Sustainable Development Goals Explained

You've probably heard the term “sustainable development” many times but did you know that all the countries in the United Nations have agreed on a set of formal sustainable development goals that are meant to ensure that everyone understands what sustainable development means and how they might benefit from it.

Let's take a look at these specific goals in more detail and see how they might lead to a sustainable future for everyone on the planet.


The 17 Formal Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable Development Goals

It is worth noting that the agreement also recognized the need for financial and technical assistance to be provided to some countries in order to meet these goals.

The United Nations recognizes that not every nation is approaching sustainable development from the same place in their economic development or social development.

P.S. If you come across a term you haven't encountered before in the list of goals – see our sustainable glossary for some explanations.


An End To Poverty

By 2015, when the goals were agreed upon the number of people living in absolute poverty had fallen to an all-time low of 10% of the global population.

However, not only does that mean that 700 million live with no benefits at all from economic growth and struggle to feed themselves, clothe themselves, and meet other basic needs.

But many other people live on the brink of poverty and there is a genuine risk, accelerated by the Covid-19 response, of tens of millions falling back into poverty.

Thus, the first goal is simply to end poverty for everyone. As sustainable development can never come about while people cannot care for themselves.


An End To Hunger (Sustainable Food Production Systems)

The UN currently estimates that nearly 690 million people suffer from not being able to get enough to eat. Hunger is increasing among the population and current economic events around the world mean that hundreds of millions more are at risk of going hungry in the coming years.

By 20230, this could see as many as a billion people going without enough food. And 25% of these people are at risk of starving to death!

Sustainable food production and supply chains are essential to resolving this goal.


The Right To Health And Well-Being

If there's one lesson to be learned from the Covid epidemic, it's that we all value our health and wellbeing equally.

While the health of untold millions has improved thanks to the medical developments of the previous years, there is still much work to be done and particularly in least developed countries.

To put this in context, in 2018, nearly 6.2 million children around the world, under the age of 15, died and most of them died of conditions that are entirely preventable.


Quality Education For All

A sustainable future is only possible through economic growth and economic growth is only possible with more educated populations who are all able to contribute to the sustainable development of their economy and local industry.

Nearly a quarter of a billion children still have no access to quality education at all. And over 1 billion children lost some or a significant amount of their education due to Covid lockdowns.


Gender Equality

The United Nations sees gender equality as an extremely important factor in sustainable development and there has been progress in this area.

Fewer women are forced into marriage, more are taking up leadership and education opportunities and legal systems around the world are being modified to support gender equality.

However, extreme poverty still impacts women more than men and the pandemic saw steep increases in violence leveled at women and girls too.

The good news regarding this goal is that now over 100 countries have begun to allocate and track budgets for gender equality.


The Right To Clean Water And Sanitation

Perhaps even more important if we are to adopt sustainable practices, than an end to hunger, is access to safe drinking water.

One in three people still does not have access to clean, safe drinking water. 40% can't wash their hands somewhere hygienic. Nearly 700 million individuals still have to defecate in the open.

This is a huge risk to global goals, and to the target for full and productive employment as nobody can be expected to work when they're sick due to water contamination.

Basic services help to lift people out of extreme poverty and help create inclusive and sustainable urbanization too.


Affordable, Clean Energy For Everyone

Sustainable energy is absolutely essential to the future of the human race. Sustainable and resilient buildings, for example, need to be powered without polluting the planet.

Over 3 billion people still lack access to clean, safe energy to cook with.

Nearly 1 billion, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, have no electricity at all. This must change.


Work For Everyone With Economic Growth

The global economy including world agricultural markets is in crisis. Even before Covid-19 struck more than 1 in 5 countries globally were seeing their incomes decline or stagnate.

If action is not taken to protect people around the world by all members of the United Nations we are facing a recession that is likely to be far, far worse than that of 2009.

We can expect huge numbers of unemployed to flood into the market and this will interfere with sustainable human settlement planning and many other actions intended to tackle climate change and other major environmental issues.


Industry, Innovation, And Infrastructure

This one of the global goals is, perhaps, the most ambitious of them all. It requires each country in the United Nations to make huge investments in improving their industrial sectors to boost the global gross domestic product.

Covid-19 has been a major disrupting force on this goal and investment in R&D and new manufacturing is not much higher than it was in the year 2000.

The bright side is that nearly everyone has access to a mobile network now and that means communications technology is available to nearly all businesses.

To reach this one of our global goals, it seems certain that official development assistance will be required in the form of large amounts of cash from the World Bank, World Trade Organization, etc.


Reduced Inequalities Around The World

Large investments are required in regional development planning to help deliver the economic resources needed to fix inequality (a vague term when applied globally).

One thing that there's no doubt about is that Covid-19 had a severely negative impact on this and that existing inequalities were drastically worsened under lockdowns.


Sustainable Cities And Communities

Nearly 6 in 10 human beings will live in cities by the year 2030. Rapid urbanization is a serious challenge and it means more than building sustainable buildings but thought needs to be given to other areas of urban planning such as sustainable transport systems if these developments are to benefit slum dwellers as much as they benefit the wealthy homeowner.

There is significant concern that the impacts of Covid-19 will make cities worse places to live with the social fabric being irreparably harmed by lockdowns and the poorest and most vulnerable left to starve.


Responsible Consumption And Production

Over $1 trillion of food, roughly one-third of all food by weight, is discarded each year and left to rot! We could save an incredible $120 billion from the global electricity bill just by switching to energy-efficient light bulbs!

This may be the only one of our global goals that has been positively impacted by Covid-19 with the lockdowns providing breathing room for governments to plan sustainable consumption and production as part of their recovery plans.


Climate Action For Climate Change

The decade from 2010 to 2019 was the warmest on record. And despite the Covid-19 lockdowns, there is no change to the pace of change in the global climate.

The Paris Agreement of 2015 was meant to give this goal some “teeth” but sadly, though countries have paid lip service to their commitments none of them have delivered on the kind of energy efficiency and clean energy technology needed or supplied enough financial resources to make this a reality.

Already, the target of keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius has been shifted to 2 degrees.


Life Below Water

This goal means conserving the world's oceans, seas, and watercourses and using the resources they provide in a sustainable manner.

The UN Ocean conference for this goal has been postponed from June 2020 to July 2022 due to the Covid-19 responses.


Life On Land

UN data suggests that human activity has had an impact on 75% of all land on the planet.

Over 1 million species are under threat of extinction. Forests are disappearing. Zoonotic diseases are an increasing threat to our lives.

The UN has launched the decade of ecosystem restoration, which ends in 2030 to help achieve this goal.


Peace, Justice, And Strong Institutions For All

Human conflict remains the biggest threat to everything from implementing integrated policies to sustainable cities. The secretary-general of the UN has called for a global ceasefire of all conflicts to try and resolve this issue once and for all.


Working In Partnership To Achieve The Goals

Finally, the sustainable development goals are not a solo effort, the UN intends to encourage growth towards achieving the global goals using a global partnership working approach.

Global partnership will be encouraged and supported toward global goals in both formal and informal settings.


Final Thoughts On The Sustainable Development Goals

One thing you might not know about the sustainable development goals is that these global goals are meant to be achieved by 2030!

The targets are ambitious but they are vital if we are to be able to tackle climate change and begin environmentally sound management of the planet around us.

This, of course, then links to Gaia Theory as a means of treating our developing world as a single organism which requires a unified approach to caring for it.

If you would like to get more involved in sustainable initiatives check out these free and low-cost sustainable education resources.

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