Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or Global Goals are a collection of 17 interlinked goals designed to be a "blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all".[1] The SDGs were set in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and are intended to be achieved by the year 2030. They are included in a UN Resolution called the 2030 Agenda or what is colloquially known as Agenda 2030.[2]

Sustainable Development Goals
Sustainable Development Goals logo.svg
Mission statement"A blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all by 2030"
Type of projectNon-Profit
OwnerSupported by United Nation & Owned by community
FounderUnited Nations

The 17 SDGs are: (1) No Poverty, (2) Zero Hunger, (3) Good Health and Well-being, (4) Quality Education, (5) Gender Equality, (6) Clean Water and Sanitation, (7) Affordable and Clean Energy, (8) Decent Work and Economic Growth, (9) Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, (10) Reducing Inequality, (11) Sustainable Cities and Communities, (12) Responsible Consumption and Production, (13) Climate Action, (14) Life Below Water, (15) Life On Land, (16) Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions, (17) Partnerships for the Goals.

Though the goals are broad and interdependent, two years later (6 July 2017) the SDGs were made more "actionable" by a UN Resolution adopted by the General Assembly. The resolution identifies specific targets for each goal, along with indicators that are being used to measure progress toward each target.[3] The year by which the target is meant to be achieved is usually between 2020 and 2030.[4] For some of the targets, no end date is given.

To facilitate monitoring, a variety of tools exist to track and visualize progress towards the goals. All intend to make data more available and more easily understood.[5] For example, the online publication SDG-Tracker, launched in June 2018, presents available data across all indicators.[5] The SDGs pay attention to multiple cross-cutting issues, like gender equity, education, and culture cut across all of the SDGs. There were serious impacts and implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on all 17 SDGs in the year 2020.[6]


Targets and indicatorsEdit

Work of the Statistical Commission pertaining to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development containing the targets and indicators, July 2017 (UN resolution A/RES/71/313)

Each goal typically has 8-12 targets, and each target has between 1 and 4 indicators used to measure progress toward reaching the targets. The targets are either "outcome" targets (circumstances to be attained) or "means of implementation" targets.[7] The latter targets were introduced late in the process of negotiating the SDGs to address the concern of some Member States about how the SDGs were to be achieved. Goal 17 is wholly about how the SDGs will be achieved.[7]

The numbering system of targets is as follows: "Outcome targets" use numbers, whereas "means of implementation targets" use lower case letters.[7] For example, SDG 6 has a total of 8 targets. The first six are outcome targets and are labeled Targets 6.1 to 6.6. The final two targets are "means of implementation targets" and are labeled as Targets 6.a and 6.b.

Reviews of indicatorsEdit

As planned, the indicator framework was comprehensively reviewed at the 51st session of the United Nations Statistical Commission in 2020. It will be reviewed again in 2025.[8] At the 51st session of the Statistical Commission (held in New York City from 3 - 6 March 2020) a total of 36 changes to the global indicator framework were proposed for the Commission’s consideration. Some indicators were replaced, revised or deleted.[8] Between 15 October 2018 and 17 April 2020, other changes were made to the indicators.[9]

The United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) website provides a current official indicator list which includes all updates until the 51st session Statistical Commission in March 2020.[4]

The indicators were classified into three tiers based on their level of methodological development and the availability of data at the global level.[10] Tier 1 and Tier 2 are indicators that are conceptually clear, have an internationally established methodology, and data are regularly produced by at least some countries. Tier 3 indicators had no internationally established methodology or standards. The global indicator framework was adjusted so that Tier 3 indicators were either abandoned, replaced or refined.[10] As of 17 July 2020, there were 231 unique indicators. [10]

The 17 individual goalsEdit

Goal 1: No povertyEdit

SDG 1 is to: "End poverty in all its forms everywhere". Achieving SDG 1 would end extreme poverty globally by 2030. The goal has a total of seven targets: five to be reached by 2030 and two that have no specified date. The five outcome-related targets are: the eradication of extreme poverty; reduction of all poverty by half; implementation of social protection systems; ensuring equal rights to ownership, basic services, technology, and economic resources; and the building of resilience to environmental, economic and social disasters. The two targets related to means of achieving SDG 1 call for mobilization of resources to end poverty; and the establishment of poverty eradication policy frameworks at all levels.[3] There are 13 indicators to measure progress on the targets.

Homeless man living on the streets of Tokyo, 2008

Despite ongoing progress, 10 per cent of the world live in poverty and struggle to fulfill basic needs such as health, education, and access to water and sanitation.[11] Extreme poverty remains high in low-income countries particularly those affected by conflict and political upheaval.[12] A study published in September 2020 found that poverty increased by 7 per cent in just a few months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, even though it had been steadily decreasing for the last 20 years.[13]:9

Goal 2: Zero hungerEdit

Sufficient and healthy foods should be made available to everyone

SDG 2 is to: "End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture".[14] SDG 2 has eight targets.[3] The five "outcome targets" are: ending hunger and improving access to food; ending all forms of malnutrition; agricultural productivity; sustainable food production systems and resilient agricultural practices; and genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals; investments, research and technology. The three means for achieving SDG 2 include: addressing trade restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets and food commodity markets and their derivatives. SDG 2 has 14 indicators to measure progress.

Globally, 1 in 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.[15] It contributes to nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five – 3.1 million children per year.[16]

Goal 3: Good health and well-beingEdit

Mothers with healthy children in rural India

SDG 3 is to: "Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages".[17] Of the total of 13 targets, the first nine targets are "outcome targets". Those are: reduction of maternal mortality; ending all preventable deaths under 5 years of age; fight communicable diseases; ensure reduction of mortality from non-communicable diseases and promote mental health; prevent and treat substance abuse; reduce road injuries and deaths; grant universal access to sexual and reproductive care, family planning and education; achieve universal health coverage; and reduce illnesses and deaths from hazardous chemicals and pollution. The four "means to achieving" SDG 3 targets are: implement the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control; support research, development and universal access to affordable vaccines and medicines; increase health financing and support health workforce in developing countries; and improve early warning systems for global health risks.[18] SDG 3 has 21 indicators to measure progress toward targets.

Significant strides have been made in increasing life expectancy and reducing some of the common causes of child and maternal mortality. Between 2000 and 2016, the worldwide under-five mortality rate decreased by 47 percent (from 78 deaths per 1,000 live births to 41 deaths per 1,000 live births).[15] Still, the number of children dying under age five is very high: 5.6 million in 2016.[15]

School children in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya

Goal 4: Quality educationEdit

SDG 4 is to: "Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all".[19] The UN has defined 10 targets and 11 indicators for SDG 4. The seven "outcome-oriented targets" are: free primary and secondary education; equal access to quality pre-primary education; affordable technical, vocational and higher education; increased number of people with relevant skills for financial success; elimination of all discrimination in education; universal literacy and numeracy; and education for sustainable development and global citizenship. The three "means of achieving targets" are: build and upgrade inclusive and safe schools; expand higher education scholarships for developing countries; and increase the supply of qualified teachers in developing countries.

Major progress has been made in access to education, specifically at the primary school level, for both boys and girls. The number of out-of-school children has almost halved from 112 million in 1997 to 60 million in 2014.[20] In terms of the progress made, global participation in tertiary education reached 224 million in 2018, equivalent to a gross enrollment ratio of 38%.[21]

Goal 5: Gender equalityEdit

SDG 5 is to: "Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls".[22] It has nine targets and 14 indicators to measure progress towards SDG 5.

Of the nine targets, six are "outcome-oriented": ending all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere; ending violence and exploitation of women and girls; eliminating harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation; increasing value of unpaid care and promoting shared domestic responsibilities; ensuring full participation of women in leadership and decision-making; and ensuring access to universal reproductive rights and health. The three "means of achieving" targets are: fostering equal rights to economic resources, property ownership and financial services for women; promoting empowerment of women through technology; and adopting, strengthening policies and enforcing legislation for gender equality.[23]

In 2020, representation by women in single or lower houses of national parliament reached 25 per cent, up slightly from 22 per cent in 2015.[6] Women now have better access to decision-making positions at the local level, holding 36 per cent of elected seats in local deliberative bodies, based on data from 133 countries and areas. Whilst female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C) is becoming less common, at least 200 million girls and women have been subjected to this harmful practice.[24][6]

Goal 6: Clean water and sanitationEdit

Example of sanitation for all: School toilet (IPH school and college, Mohakhali, Dhaka, Bangladesh)

SDG 6 is to: "Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all".[25] The eight targets are measured by 11 indicators.

The six "outcome-oriented targets" include: Safe and affordable drinking water; end open defecation and provide access to sanitation and hygiene, improve water quality, wastewater treatment and safe reuse, increase water-use efficiency and ensure freshwater supplies, implement IWRM, protect and restore water-related ecosystems. The two "means of achieving" targets are to expand water and sanitation support to developing countries, and to support local engagement in water and sanitation management.[26]

The Joint Monitoring Programme of WHO and UNICEF (JMP) reported in 2017 that 4.5 billion people currently do not have safely managed sanitation.[27] Also in 2017, only 71 per cent of the global population used safely managed drinking water, and 2.2 billion persons were still without safely managed drinking water. With regards to water stress: "In 2017, Central and Southern Asia and Northern Africa registered very high water stress – defined as the ratio of fresh water withdrawn to total renewable freshwater resources – of more than 70 per cent".[6] Official development assistance (ODA) disbursements to the water sector increased to $9 billion in 2018.[6]

Goal 7: Affordable and clean energyEdit

SDG 7 is to: "Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all".[28] SDG 7 has five "outcome targets": Universal access to modern energy; increase global percentage of renewable energy; double the improvement in energy efficiency; promote access to research, technology and investments in clean energy; and expand and upgrade energy services for developing countries. In other words, these targets include access to affordable and reliable energy while increasing the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. This would involve improving energy efficiency and enhancing international cooperation to facilitate more open access to clean energy technology and more investment in clean energy infrastructure. Plans call for particular attention to infrastructure support for the least developed countries, small islands and land-locked developing countries.[28]

Progress in expanding access to electricity has been made in several countries, notably India, Bangladesh, and Kenya.[29] The global population without access to electricity decreased to about 840 million in 2017 from 1.2 billion in 2010 (sub-Saharan Africa remains the region with the largest access deficit).[29] Renewable energy accounted for 17.5% of global total energy consumption in 2016.[29] Of the three end uses of renewables (electricity, heat, and transport) the use of renewables grew fastest with respect to electricity. Between 2018 and 2030, the annual average investment will need to reach approximately $55 billion to expand energy access, about $700 billion to increase renewable energy and $600 billion to improve energy efficiency.[29]

Solar panels on house roof

Goal 8: Decent work and economic growthEdit

SDG 8 is to: "Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all".[30] For the least developed countries, the economic target is to attain at least a 7 percent annual growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Achieving higher productivity will require diversification and upgraded technology along with innovation, entrepreneurship, and the growth of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Some targets are for 2030; others are for 2020. The target for 2020 is to reduce youth unemployment and operationalize a global strategy for youth employment. Implementing the Global Jobs Pact of the International Labour Organization is also mentioned.

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.[30]

Goal 9: Industry, Innovation, and InfrastructureEdit

SDG 9 is to: "Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation".[31] This goal includes striving for resilience (engineering and construction) and urban resilience. Manufacturing is a major source of employment. In 2016, the least developed countries had less "manufacturing value added per capita." The figure for Europe and North America was US$4,621, compared to about $100 in the least developed countries.[32] The manufacturing of high-tech products contributes 80 percent to total manufacturing output in industrialized economies but barely 10 percent in the least developed countries.

The last of the seven targets is "Universal Access to Information and Communications Technology." Mobile-cellular signal coverage is the target's indicator and has improved a great deal. In previously "unconnected" areas of the globe, 85 percent of people now live in covered areas. Planet-wide, 95 percent of the population is covered.[32]

Goal 10: Reducing inequalitiesEdit

SDG 10 is to: "Reduce income inequality within and among countries".[33] Progress toward SDG 10 targets calls for reducing income inequalities; promoting universal social, economic and political inclusion; ensuring equal opportunities and end discrimination; adopting fiscal and social policies that promote equality; improving regulation of global financial markets and institutions; enhancing representation of developing countries in financial institutions; and responsible and well-managed migration policies. The targets relating to means of achieving goals call for special and differential treatment for developing countries; encourage development assistance and investment in least developed countries; and call for reduced transaction costs for migrant remittances.[3]

Target 10.1 is to "sustain income growth of the bottom 40 per cent of the population at a rate higher than the national average". This goal, known as 'shared prosperity', is complementing SDG 1, the eradication of extreme poverty, and it is relevant for all countries in the world.[34]

Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communitiesEdit

SDG 11 is to: "Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable".[35] Target 11.1 is to ensure access to safe and affordable housing by 2030. The indicator to measure progress toward this target is the proportion of urban population living in slums or informal settlements. Between 2000 and 2014, the proportion fell from 39 percent to 30 percent. However, the absolute number of people living in slums went from 792 million in 2000 to an estimated 880 million in 2014. Movement from rural to urban areas has accelerated as the population has grown and better housing alternatives are available.[36]

Goal 12: Responsible consumption and productionEdit

SDG 12 is to: "Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns".[37]

The 11 targets of the goal are: implement the 10‑Year Framework of Programs on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns; achieve the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources; reducing by half the per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels; achieving the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle; reducing waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse; encourage companies to adopt sustainable practices; promote public procurement practices that are sustainable; and ensure that people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable development. The three "means of achieving" targets are: support developing countries to strengthen their scientific and technological capacity; develop and implement tools to monitor sustainable development impacts; and remove market distortions, like fossil-fuel subsidies, that encourage wasteful consumption.[38]

By 2019, 79 countries and the European Union have reported on at least one national policy instrument to promote sustainable consumption and production patterns.[6]:14 This was done to work towards the implementation of the "10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns".[6]:14 Global fossil fuel subsidies in 2018 were $400 billion.[6]:14 This was double the estimated subsidies for renewables and is detrimental to the task of reducing global carbon dioxide emissions.[6]:14

Goal 13: Climate actionEdit

SDG 13 is to: "Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts by regulating emissions and promoting developments in renewable energy".[39] There are five targets in total, and three of those are "output targets": Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related disasters; integrate climate change measures into policies and planning; build knowledge and capacity to meet climate change. The remaining two targets are "means of achieving" targets: To implement the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; and to promote mechanisms to raise capacity for planning and management.[40]

Over the period 2000–2018, green house emissions of developed countries and economies in transitions have declined by 6.5%. The emissions of the developing countries are up by 43% in the period between 2000 and 2013.[41] As of March 2020, 189 countries had ratified the Paris Agreement and 186 of them - including the European Union - have communicated their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) to the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.[42] In 2019, at least 120 of 153 developing countries had undertaken activities to formulate and implement national adaptation plans. The plans will help countries achieve the global goal on adaptation under the Paris Agreement.[43]

Goal 14: Life below waterEdit

SDG 14 is to: "Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development".[44]

SDG 14: Life below water
The first ten targets are "outcome targets": Reduce marine pollution; protect and restore ecosystems; reduce ocean acidification; sustainable fishing; conserve coastal and marine areas; end subsidies contributing to overfishing; increase the economic benefits from sustainable use of marine resources. The last three targets are "means of achieving" targets: To increase scientific knowledge, research and technology for ocean health; support small scale fishers; implement and enforce international sea law.[45]

The current efforts to protect oceans, marine environments and small-scale fishers are not meeting the need to protect the resources.[6] One of the key drivers of global overfishing is illegal fishing. It threatens marine ecosystems, puts food security and regional stability at risk, and is linked to major human rights violations and even organized crime.[46] Increased ocean temperatures and oxygen loss act concurrently with ocean acidification and constitute the "deadly trio" of climate change pressures on the marine environment.[47]

Nusa Lembongan Reef

Goal 15: Life on landEdit

SDG 15 is to: "Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss".[48]

The nine "outcome targets" include: Conserve and restore terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems; end deforestation and restore degraded forests; end desertification and restore degraded land; ensure conservation of mountain ecosystems, protect biodiversity and natural habitats; protect access to genetic resources and fair sharing of the benefits; eliminate poaching and trafficking of protected species; prevent invasive alien species on land and in water ecosystems; and integrate ecosystem and biodiversity in governmental planning. The three "means of achieving targets" include: Increase financial resources to conserve and sustainably use ecosystem and biodiversity; finance and incentivize sustainable forest management; combat global poaching and trafficking.

The proportion of forest area fell, from 31.9 per cent of total land area in 2000 to 31.2 per cent in 2020, representing a net loss of nearly 100 million ha of the world's forests.[6] This was due to decreasing forest area decreased in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and South-Eastern Asia, driven by land conversion to agriculture.[49] Desertification affects as much as one-sixth of the world's population, 70% of all drylands, and one-quarter of the total land area of the world. It also leads to spreading poverty and the degradation of billion hectares of cropland.[50] A report in 2020 stated that globally, the species extinction risk has worsened by about 10 per cent over the past three decades.[6]

Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutionsEdit

SDG 16 is to: "Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels".[51]

The goal has ten "outcome targets": Reduce violence; protect children from abuse, exploitation, trafficking and violence; promote the rule of law and ensure equal access to justice; combat organized crime and illicit financial and arms flows, substantially reduce corruption and bribery; develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions; ensure responsive, inclusive and representative decision-making; strengthen the participation in global governance; provide universal legal identity; ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms. There are also two "means of achieving targets": Strengthen national institutions to prevent violence and combat crime and terrorism; promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies.[52]

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.[53] Data from 38 countries over the past decade suggest that high-income countries have the lowest prevalence of bribery (an average of 3.7 per cent), while lower-income countries have high levels of bribery when accessing public services (22.3 per cent).[6]

Goal 17: Partnerships for the goalsEdit

SDG 17 is to: "Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development".[54] This goal has 19 outcome targets and 24 indicators. Increasing international cooperation is seen as vital to achieving each of the 16 previous goals.[55] Goal 17 is included to assure that countries and organizations 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 partnerships which involve civil societies are specifically mentioned.[56]

With US$5 trillion to $7 trillion in annual investment required to achieve the SDGs, total official development assistance reached US$147.2 billion in 2017. This, although steady, is below the set target.[57] In 2016, six countries met the international target to keep official development assistance at or above 0.7 percent of gross national income.[57] Humanitarian crises brought on by conflict or natural disasters have continued to demand more financial resources and aid. Even so, many countries also require official development assistance to encourage growth and trade.[57]


World map showing countries that are closest to meeting the SDGs (in dark blue) and those with the greatest remaining challenges (in the lightest shade of blue) in 2018.[58]

The UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) is the annual space for global monitoring of the SDGs, under the auspices of the United Nations economic and Social Council. In July 2020 the meeting took place online for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The theme was "Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development" and a ministerial declaration was adopted.[6]

High-level progress reports for all the SDGs are published in the form of reports by the United Nations Secretary General. The most recent one is from April 2020.[6]

The online publication SDG-Tracker was launched in June 2018 and presents data across all available indicators.[5] It relies on the Our World in Data database and is also based at the University of Oxford.[59][60] The publication has global coverage and tracks whether the world is making progress towards the SDGs.[61] It aims to make the data on the 17 goals available and understandable to a wide audience.[62]

The website "allows people around the world to hold their governments accountable to achieving the agreed goals".[59] The SDG-Tracker highlights that the world is currently (early 2019) very far away from achieving the goals.

The Global "SDG Index and Dashboards Report" is the first publication to track countries' performance on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.[63] The annual publication, co-produced by Bertelsmann Stiftung and SDSN, includes a ranking and dashboards that show key challenges for each country in terms of implementing the SDGs. The publication features trend analysis to show how countries performing on key SDG metrics have changed over recent years in addition to an analysis of government efforts to implement the SDGs.

Cross-cutting issuesEdit

Young people holding SDG banners in Lima, Peru

To achieve sustainable development, three sectors need to come together. The economic, socio-political, and environmental sectors are all critically important and interdependent.[64] Progress will require multidisciplinary and trans-disciplinary research across all three sectors. This proves difficult when major governments fail to support it.[64]

According to the UN, the target is to reach the community farthest behind. Commitments should be transformed into effective actions requiring a correct perception of target populations. However, numerical and non-numerical data or information must address all vulnerable groups such as children, elderly folks, persons with disabilities, refugees, indigenous peoples, migrants, and internally-displaced persons.[65]

Gender equalityEdit

The widespread consensus is that progress on all of the SDGs will be stalled if women's empowerment and gender equality are not prioritized, and treated holistically. The SDGs look to policy makers as well as private sector executives and board members to work toward gender equality.[66][67] Statements from diverse sources, such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), UN Women and the World Pensions Forum, have noted that investments in women and girls have positive impacts on economies. National and global development investments in women and girls often exceed their initial scope.[68]

Gender equality is mainstreamed throughout the SDG framework by ensuring that as much sex-disaggregated data as possible are collected.[69]:11


Education for sustainable development (ESD) is explicitly recognized in the SDGs as part of Target 4.7 of the SDG on education. UNESCO promotes the Global Citizenship Education (GCED) as a complementary approach.[70] At the same time, it is important to emphasize ESD's importance for all the other 16 SDGs. With its overall aim to develop cross-cutting sustainability competencies in learners, ESD is an essential contribution to all efforts to achieve the SDGs. This would enable individuals to contribute to sustainable development by promoting societal, economic and political change as well as by transforming their own behavior.[71]


Culture is explicitly referenced in SDG 11 Target 4 ("Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage"). However, culture is seen as a cross-cutting theme because it impacts several SDGs.[69] For example, culture plays a role in SDGs related to:[69]:2

  • environment and resilience (Targets 11.4 Cultural & natural heritage, 11.7 Inclusive public spaces, 12.b Sustainable tourism management, 16.4 Recovery of stolen assets),
  • prosperity and livelihoods (Targets 8.3 Jobs, entrepreneurship & innovation; 8.9 Policies for sustainable tourism),
  • knowledge and skills,
  • inclusion and participation (Targets 11.7 Inclusive public spaces, 16.7 Participatory decision-making).

Implementation and supportEdit

Boeing 787 of XiamenAir uses a GEnx engine which reduces carbon emissions and noise pollution.

Implementation of the SDGs started worldwide in 2016. This process can also be called "Localizing the SDGs". Individual people, universities, governments, institutions and organizations of all kinds work are working separately but one or more goals at the same time.[72] Individual governments must translate the goals into national legislation, develop a plan of action, and establish their own budget. However, at the same time, they must be open to and actively searching for partners. Coordination at the international level is crucial, making partnerships valuable. The SDGs note that countries with less access to financial resources need partnerships with more well-to-do countries.[73]

The co-chairs of the SDG negotiations each produced a book to help people to understand the Sustainable Development Goals and how they evolved. The books are: "Negotiating the Sustainable Development Goals: A transformational agenda for an insecure world" by Ambassador David Donoghue, Felix Dodds and Jimena Leiva and "Transforming Multilateral Diplomacy: The Inside Story of the Sustainable Development Goals" by Macharia Kamau, David O'Connor and Pamela Chasek.

A 2018 study in the journal Nature found that while "nearly all African countries demonstrated improvements for children under 5 years old for stunting, wasting, and underweight... much, if not all of the continent will fail to meet the Sustainable Development Goal target—to end malnutrition by 2030".[74]


In 2019 five progress reports on the 17 SDGs were published. Three came from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA)[75][76], one from the Bertelsmann Foundation and one from the European Union.[77][78] According to a review of the five reports in a synopsis, the allocation of the Goals and themes by the Basel Institute of Commons and Economics, the allocation was the following:[79]

Allocation of the Goals and their major themes in five leading SDG reports 2019[79]
SDG Topic   Rank    Average Rank Mentions[Note 1]
Health 1 3.2 1814
2 4.0 1328
Education 3 4.6 1351
Poverty 4 6.2 1095
Food 5 7.6 693
Economic Growth 6 8.6 387
Technology 7 8.8 855
Inequality 8 9.2 296
Gender Equality 9 10.0 338
Hunger 10 10.6 670
Justice 11 10.8 328
Governance 12 11.6 232
Decent Work 13 12.2 277
Peace 14 12.4 282
Clean Energy 15 12.6 272
Life on Land 16 14.4 250
Life below Water 17 15.0 248
Social Inclusion 18 16.4 22

In explanation of the findings, the Basel Institute of Commons and Economics said Biodiversity, Peace and Social Inclusion were "left behind" by quoting the official SDGs motto "Leaving no one behind".[79]

Costs and sources of financeEdit

Cost comparison for UN Goals


The Economist estimated that alleviating poverty and achieving the other sustainable development goals will require about US$2–3 trillion per year for the next 15 years which they called "pure fantasy".[80] Estimates for providing clean water and sanitation for the whole population of all continents have been as high as US$200 billion.[81] The World Bank says that estimates need to be made country by country, and reevaluated frequently over time.[81]

In 2014, UNCTAD estimated the annual costs to achieving the UN Goals at $2.5 trillion per year.[82] Another estimate from 2018 (by the Basel Institute of Commons and Economics, that conducts the World Social Capital Monitor) found that to reach all of the SDGs this would require between $ 2.5 and $ 5.0 trillion per year.[83]


The Rockefeller Foundation asserts that "The key to financing and achieving the SDGs lies in mobilizing a greater share of the $200+ trillion in annual private capital investment flows toward development efforts, and philanthropy has a critical role to play in catalyzing this shift."[84] Large-scale funders participating in a Rockefeller Foundation-hosted design thinking workshop concluded that "while there is a moral imperative to achieve the SDGs, failure is inevitable if there aren't drastic changes to how we go about financing large scale change".[85]

In 2017 the UN launched the Inter-agency Task Force on Financing for Development (UN IATF on FfD) that invited to a public dialogue.[86] The top-5 sources of financing for development were estimated in 2018 to be: Real new sovereign debt OECD countries, military expenditures, official increase sovereign debt OECD countries, remittances from expats to developing countries, official development assistance (ODA).[83]

SDG-driven investmentEdit

Capital stewardship is expected to play a crucial part in the progressive advancement of the SDG agenda:

"No longer absentee landlords', pension fund trustees have started to exercise more forcefully their governance prerogatives across the boardrooms of Britain, Benelux and America: coming together through the establishment of engaged pressure groups [...] to shift the [whole economic] system towards sustainable investment"[87] by using the SDG framework across all asset classes.[67]

In 2017, 2018 and early 2019, the World Pensions Council (WPC) held a series of ESG-focused discussions with pension board members (trustees) and senior investment executives from across G20 nations in Toronto, London (with the UK Association of Member-Nominated Trustees, AMNT), Paris and New York – notably on the sidelines of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly. Many pension investment executives and board members confirmed they were in the process of adopting or developing SDG-informed investment processes, with more ambitious investment governance requirements – notably when it comes to Climate Action, Gender Equity and Social Fairness: “they straddle key Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including, of course, Gender Equality (SDG 5) and Reduced Inequality (SDG 10) […] Many pension trustees are now playing for keeps”.[88]

The notion of "SDG Driven Investment" gained further ground amongst institutional investors in the second semester of 2019, notably at the WPC-led G7 Pensions Roundtable held in Biarritz, 26 August 2019,[89] and the Business Roundtable held in Washington, DC, on 19 August 2019.[90]

Communication and advocacyEdit

Katherine Maher, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, talks about "The role of free knowledge in advancing the SDGs" in Stockholm, 2019
A proposal to visualize the 17 SDGs in a thematic pyramid.

UN agencies which are part of the United Nations Development Group decided to support an independent campaign to communicate the new SDGs to a wider audience. This campaign, "Project Everyone," had the support of corporate institutions and other international organizations.[91]

Using the text drafted by diplomats at the UN level, a team of communication specialists developed icons for every goal.[92] They also shortened the title "The 17 Sustainable Development Goals" to "Global Goals/17#GlobalGoals," then ran workshops and conferences to communicate the Global Goals to a global audience.[93][94][95]

An early concern was that 17 goals would be too much for people to grasp and that therefore the SDGs would fail to get a wider recognition.[when?] Without wider recognition the necessary momentum to achieve them by 2030 would not be achieved. Concerned with this, British film-maker Richard Curtis started the organization in 2015 called Project Everyone with the aim to bring the goals to everyone on the planet.[96][97][98] Curtis approached Swedish designer Jakob Trollbäck who rebranded them as The Global Goals and created the 17 iconic visuals with clear short names as well as a logotype for the whole initiative. The communication system is available for free.[99] In 2018, Jakob Trollbäck and his company (The New Division), went on to extend the communication system to also include the 169 targets that describe how the goals can be achieved.[100]

The benefits of engaging the affected public in decision making that affects their livelihoods, communities, and environment have been widely recognized.[101] The Aarhus Convention is a United Nations convention passed in 2001, explicitly to encourage and promote effective public engagement in environmental decision making. Information transparency related to social media and the engagement of youth are two issues related to the Sustainable Development Goals that the convention has addressed.[102][103]


In 2019, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres appointed new SDG advocates.[104] The role of these 17 public figures is to raise awareness, inspire greater ambition, and push for faster action on the SDGs. They are:



Global Goals WeekEdit

Global Goals Week is an annual week-long event in September for action, awareness, and accountability for the Sustainable Development Goals.[105] Its a shared commitment for over 100 partners to ensure quick action on the SDGs by sharing ideas and transformative solutions to global problems.[106] It first took place in 2016. It is often held concurrently with Climate Week NYC.[107]

Film festivalsEdit

The annual "Le Temps Presse" festival in Paris utilizes cinema to sensitize the public, especially young people, to the Sustainable Development Goals. The origin of the festival was in 2010 when eight directors produced a film titled "8," which included eight short films, each featuring one of the Millennium Development Goals. After 2.5 million viewers saw "8" on YouTube, the festival was created. It now showcases young directors whose work promotes social, environmental and human commitment. The festival now focuses on the Sustainable Development Goals.[108]

The Arctic Film Festival is an annual film festival organized by HF Productions and supported by the SDGs' Partnership Platform. Held for the first time in 2019, the festival is expected to take place every year in September in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway.[109][110]


The sustainable development goals are a UN initiative.


UN SDG consultations in Mariupol, Ukraine

In 1972, governments met in Stockholm, Sweden for the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, to consider the rights of the family to a healthy and productive environment.[111] In 1983, the United Nations created the World Commission on Environment and Development (later known as 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".[112] In 1992, the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) or 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.

In 2012, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), also known as Rio+20, was held as a 20-year follow up to UNCED.[113][114] Colombia proposed the idea of the SDGs at a preparation event for Rio+20 held in Indonesia in July 2011.[115] In September 2011, this idea was picked up by the United Nations Department of Public Information 64th NGO Conference in Bonn, Germany. The outcome document proposed 17 sustainable development goals and associated targets. In the run-up to Rio+20 there was much discussion about the idea of the SDGs. At the Rio+20 Conference, a resolution known as "The Future We Want" was reached by member states.[116] Among the key themes agreed on were poverty eradication, energy, water and sanitation, health, and human settlement.

The Rio+20 outcome document mentioned that "at the outset, the OWG [Open Working Group] will decide on its methods 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 United Nations system in its work, in order to provide a diversity of perspectives and experience".[116]

In January 2013, the 30-member UN General Assembly Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals was established to identify specific goals for the SDGs. The Open Working Group (OWG) was tasked with preparing a proposal on the SDGs for consideration during the 68th session of the General Assembly, September 2013 – September 2014.[117] On 19 July 2014, the OWG forwarded a proposal for the SDGs to the Assembly. After 13 sessions, the OWG submitted their proposal of 8 SDGs and 169 targets to the 68th session of the General Assembly in September 2014.[118] On 5 December 2014, the UN General Assembly accepted the Secretary General's Synthesis Report, which stated that the agenda for the post-2015 SDG process would be based on the OWG proposals.[119]

Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary-General from 2007 to 2016, has stated in a November 2016 press conference that: "We don’t have plan B because there is no planet B."[120] This thought has guided the development of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).[citation needed]

The Post-2015 Development Agenda was a process from 2012 to 2015 led by the United Nations to define the future global development framework that would succeed the Millennium Development Goals. The SDGs were developed to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which ended in 2015. The gaps and shortcomings of MDG Goal 8 (To develop a global partnership for development) led to identifying a problematic "donor-recipient" relationship.[121] Instead, the new SDGs favor collective action by all countries.[121]

The UN-led process involved its 193 Member States and global civil society. The resolution is a broad intergovernmental agreement that acts as the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The SDGs build on the principles agreed upon in Resolution A/RES/66/288, entitled "The Future We Want".[122] This was a non-binding document released as a result of Rio+20 Conference held in 2012.[122]

The lists of targets and indicators for each of the 17 SDGs was published in a UN resolution in July 2017.[3]


Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (UN Resolution A/RES/70/1), containing the goals (October 2015)

Negotiations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda began in January 2015 and ended in August 2015. The negotiations ran in parallel to United Nations negotiations on financing for development, which determined the financial means of implementing the Post-2015 Development Agenda; those negotiations resulted in adoption of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda in July 2015. A final document was adopted at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in September 2015 in New York.[123]

On 25 September 2015, the 193 countries of the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Development Agenda titled "Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development".[124][125] This agenda has 92 paragraphs. Paragraph 59 outlines the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the associated 169 targets and 232 indicators.


The SDGs have been criticized for setting contradictory goals and for trying to do everything first, instead of focusing on the most urgent or fundamental priorities. The SDGs were an outcome from a UN conference that was not criticized by any major non-governmental organization (NGO). Instead, the SDGs received broad support from many NGOs.[126]

A commentary in The Economist in 2015 said that the SDGs are "a mess" compared to the eight MDGs used previously.[80] Others have pointed out that the SDGs mark a shift from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and emphasise the interconnected environmental, social and economic aspects of development, by putting sustainability at their centre.[127]

The SDGs may simply maintain the status quo and fall short of delivering on the ambitious development agenda. The current status quo has been described as "separating human wellbeing and environmental sustainability, failing to change governance and to pay attention to trade-offs, root causes of poverty and environmental degradation, and social justice issues".[127]

Regarding the targets of the SDGs, there is generally weak evidence linking the "means of implementation" to outcomes.[7] The targets about "means of implementation" (those denoted with a letter, for example, Target 6.a) are imperfectly conceptualized and inconsistently formulated, and tracking their largely qualitative indicators will be difficult.[7]

Competing and too many goalsEdit

Some of the goals compete with each other. For example, seeking high levels of quantitative GDP growth can make it difficult to attain ecological, inequality reduction, and sustainability objectives. Similarly, increasing employment and wages can work against reducing the cost of living.[128]

A commentary in The Economist in 2015 argued that 169 targets for the SDGs is too many, describing them as "sprawling, misconceived" and "a mess".[80] The goals are said to ignore local context. All other 16 goals might be contingent on achieving SDG 1, ending poverty, which should have been at the top of a very short list of goals.

On the other hand, nearly all stakeholders engaged in negotiations to develop the SDGs agreed that the high number of 17 goals was justified because the agenda they address is all-encompassing.[citation needed]

Weak on environmental sustainabilityEdit

Continued global economic growth of 3 percent (Goal 8) may not be reconcilable with ecological sustainability goals, because the required rate of absolute global eco-economic decoupling is far higher than any country has achieved in the past.[129] Anthropologists have suggested that, instead of targeting aggregate GDP growth, the goals could target resource use per capita, with "substantial reductions in high‐income nations."[129]

Environmental constraints and planetary boundaries are underrepresented within the SDGs. For instance, the paper "Making the Sustainable Development Goals Consistent with Sustainability[130]" points out that the way the current SDGs are structured leads to a negative correlation between environmental sustainability and SDGs. This means, as the environmental sustainability side of the SDGs is underrepresented, the resource security for all, particularly for lower-income populations, is put at risk. This is not a criticism of the SDGs per se, but a recognition that their environmental conditions are still weak.[129]

The SDGs have been criticized for their inability to protect biodiversity. They could unintentionally promote environmental destruction in the name of sustainable development.[131][132]

Importance of technology and connectivityEdit

Several years after the launch of the SDGs, growing voices called for more emphasis on the need for technology and internet connectivity within the goals. In September 2020, the UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development called for digital connectivity to be established as a “foundational pillar” for achieving all the SDGs. In a document titled “Global Goal of Universal Connectivity Manifesto”, the Broadband Commission said: “As we define the ‘new normal’ for our post-COVID world, leaving no one behind means leaving no one offline.”[133]

Country examplesEdit

Asia and PacificEdit


The Commonwealth of Australia was one of the 193 countries that adopted the 2030 Agenda in September 2015. Implementation of the agenda is led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) with different federal government agencies responsible for each of the goals.[134] Australia is not on-track to achieve the SDGs by 2030.[135] Four modelled scenarios based on different development approaches found that the 'Sustainability Transition' scenario could deliver "rapid and balanced progress of 70% towards SDG targets by 2020, well ahead of the business-as-usual scenario (40%)".[135] In 2020, Australia's overall performance in the SDG Index is ranked 37th out of 166 countries (down from 18th out of 34 countries in 2015).[136][137]


Bangladesh publishes the Development Mirror to track progress towards the 17 goals.[138]


The Sustainable development process in Bhutan has a more meaningful purpose than economic growth alone. The nation's holistic goal is the pursuit of Gross National Happiness (GNH),[139] a term coined in 1972 by the Fourth King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, which has the principal guiding philosophy for the long term journey as a nation. Therefore, the SDGs find a natural place within the framework of GNH sharing a common vision of prosperity, peace, and harmony where no one is left behind. Just as GNH is both an ideal to be pursued and a practical tool so too the SDGs inspire and guide sustainable action. Guided by the development paradigm of GNH, Bhutan is committed to achieving the goals of SDGs by 2030 since its implementation in September 2015. In line with Bhutan's commitment to the implementation of the SDGs and sustainable development, Bhutan has participated in the Voluntary National Review in the 2018 High-Level Political Forum.[140] As the country has progressed in its 12th five-year plan (2019–2023), the national goals have been aligned with the SDGs and every agency plays a vital role in its own ways to collectively achieving the committed goals of SDGs.


The Government of India established the NITI Aayog to attain sustainable development goals.[141] In March 2018 Haryana became the first state in India to have its annual budget focused on the attainment of SDG with a 3-year action plan and a 7-year strategy plan to implement sustainable development goals when Captain Abhimanyu, Finance Minister of Government of Haryana, unveiled a 1,151,980 lakh (equivalent to 120 billion, US$1.7 billion or €1.6 billion in 2019) annual 2018-19 budget.[142] Also, NITI Aayog starts the exercise of measuring India and its States’ progress towards the SDGs for 2030, culminating in the development of the first SDG India Index - Baseline Report 2018[143]


Countries in Africa such as Ethiopia, Angola and South Africa worked with UN Country Teams and the UNDP to provide support to create awareness about SDGs among government officers, private sector workers, MPs and the civil society.[144]

In Cape Verde, the government received support from the UNDP to convene an international conference on SDGs in June 2015. This contributed to the worldly discussions on the specific needs of Small Island Developing States in the view of the new global agenda on sustainable development. In the UN country team context, the government received support from UNDP to develop a roadmap (a plan) to place SDGs at the middle of its national development planning processes.[144]

In Liberia, the government received support from UNDP to develop a roadmap to domesticate the AU Agenda 2063 and 2030 Agenda into the country's next national development plan. Outlines from the roadmap are steps to translate the Agenda 2063 and the SDGs into policies, plans and programs whiles considering the country is a Fragile State and applies the New Deal Principles.[144]

Uganda was also claimed to be one of the first countries to develop its 2015/16-2019/20 national development plan in line with SDGs. It was estimated by its government that about 76% of the SDGs targets were reflected in the plan and was adapted to the national context. The UN Country Team was claimed to have supported the government to integrate the SDGs.[144]

In Mauritania, the Ministry for the Economy and Finances received support from the UNDP to convene partners such as NGOs, government agencies, other ministries and the private sector in the discussion for implementing of the SDGs in the country, in the context of the UN Country Team. A national workshop was also supported by the UNDP to provide the methodology and tools for mainstreaming the SDGs into the country's new strategy.[144]

The government of countries such as Togo, Sierra Leone, Madagascar and Uganda were claimed to have volunteered to conduct national reviews of their implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Support from UNDP was received to prepare their respective reports presented at the UN High-Level Political Forum. It was held during 11-20 July 2016 in New York in the United States. This forum was the UN global platform to review and follow-up the SDGs and 2030 Agenda. It is said to provide guidance on policy to countries for implementing the goals.[144]


Nigeria is one of the countries that presented its Voluntary National Review (VNR) in 2017 & 2020 on the implementation of the SDGs at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). In 2020, Nigeria ranked 160 on the 2020 world's SDG Index.[145] The government affirmed that Nigeria’s current development priorities and objectives are focused on achieving the SDGs.[146]


Main article: Sustainable Development Goals and Ghana

Ghana aims to align its development priorities in partnership with CSOs and the private sector to achieve the SDGs in Ghana together.[147]

Europe and Middle EastEdit

Baltic nations, via the Council of the Baltic Sea States, have created the Baltic 2030 Action Plan.[148]

The World Pensions Forum has observed that the UK and European Union pension investors have been at the forefront of ESG-driven (Environmental, Social and Governance) asset allocation at home and abroad and early adopters of "SDG-centric" investment practices.[67]


In December 2016 the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran held a special ceremony announcing a national education initiative that was arranged by the UNESCO office in Iran to implement the educational objectives of this global program. The announcement created a stir among politicians and Marja' in the country.[149]


Lebanon adopted the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. It presented its first Voluntary National Review VNR in 2018 at the High Level Political Forum in New York. A national committee chaired by the Lebanese Prime Minister is leading the work on the SDGs in the country.[150] In 2019, Lebanon's overall performance in the SDG Index ranked 6th out of 21 countries in the Arab region.[151]

United KingdomEdit

The UK's approach to delivering the Global SDGs is outlined in Agenda 2030: Delivering the Global Goals, developed by the Department for International Development.[152] In 2019, the Bond network analyzed the UK's global progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).[153] The Bond report highlights crucial gaps where attention and investment are most needed. The report was compiled by 49 organizations and 14 networks and working groups.


United StatesEdit

193 governments including the United States ratified the SDGs. However, the UN reported minimal progress after three years within the 15-year timetable of this project. Funding remains trillions of dollars short. The United States stand last among the G20 nations to attain these Sustainable Development Goals and 36th worldwide.[154]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ While the total ranking results on the average ranking in five different reports, the number of mentions is not identical with the average ranking.


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