What Are Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a list of targets to end poverty, fight inequality, and stop climate change by 2030. They were formalized in 2015 at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit following the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

SDGs are not a binding contract. They are a guide for action that world leaders are committed to achieving through cooperation across countries and within the public, private sectors.

Overview of the Sustainable Development Goals

A sustainable economic, environmental, and social future for everyone is at the core of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by UN member states in 2015. They are a universal call to action and a key outcome of the United Nations Millennium Declaration.

This forward-thinking approach ensures that no one will be left behind. With everyone engaged, it becomes possible to end extreme poverty within this generation.

The 2030 Agenda recognizes that sustainable development must go beyond economic growth alone to include social inclusion and environmental protection. To reach this ambitious vision within the next few years, all stakeholders must work together.

The agenda is universal while taking into account different national realities, capacities, and levels of development, while respecting national policies and priorities.


Goal 1: No Poverty

Poverty has long been identified as a key barrier to sustainable human development. In 2017, approximately 689 million people are said to live in extreme poverty, which means living on less than $1.90 per day.

With more threats coming in, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, more work is needed to be done to end poverty.

Poverty eradication is at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 1 outlines a commitment to leave no one behind. It ensures that all people can take part in, and benefit from, sustainable development.

This recognition not only includes quantifiable targets such as halving the proportion of people living below the poverty line by 2030. It also considers non-quantifiable measures such as ensuring equal access for all men and women to markets, resources, and opportunities.

Goal 2: Zero Hunger

According to data from the UN World Food Programme, 957 million people across 93 countries are victims of hunger.

The UN has the goal to establish a world in which everyone enjoys access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food all year round by 2030.

This includes putting an end to all forms of malnutrition that restrict people's mental or physical abilities. It also aims at reducing infant mortality rates within the next few years.

Reducing chronic hunger requires specific actions in areas such as investing in small-scale agriculture and building infrastructure. It also aims to expand social protections, and put in place early warning systems that can respond quickly when natural disasters or conflicts occur.

Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being

This will be achieved by ending preventable deaths from dangerous diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, polio, or Ebola.

It also aims to provide universal access to safe drinking water and offer adequate sanitation facilities for all people. It aims to increase accessible education at all levels on sexual and reproductive health information and services.

It also focuses on empowering women through greater economic participation, and protects vulnerable groups such as children or people living with disabilities.

Goal 4: Quality Education

In a measure developed by the World Bank and UNESCO's Institute of Statistics, illiteracy level in children is said to be at 53% in low and middle-income countries. In poor countries, the level reaches as high as 80%.

Because of this, a strong emphasis on providing quality education for all has been a key component of the SDGs.

To achieve this goal by 2030 requires investing in teachers, curricula, and school infrastructure. Promoting equal access to vocational training, continuing education, and adult literacy are also given consideration.

Goal 5: Gender Equality

Gender equality is not only a human right but also a precondition for sustainable development. Achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls requires ensuring that they have access to education and decent work.

They should also be represented well in political and economic decision-making processes.

It also means ending violence against women and girls, and eliminating discriminatory laws and practices.

Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

Goal 6 has a strong focus on ensuring access to clean water for all by 2030, especially in rural areas. This includes promoting sustainable management of water resources through education, research, and technology.

Sustainable management of water resources is a major concern due to the possible effects of climate change on rainfall patterns. Providing adequate sanitation facilities for everyone is also essential given its dangerous link to infectious diseases.

Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

In order to promote sustainable development, it is essential to ensure access to affordable, reliable, and clean energy.

This goal has three targets:

  • increase access to energy for all
  • double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency
  • double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

Achieving these objectives will require accelerating deployment of low-carbon technologies, sustainable investing in research and development, and strengthening international cooperation.

Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

The central focus of this goal is to use education, technology, and public policies that promote growth and trade that supports the poor. Labor rights are also emphasized in an increasingly global economy to create jobs in which people are treated fairly.

This can be achieved by providing adequate social protection programs so workers can be protected in case they lose their job. Promoting decent work conditions, ensuring income equality, supporting small-scale agriculture, and creating local economic partnerships are vital in the achievement of this goal.

Goal 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure

This goal focuses on promoting sustainable industrialization to create jobs while ensuring that environmental damage is minimized. This is done especially through the use of renewable energy sources.

To achieve this goal, there must be a focus on research and development for innovative technologies that promote sustainable production processes.

Small-scale entrepreneurs should be provided with adequate financial services. Corporate social responsibility should also be encouraged in both developed countries and emerging markets.

Building regional collaborations across national borders and furthering international labor rights are also essential.

Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities

According to data from the World Inequality Report, a wide gap is evident in the global wealth distribution. The poorest half of the global population owns only 2% of the global total and the richest owns 76% of all wealth.

With wealth and income inequality on the rise, sound policies that empower low-income earners and proper economic inclusion of all are essential to achieve sustainable development.

Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

There is an increasing awareness that urban development must now focus on making cities better places to live in.

Increased collaboration of the government, along with NGOs, will ensure waste is reduced while humans are better protected from the effects of climate change.

To achieve this goal, there must be greater emphasis on affordable housing, reduced pollution, and increased access to public transportation for all citizens. These are all important towards building more sustainable cities through the use of renewable energy sources.

Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

This goal calls for a fundamental change in the way we produce and consume goods and services. It focuses on sustainable production and consumption patterns.

Some of the objectives include: promoting resource-efficient and eco-friendly production methods; encouraging sustainable lifestyles that reduce consumption; developing environmentally-friendly products and services; and increasing awareness of the benefits of sustainable consumption.

Goal 13: Climate Action

Climate change is a real and pressing issue that requires concerted global action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses.

This goal aims to keep the increase in global average temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius and, where possible, 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Actions that need to be taken to achieve this goal include: increasing energy efficiency; phasing out fossil fuels and promoting renewable energy sources; encouraging sustainable land-use practices; and developing innovative technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Goal 14: Life Below Water

The health of our oceans is essential for the survival of our planet and human societies.

This goal focuses on the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources; reducing ocean pollution; combating climate change; and restoring marine ecosystems.

Actions that need to be taken to achieve this goal include prohibiting or limiting fishing subsidies that contribute to overfishing, destructive fishing practices, and unregulated fishing.

There is also a need to establish Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in which all forms of extractive activities are prohibited. Conserving coastal habitats and reducing plastic waste should also be given attention.

Goal 15: Life On Land

This target focuses on promoting sustainable land-use practices while increasing the number of protected areas.

Collaboration between different governments as well as NGOs will be required to ensure wildlife-rich areas are properly protected from poachers.

However, it is also important to recognize that many indigenous communities depend on forests for their livelihoods. This means there must be policies developed that give them secure access to forests and sufficient opportunities to make a living with "sustainable forest management".

Goal 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions

The main targets for this goal focus largely on combating violent extremism through inclusive societies governed by the rule of law along with good governance. This requires political reforms to prevent corruption, promote equal rights for all citizens, and ensure responsive institutions.

To achieve all these targets, there must be a focus on promoting human rights, and providing education and opportunities for all.

Goal 17: Partnerships For The Goals

This goal calls for strengthened partnerships between all stakeholders to achieve the ambitious targets set out in the other 16 goals. This includes: governments, businesses, civil society organizations, and foundations.

Actions that need to be taken to achieve this goal include: scaling up successful initiatives; sharing best practices; mobilizing all forms of finance, including private sector investment; and creating and enabling an environment that promotes innovation and creativity.

The Partnership for SDGs should follow the principles of inclusiveness, flexibility, and transparency.

The Bottom Line

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a list of "global goals with shared responsibility for poverty alleviation and sustainable development."

The SDG's main aim is to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. This is part of a new sustainable development agenda that brings together disparate development efforts under one umbrella.

While not every goal will apply to all countries, it is expected that governments around the world will work to achieve these goals by 2030.


1. What does "sustainable development" mean?

Sustainable development means achieving the best results for the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

2. Why were these particular goals chosen as targets to promote sustainable development in all countries around the world by 2030?

The goals were developed through a bottom-up process where every country around the world was invited to submit their suggestions, as well as identify goals that they considered the most urgent and important for achieving sustainable development.

3. What types of targets are laid out in each goal?

While there is no single template for each target, the general idea is to define what success will look like and how progress can be measured. The intended outcome and target values should be clearly defined along with a time frame in which to achieve them.

4. How will progress toward meeting these goals be measured?

A set of indicators will measure progress toward reaching each goal based on available data as well as developing new methods to account for any gaps.

5. Who is responsible for achieving these goals and making sure they are met by 2030?

All governments that participate in the United Nations will be expected to help achieve these goals within their borders while international organizations can assist them through direct investment as well as cooperation among nations, NGOs, trade organizations, and many other stakeholders.

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