In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly set forth 17 global sustainable development goals as part of their agenda for 2030. The idea behind this list of goals is that they are to be used to track global progress towards a sustainable future. They are used as a method to quantify and focus efforts and can be viewed as a framework for legislators, businesses and individuals to follow. In order to work towards a better future, these goals are important for all of us to bear in mind.
On our resource-rich planet, there is no excuse for the fact that many people around the world still live in extreme poverty. While extreme poverty has been halved globally since 1990, around 1/10th of the world's population still lives on less than $1.90 a day and faces serious challenges in meeting even their most basic needs. In the face of climate change, social injustices and growing inequality, eradicating extreme poverty globally may seem like an impossible challenge. But the first of the ambitious sustainable development goals aim to eradicate such poverty by 2030.
Our very future on this planet hinges on our ability to feed our ever-growing population. But our current systems fall woefully short. Many people around the world are hungry. Micronutrient malnutrition affects as many as 2 billion people globally. In 2017, climate-related disasters caused acute food insecurity for around 39 million people across 23 countries. Additionally, levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are detrimentally affecting the nutritional composition of staples such as rice and wheat. Social, political and environmental factors all exacerbate existing problems in food production. Through agricultural reform and other initiatives, the second goal is to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030.
Good Health & Well-Being
Eliminating unnecessary deaths and ensuring a world populace who are healthy in body and mind is also key to sustainable development. Health coverage should be universal and no one should have to die due to preventable disease. The third goal introduces health targets to reduce child mortality rates and highlights the need to work towards sustainable healthcare for all.
Education is crucial for enfranchisement and equality. Yet sadly, millions of children miss out, and millions lack even basic literacy skills. This sustainable development goal highlights the need to ensure that education is accessible by all and people have the opportunity to continue with learning throughout their lives.
Women and girls have long suffered due to societal norms that allow a range of different forms of gender bias around the world. This goal involves making sure that no one misses out or is considered to be lesser due to their gender and also that previous imbalances and inequalities are redressed.
Clean Water & Sanitation
Sustainable management of the world's freshwater is a crucial concern of sustainability. This goal involves working towards the sustainable management of freshwater resources, and making sure that everyone has access to freshwater and sanitation, wherever they live in the world.
Clean & Affordable Energy
Renewable energy is crucial to a sustainable future. This goal seeks to ensure that, as we move to a zero-carbon economy, clean, affordable renewable energy is available to all, both in developed and developing nations. It is not enough that we develop and use renewable energy technologies – we must also ensure that the poorest nations can keep up.
Good Work & Economic Growth
By 2030, the UN's target is to establish policies for sustainable development of tourism, business and trade, and financial institutions in developing nations, and to ensure there are good work opportunities for all and that the least developed nations can grow their economies by at least 7% of GDP.
Infrastructure, Industry, & Innovation
Another goal is to make sure that infrastructure investment keeps pace with the rate of progress in industry and manufacturing, that industrialization around the globe is inclusive and sustainable, and that innovation that helps us to meet the challenges now and in the future is fostered and promoted.
A Reduction in Inequality
This goal is all about making sure that in the creation of wealth, those at the lower end of the scale are not left behind. It aims to maintain income growth for the bottom 40% of the population at a rate higher than the national average, and aim, in all cases, and in a range of ways, to reduce the gap between the richest and the poorest people in society.
Sustainable Cities & Communities
There are huge problems and injustices with how and where people live in the modern world. More and more people are congregating in cities. In order for this to work in the future, cities and other communities must be better designed to meet our needs. As pressures on global cities grow, it is more crucial than ever that communities are all-inclusive, resilient and sustainable. They must be safe, productive and suitable places for human habitation, and able to meet the challenges we face moving forward.
Responsibility in Consumption & Production
In order to maintain human life on Earth, it is crucial that we move away from excessive consumption, and reduce waste. This goal seeks to ensure that we move, globally, to sustainable consumption and production patterns – including using eco-friendly production methods and reducing waste in all its forms. Progress towards this goal involves following the five 'R's – refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, recycle. It also involves moving towards zero waste systems and moving towards circular economies.
Action on Climate
Most are now aware that we are facing a climate emergency. This sustainable development goal stipulates that we must take urgent action to combat this emergency. This must be done through a range of mitigation and adaptation actions, including regulating emissions and promoting developments in renewable energy and other sustainability practices. In order to keep the global temperature less than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, emissions must fall by around 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero around 2050. The results of not meeting these targets will be catastrophic.
Oceans are absolutely vital for life on earth, and yet they, and the many species they contain, are in great peril. This goal involves conserving the Earth's oceans and seas and taking measures to conserve marine environments and use their resources wisely. Taking climate action to halt the sea level rise and an increase in ocean temperature, and curtailing plastic pollution are two key factors in meeting this goal.
Life on Land
The next sustainable development goal is all about protecting and restoring terrestrial ecosystems. It involves protecting forests and other crucial ecosystems and their species. It involves putting a halt to the terrible biodiversity loss the world is currently experiencing, and reversing a pattern of land degradation. The loss of biodiversity is a particular area of concern. Species abundance is down by 60% since 1970. In the human food chain, biodiversity loss is affecting health and socio-economic development. There are major implications for well-being, productivity, and even regional security. All these problems are only set to intensify as global warming continues. This goal sets forth targets for preserving the biodiversity of a range of different ecosystems, as a percentage of the total landmass, and for restoring ecosystems that have been damaged by humanity.
Peace, Justice & Strong Institutions
One of the biggest barriers to sustainable development has been discord, violence and a lack of accountability for wrongdoers. In order to create peaceful, sustainable communities, this goal sets out the need to eliminate major injustices such as violent crime, sex trafficking, forced labor and other forms of abuse around the world. It calls for access to impartial and fair justice systems for all and lays out the need to create effective judicial systems that are accountable and inclusive at all levels. As part of this goal, the need for universal birth registration, civil rights, and social services are highlighted.
Partnerships in Working Towards These Goals
Finally, the last of the 17 sustainable development goals highlights the vital importance of international cooperation. This is seen as crucial to success in meeting the previous goals on this list and is included as a reminder that countries working towards the goals should work together rather than competing. Partnerships in knowledge and expertise, technology and innovation, and in financial terms are all crucial to meeting the goals, as is cooperation between the public and private sectors.