By now, most people are quite aware of climate change and at least some of the problems it’s causing. So what is being done to counter it? The United Nations (UN) set up 17 Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 to help answer the question. In creating the goals, the UN is encouraging a universal appeal to act on protection of the planet, poverty eradication, and peace and prosperity for all. They’re interdependent — you can’t choose some while neglecting others. Based on the three rungs of the sustainability ladder, they recognize that development must balance environmental, social, and economic requirements.
The UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN’s lead agency on international development, plays a key role in SDG implementation. Created in 1965, the UNDP has major areas of concern including: sustainable development, democratic governance, peacebuilding, and climate strength. Sustainable development strives to guarantee that humanity now and into the future can meet its environmental, societal, and economic needs to achieve a worthy standard of living.
The UNDP stands ready to help nations achieve the SDGs by 2030. Toward that end, they’ve created SDG integration, recognizing that the goals are interrelated and depend upon all nations’ ability to overcome their various challenges and therefore achieve a more sustainable future.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals explained
1. No poverty. End poverty by 2030. Although extreme poverty levels decreased between 1990 and 2015, in 2015 alone approximately 736 million people lived on US $1.90 or less. They experienced an overriding lack of access to food, drinkable water, and adequate sanitation.
2. Zero hunger. Eradicate all hunger and malnutrition by 2030. This requires sustainable agriculture, that support is attainable by small-scall farmers, and there is equal access to land, technology, and markets. This goal requires international efforts to provide funding for infrastructure and technology.
3. Good health and wellbeing. The increasing gap in economics and the social environment increases health risks from infectious diseases such as HIV and noncontagious diseases. Universal health coverage may be the vehicle to achieve this goal. A 31-year gap exists between countries with long life expectancies and those on the shorter side.
4. Quality education. Designed to ensure that all children worldwide can attend primary and secondary education, this goal also seeks access to cost-effective vocational education, to remove gender and economic obstacles, and to provide universal access to higher education by 2030. Developing counties have made stunning gains toward universal primary education, with total enrollment rates of 91%. This reflects a remarkable uptick in school enrollment and the corresponding increase in literacy rates. The number of children out of school has decreased by nearly 50%. Worldwide, more girls now attend school. Unfortunately, war-torn countries see less progress on this front, as do those experiencing extreme poverty.
5. Gender equality. This goal is based on the idea that female equality aids economic growth. More girls attend school than ever. (One can only hope that Afghanistan’s return to Taliban rule won’t eliminate school access for girls.) Worldwide, women need equal access to reproductive health and technology as well as the ability to own property and hold public office.
6. Clean water and sanitation. More than 40% of the world population experiences water scarcity, a figure that will likely rise. Because of increasing temperatures and desertification, experts project that 25% of the world’s population will be subject to recurring water shortages by 2050. About 4.5 billion people experienced a lack of adequate sanitation in 2015 and 2.3 billion had no sanitation whatsoever.
7. Affordable and clean energy. By 2018, 90% of people had electricity. But large numbers will require access to solar, wind, thermal, or other forms of clean energy to achieve this goal by 2030.
8. Decent work and economic growth. Attainment of the middle class among the employed in developing nations has seen incredible gains since 1991, with 34% meeting that standard in 2015. Despite this, the developing world experiences high unemployment. Fostering entrepreneurship and job creation as well as eliminating forced labor, slavery, and human trafficking are key to achieving this goal by 2030.
9. Industry, innovation, and infrastructure. Worldwide, four billion people lack internet access. Ninety percent live in developing nations. The development of infrastructure is vital to economic growth. Other key drivers toward the achievement of Goal 9 are bringing in sustainable industry, innovation, and scientific research.
10. Reduced inequalities. While gains are seen with many of the other SDGs, inequality has increased. Income disparity is widely spread. The richest 10% hold 40% of global wealth, while the poorest 10% hold only 2 to 7%. The trend is wide-ranging, with the poorest in the Middle East and richest in Europe. One workaround to this problem is to increase the regulation of financial markets and to encourage the richest to invest in countries with the greatest need.
11. Sustainable cities and communities. Today, over half the world’s population lives in cities. Many project that to increase to two-thirds by 2050. Increased movement to cities means there’s an equal rise in slum living, which has become a significant aspect of urban living. To have sustainable cities, greater business and job opportunities are required, as is affordable housing. Public transportation, green spaces, and improved urban planning are key.
12. Responsible consumption and production. A critical component of this goal is a reduction of our carbon footprint, which can be achieved by cutting back on consumption and changing production habits. Reducing food waste, changing agricultural practices to make water use more efficient, cutting down the accumulation of trash that’s landfilled, and increasing the reuse and recycling of discarded materials are critical.
13. Climate action. With greenhouse gas emissions increasing by 50% from 1990, taking immediate action is not a choice — it’s a necessity. Damage to the environment and ecosystems is causing great harm. Property damage from climate change runs into the many billions of dollars. Attainment of this goal is more likely if rich countries invest in developing nations so they can live with climate change and create greener communities. This goal seeks to cap the increase in global warming at 2 degrees Celsius. And that requires immediate action from all nations.
14. Life below water. The survival of humanity hinges on the health of the world’s oceans. Overfishing has reduced fish populations enough to leave them unable to supply the food upon which people depend. Other harms to oceans include the increased levels of acidification along with vastly growing levels of plastic pollution. Clean oceans absorb nearly one-third of the carbon dioxide humans create. Goal 14 seeks to manage and protect ocean ecosystems.
15. Life on land. Living species diversity is under threat from deforestation and desertification of the planet. Protection of suitable land for crop growing is vital to the global food and water supply. We must mitigate the damages caused by the climate crisis and provide for peace and security to care for the land.
16. Peace, justice, and strong institutions. This goal aims to reduce all forms of violence and work with regional and country leaders to stop conflict and bring about security. Limiting the supply of illegal arms and giving a greater voice to developing countries can help achieve global peace and justice.
17. Partnerships for the goals. Recognizing the interconnectedness of all nations requires a strong global alliance to achieve all of the SDGs. This means developed nations must help developing nations manage debt. They should also invest in the least developed of them. Promotion of international trade and being inclusive of developing nations in the trading process can help to achieve balance, benefiting all participants.
Future generations are depending on us: It's all up to what we do today
Achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals requires the urgent and united actions of not only all the members of the United Nations but also of everyday citizens. That’s you and I, folks. Without our combined efforts, realizing the goals may prove difficult if not impossible. And who will suffer? Not only generation but those yet to come. We want, after all, “… development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” as the Brundtland Report states.
Note: The information from this article was adapted from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals website: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/.
The content of this publication has not been approved by the United Nations and does not reflect the views of the United Nations or its officials or Member States.