which stated that the agenda for the post 2015 SDGs process would be based on the WOG proposals.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General from 2007-2016 has stated in a press conference that, “We don’t have plan B because there is no planet B.” This thought has guided the development of the SDGs. The post-2015 Development Agenda: It was processed from 2012 to 2015 led by the UN to define the future global development framework that would succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which ended in 2015.

The gaps and shortcoming of MDG goal 8 (To develop global partnership for development) led to identifying a problematic donor-recipient relationship. Instead, the new SDGs favor collective action by all countries. The UN-led process involved its 193 member states and global civil society. The resolution is a broad intergovernmental agreement that act as the Post-2015 Development Agenda. 

The SDGs is built on the principles agreed upon in the resolution entitled, “The Future We Want.” This was a non-binding document released as a result of Rio+20 Conference held in 2012.

Goal 1: No Poverty 

“End poverty in all its forms everywhere.” 

Extreme poverty has been cut by more than half since 1990 but still, around 1 in 10 people live on less than the target figure of international $ 1.25 per day. A very low poverty threshold is justified by highlighting the need of those people who are worst off. SDGs is to end extreme poverty globally by 2030. 

The target may not be adequate for human sustenance and basic needs, however, it is for this reason that changes relative to higher poverty lines are also commonly tracked. Poverty is more than the lack of means or resource. People live in poverty if they lack basic services such as healthcare, security and education. They also experience hunger, social discrimination exclusion from decision-making processes. 

One possible alternative metric is the Multidimensional Poverty Index. Children make up the majority-more than half- of those living in extreme poverty. However, the figure are not so reliable due to huge gaps in date on the status of children worldwide. On average 97% of countries have insufficient data to determine the state of impoverished children and make projection towards SDG Goal 1, and 63% of countries have no data on child poverty at all. 

Women face potentially life-threatening risks from early pregnancy and frequent pregnancies. This result can result in lost hope for an education and for a better income. Poverty affects age group differently, with the most devastating affects on children. It affects their education, health, nutrition and security impacting emotional and spiritual development. 

Achieving Goal No.1 is hampered by lack of economic growth in the poorest countries, growing inequality, increasingly fragile statehood and the impact of climate change. 

Goal 2: Zero Hunger 

“End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.” 

Goal 2 states that by 2030 we should end hunger and all forms of malnutrition. This would be accomplished by doubling agricultural productivity and incomes of small scale food producers (women and indigenous people) by ensuring sustainable food production systems, and by progressively improving land and soil quality.

Agriculture is the single largest employer in the world, providing livelihoods for 40% of the global population. It is the largest source of income for poor rural households. Women make up about 50% in parts of Asia and Africa. However, women own only 20% of the land. 

Other targets deal with maintaining generic diversity of seeds, increasing access to land, preventing trade restriction and distortions in world agricultural markets to limit extreme food price volatility, eliminating waste with help from International Food Waste Coalition, and ending malnutrition and under-nutrition of children. 

Globally 1 out of 9 people are undernourished, the vast majority of whom live in developing countries. Under-nutrition causes wasting or severe wasting of 52 million children worldwide and contributes to nearly half (45%) of deaths of children under 5 i.e. 3.1 million children per year. 

Chronic malnutrition, which affects an estimated 15.5 million children worldwide, also stunts children’s brain and physical development and puts them at further risk of death, disease and lack of success adults. A report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) of 2013 stated that the emphasis of the SDGs should not be on ending poverty by 2030, but on eliminating hunger and under-nutrition by 2025. 

The assertion is based on analysis of experiences in China, Vietnam, Brazil and Thailand. Three pathways to achjeve this were identified: 1) Agricultural-led; 2) Social protection and nutrition-intervention-led; or 3) A combination of both of these approaches. 

Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being for People 

“Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all the ages.” 

Sufficient strides have been made in increasing life expectancy and reducing some of the common killers associated with child and maternal mortality. Between 2000 and 2016, the worldwide under-five mortality decreased by 47% (from 78 deaths to 41 deaths per 1000 live births), but still the number of children dying under age five is extremely high. 

The SDG Goal 3 aims to reduce under-five mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1000 live births. But if the current trend persists, more than 60 countries will miss the target even by 2050. Goal 3 also aims to reduce maternal mortality to less than 70 deaths per 100,000 live births. 

The key strategies for meeting SDG Goal 3 will be to reduce adolescent pregnancy, provide better data for all women and girls, and achieve universal coverage of skilled birth attendants. Progress has been made on increasing access to clean water and sanitation and on reducing malaria, tuberculosis, polio and the spread of HIV/AIDS. 

However, current trend mean that 1 out of 4 and 3 out of 4 countries will not meet the SDGs target to end AIDS among children under 5 and among adolescents respectively. Additionally, only half of women in developing countries have received the healthcare they need, and the need for family planning is increasing exponentially as the population grows. 

Goal 3 aims to achieve universal health coverage including access to essential medicines and vaccines. Around 2 in 5 countries will need to accelerate progress in order to reach SDG target for immunization. Attention to health and well-being also includes targets related to the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, deaths and injuries from traffic accidents and from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination. 

Goal 4: Quality Education 

“Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” 

Major progress has been made to access education, specifically at the primary school level for both boys and girls. The number of out-of-school children has almost halved from 1997 to 2014, still, at least 22 million children in 43 countries will miss out pre-primary education unless the rate of progress doubles. 

Access does not always mean quality of education or completion of primary school. 103 million youths worldwide still lack basic literacy skills and more than 60% of these are women. In 1 out of 4 countries, more than half of children failed to meet minimum math proficiency standards at the end of primary school, and at the lower secondary level, the rate was 1 in 3 countries. 

Target 1 of Goal 4 is to ensure that by 2030, all girls and boys complete free equitable and quality primary and secondary education. The degree of progress is difficult to track since 75% of countries have no or insufficient data to track progress towards SDG Goal 4 targets for learning outcomes (target 1), early childhood education (target 2), and effective learning environments. Data on learning outcomes and pre-primary school are particularly scarce, and 70% and 40% of countries lack adequate data for these targets respectively. 

A 2019 study used computer modelling to estimate educational attainment for men and women from 2000 to 2017, mapping the results for each country to help identify areas lagging behind. 

Goal 5: Gender Equality 

“Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” 

According to the UN, “gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.” Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work and representation in political and economical decision-making processes will nurture sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large. 

In many nations, gender discrimination is still woven into the fabric of legal systems and social norms. Even though SDG 5 is a stand-alone goal, other SDGs can only be achieved if the needs of women receive the same attention as the needs of men. Issue unique to women and girls include traditional practices against all women and girls in the public and private sphere such as female genital mutilation. 

Child marriage has declined over the past decades, yet there is no region that is currently on track to eliminate the practice and reach SDG targets by 2030. Achieving gender equality will require enforceable legislation that promotes empowerment of all women and girls, and requires secondary education for all girls. 

The targets call for an end to gender discrimination and for empowerment of women and girls through technology. Some have advocated for “listening to girls.” The assertion is that the SDG can deliver transformative change for girls only if are consulted. Their priorities and needs must be taken into account. 

Girls should be viewed not as beneficiaries of change, but as agents of change. Engaging women and girls in the implementation is crucial. 

Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation 
“Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” 

The SDG has 8 targets and 11 indicators that will be used to monitor progress toward the targets. Most are to be achieved by 2030 while one is targeted for 2020. The first three targets relate to drinking water supply and sanitation. Safe drinking water and hygienic toilets protect people from diseases and enable societies to be more productive economically. 

Attending school and work without disruption is critical to successful education and employment. Therefore, toilets in schools and work places are specifically mentioned as a target to measure. Equitable sanitation calls for addressing the specific needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations, such as the elderly or people with disabilities. 

Water sources are better preserved if open defecation is ended and sustainable sanitation systems are implemented. Ending open defecation will require provision of toilets and sanitation for 2.6 billion people well as behavioural change of the users. This will require cooperation between governments, civil society and the private sector. 

The main indicator for the sanitation target is the proportion of population using safely managed sanitation services, including a hand-washing facility with soap and water. 

To meet the target for sanitation by 2030, nearly one-third of countries will need to accelerate progress to end open defecation. The Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA) has made its mission to achieve SDGs. SuSanA’s position is that the SDGs are highly interdependent. Therefore the provision of clean water and sanitation for all is a precursor to achieving many of the other SDGs. 

Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy 

“Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all” 

Targets for 2030 include access to affordable and reliable energy while increasing the share of renewable energy in the global energy mine. This would involve improving the energy efficiency and enhancing international corporation to facilitate more open access to clean energy technology and more investment in clean energy infrastructure. 

Plans calls for particular attention to infrastructure support for the least develop countries, small islands and land-locked developing countries. 

Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth
“Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all” World Pensions Council (WPC) development economists have argued that the twin considerations of long-term economic growth and infrastructure investment were not prioritised enough. 

The fact they were designated as the number 8 and 9 objective respectively was considered a rather “mediocre ranking which defies common sense.” For the least developed countries the target is to attain at least 7% annual growth in GDP. 

Achieving higher productivity will require diversification and the upgraded technology along with innovation, entrepreneurship, and the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Some targets are for 2030 and the others are for 2020. 

The target for 2020 is to reduce youth unemployment and operationalize a global strategy for employment. Implementing the Global Job Pack of the International Labour Organization (ILO) is also mentioned. By 2030, the target is to establish policies for sustainable tourism that will create jobs. 

̃Strengthening domestic financial institutions and increasing Aid for Trade support for developing countries is considered essential to economic development. The enhanced integrated framework for trade-related technical assistance to least developed countries is mentioned as a method for achieving sustainable economic development. 

Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure 

“Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and faster innovation.” 

Manufacturing is a major source of employment, the least developed countries had less “manufacturing value added per capita.” The manufacturing of high products contribute 80% of the total manufacturing output in industrialized economies but barely 10% in the least developed countries. 

Mobile-cellular signal coverage has improved a great deal. Planet-wide, 95% of the global population is covered. Goal 10: Reducing inequalities “Reduce income inequality within and among countries.” Target 10.1, "to sustain income growth of the bottom 40% of the population at a rate higher than the national average,” is complimenting SDG 1, the eradication of extreme poverty, and it is relevant for all countries in the world. 

Target 10.3 is to reduce the transaction costs of migrant remittances to below 3%. The target of 3% was established as the cost that international workers would have to pay to send money home. However, post offjces and money transfer companies currently charge 6% of the amount remitted. Even worse, commercial bank charge 11%. Prepaid cards and mobile companies charge 2 to 4 percent. 

Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities
“Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” 

The target for 2030 is to ensure access to safe and affordable housing. The indicator named to measure progress towards this target is the proportion of urban population living in the slums or informal settlements. However, even though the proportion fell in percentage, the absolute number of people living in slums rises due to acceleration of the movement of people from rural to urban areas as the population has grown and better housing alternatives are available. 

Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production 

“Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.” 

The targets of Goal 12 includes using eco-friendly production methods and reducing the amount of waste. By 2030, nation recycling rates should increase as measured in tons of materials recycled. Further, companies should adopt sustainable practices and publish sustainability reports. 

Target 12.1 calls for the implementation of the 10-year framework of progressive on sustainable consumption and production. This framework, adopted by member states at the UN conference on Sustainable Development is a global commitment to accelerate the shift to sustainable consumption and production in developed and developing countries. 

In order to generate the collective impact necessary for such a shift, program such as the One Planet Network have formed implementation methods to help achieve Goal 12. 

Goal 13: Climate action 

“Take urgent action to control climate change and its impact by regulating emissions and promoting developments in renewable energy.” 

The UN discussions and negotiations identified the links between the post-2015 SDG process and the financing for development process that concluded in Addis Ababa in July 2015 and the COP 21 Climate change conference in Paris in December 2015. 

In May 2015, a report concluded that only a very ambitious climate deal in Paris 2015 could enable countries to reach the SDGs and targets. The report also states that tackling climate change will only be possible if the SDGs are met. Further, economic development and climate change are inextricably link, particularly around poverty, gender equality and energy. 

The UN encourages the public sector to take initiative in this effort to minimize negative impacts on the environment. This renewed emphasis on climate change mitigation was made possible by the partial Sino-American Convergence that developed in 2015-2016, notably at the UN COP 21 Summit in Paris and ensuring G20 Conference in Hangzhou. 

At a 2017 UN Press briefing, Global CEO Alliance (UNCEOA), Chairman James Donovan described the Asia-Pacific region which is a region particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, as needing more Public-Private Partnership (PPP) to successfully implement its sustainable development. 

Global Warming of 1.5o

In 2018, the International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) published a special report, “Global Warming of a 1.5o C.” It outlined the impacts of a 1.5o C global temperature rise above pre-industrial level and highlighted the possibility of avoiding a number of such impacts by limiting global warming to 1.5o C compared to 2o C or more. 

The report mentioned that this would require global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero by around 2050, through “rapid and far reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, building, transport and cities. 

Despite being requested by countries at the COP21, the report was not accepted by 4 countries- The US, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait which only wanted to “note” it, thereby postponing the resolution to the SBSTA Session in 2019. 

Goal 14: Life below water 

“Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.” 

The effective strategies mitigate adverse affects of increased ocean acidification are needed to advance the sustainable use of oceans. As areas of protected marine biodiversity expand, there has been an increase in ocean science funding essential for preserving marine resources. 

The deterioration of coastal water has become a global occurrence, due to pollution and coastal eutrophication, where similar contributing factors to climate change can affect oceans and negatively impact marine biodiversity. Coastal eutrophication is expected to increase in 20% of large marine ecosystems by 2050. 

International law, as reflected in the UN Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), stressed the need to include governance instruments to consider anthropogenic activities taking place outside of the oceans. Concerns regarding ocean health in destructive fishing practice and marine pollution were discussed, in looking at the role of local communities of small island developing states (SIDS) and least developed countries (LDCs) to not forget that oceans are a large part of their economies. 

The targets include preventing and reducing marine pollution and regulating fishing. The target also calls for an increase in scientific knowledge of the oceans. Although many participating UN legislative bodies come together to discuss the issues around marine environments and SDG 14, such as the UN Ocean Conference, it is important to consider how SDG 14 is implemented across different multilateral environmental agreements respectively. 

As climate, biodiversity and land degradation are major parts of the issues surrounding the deterioration of marine environments and oceans, it is important to know each Rio Convention implements this SDG. Since oceans cover 71% of the Earth’s surface, they are essential for making the planet liveable. Over 3 billion people depend on marine life for their livelihood and oceans contain more than 200,000 identified species and still, there might be thousands of species that are yet to be discovered. 

Oceans are the world’s largest sources of protein. However, there has been a 26% increase in acidification since the industrial revolution. And the impacts of rising sea levels by 20 centimetres since the start of the 20th century and the increase in acidity since the industrial revolution has contributed to the melting of ice sheets through the thermal expansion of sea water. 

Goal 14 has been incorporated into the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) and the UN Convention to Control Desertification (UNCD). 

Goal 15: Life on land 

“Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse degradation and halt bio-diversity loss.” 

This goal articulates targets for preserving biodiversity of forest, desert and mountain ecosystems as a percentage of total land mass. Achieving a “land degradation neutral world” can be reached by restoring degraded forest and land lost to drought and flood. Goal 15 calls for more attention to preventing invasion of introduced species. 

Forests have a prominent role to play in the success of Agenda 2030, notably in terms of ecosystem services, livelihoods and the green economy. But this will require clear priorities to address key trade-offs and mobilize synergies with other SDGs. 

Goal 16: Peace, Justice and strong institutions 

“Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” 

Reducing violent crime, sex trafficking, forced labour and child abuse are clear global goals. The international community values peace and justice and calls for stronger judicial systems that will enforce laws and work towards a more peaceful and just society. 

By 2017, the UN could report progress on detecting victims of trafficking, more women and girls than men and boys were victimized, yet the share of women and girls has slowly declined. In 2004, 84% of victims were females and by 2014 that number had dropped to 71%. Sexual exploitation numbers have declined but forced labour has increased. 

One target is to see the end of sex trafficking, forced labour, and all forms of violence against and torture of children. However, reliance on the indicator of “crimes reported” makes monitoring and achieving this goal challenging. For instance, 84% of countries have no or insufficient data on violent punishment of children. 

From all the data available, it is clear that violence against children by their caregivers remains pervasive. Nearly 8 in 10 children aged 1 to 14 are subjected to violent discipline on a regular basis and no country is on track to eliminate violent discipline by 2030. 

SDG 16 also targets universal legal identity and birth regulation, ensuring the right to a name and nationality, civil rights, recognition before the law, and access to justice and social services. With more than a quarter of children under 5 unregistered worldwide as of 2015, about 1 in 5 countries will need to accelerate progress to achieve universal birth registration by 2030. 

Goal 17: Partnership for the goals 

“Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.” 

Increasing international cooperation is seen as vital to achieving each of the 16 previous goals. Goal 17 is included to assure that countries and organisations cooperate instead of compete. Developing multi stakeholder partnerships to share knowledge, expertise, technology, and financial support is seen as critical to overall success of the SDGs. The goal encompasses improving North-South and South-South cooperation, and public-private partnership which involve civil societies are specifically mentioned.

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