This isn't a utopian dream but a tangible target set by the United Nations' 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Adopted in 2015, these goals are a universal call to action, aiming to transform our world by 2030.

Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • Each of the 17 goals, their progress, and the challenges they face

  • Our roadmaps for a balanced and equitable world

  • The plan to finance the SDGs with an estimated annual cost of USD 2.5 trillion.

What are the 17 Major Sustainable Development Goals?

Each of the 17 major goals comes with targets and indicators that measure its success. These guidelines serve as a blueprint that helps monitor progress, ensuring each goal is worked towards effectively and efficiently.

Goal 1: No Poverty

The SDG covers:

  • Stamping out extreme poverty, 

  • Provide social protection systems, 

  • All men, women, and children have equal rights to economic resources are essential tasks under this goal.

Goal 2: Zero Hunger

The SDG covers:

  • Elimination of hunger

  • Expansion of agricultural practices

  • Enhancement in food production, all done sustainably

  • Maintenance of the genetic diversity in seeds cultivated plants, and animal and aquatic species

Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being

The SDG covers:

  • Good health and well-being for all

  • Reducing child mortality rates

  • Combating diseases such as Malaria, HIV/AIDS, and Tuberculosis.

Goal 4: Quality Education

The SDG covers:

  • Free primary and secondary education

  • Opportunities for lifelong learning

Goal 5: Gender Equality

The SDG covers:

  • End all forms of discrimination, violence, and harmful practices against all women and girls everywhere.

Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

The SDG covers:

  • Universal, equitable access to safe drinking water

  • Adequate sanitation facilities.

Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

The SDG covers:

  • Increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix

  • Promote energy efficiency.

Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

The SDG covers:

  • Productive employment

  • Equal pay

  • Safe and secure working environments.

  • Promoting decent work conditions and sustainable economic growth 

Goal 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure

The SDG covers:

  • Investments in infrastructure and innovation

  • Foster economic development and human well-being, focusing on affordable, equitable access for all.

Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities

The SDG covers:

  • Tackling income equality within and among countries

  • The social, economic, and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, ethnicity, race, religion, or economic status.

Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

The SDG covers:

  • Making cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable

  • Affordable housing

  • Sustainable transport systems

  • Inclusive green spaces,

  • Comprehensive disaster management strategies.

Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

The SDG covers:

  • food waste reduction

  • Sound management of chemical and other waste materials.

Goal 13: Climate Action

The SDG covers the urgency of combating rising global temperatures and extreme weather events.

Goal 14: Life Below Water

A pledge to protect the world's oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development, from reducing marine pollution to conserving coastal and marine areas.

Goal 15: Life on Land

The SDG covers:

  • managing forests sustainably

  • combating desertification

  • reversing land degradation

  • halting biodiversity loss

Goal 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions

The SDG covers:

  • promoting peaceful and inclusive societies

  • providing access to justice for all

  • activating effective, accountable, and transparent institutions at all levels.

Goal 17: Strengthening Partnerships for the Goals

The final goal emphasises the role of global partnerships and international cooperation in achieving the SDGs. 

It underscores the need for sophisticated technology, sound policy, and focused investments.

History of Sustainable Development Goals

United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emerged from an extensive process reflecting a global consensus. The process began in 2012 at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro. In this conference, member states resolved to create a set of universal goals to shape their policies and agendas for the forthcoming decades.

Following the conference, the General Assembly formed an Open Working Group. This group crafted a proposal for the SDGs, which was instrumental in shaping the final 17 Sustainable Development Goals that we acknowledge today. 

All 193 United Nations member states officially adopted this set of 17 goals in September 2015 at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit.

Derived from the most comprehensive negotiations in UN history, the SDGs were framed inclusively. They emerged as the shared vision of the world to end extreme poverty, cut down inequality, and safeguard our planet by 2030. 

These goals emphasise a balanced approach to sustainable development by integrating its three dimensions:

  • Economic

  • Social

  • Environmental.

True to the SDG mantra of "leaving no one behind", the goals address the rights and needs of all individuals, regardless of their race, gender, age, or geographic location. Above all, the goals represent unity, illustrating a collective resolve to shape a better world.

The Structure of Goals, Targets, and Indicators

The global challenge presented by these 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) translates into 169 specific targets measured through approximately 300 indicators. 

Each target is assessed for accuracy using one or two indicators. The global indicator framework was established by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG SDGs) and was approved during the 48th session of the United Nations Statistical Commission in 2017.

To evaluate progress, the Secretary-General compiles an annual SDG Progress Report and holds yearly meetings of the High-level Political Forum on sustainable development.

This robust monitoring system emphasises the necessity of regular reviews to comprehend required improvements and track advancements made. 

For instance, achieving sustained economic growth involves focusing on attaining a yearly GDP growth rate of 7% for the least developed countries, enhancing productivity through diversification and technological advancements, and transitioning towards more efficient global resource consumption and production by 2030.

These indicators serve as more than just markers of progress; they are practical tools that direct nations towards sustainable development paths, pinpoint areas needing attention and provide opportunities to adjust strategies as necessary. 

Active engagement is crucial for realising a sustainable future.

Furthermore, these indicators underscore the SDGs' interconnected nature. Achieving lasting success in one area can positively impact advancements in others.

For example, climate change can be addressed as outlined in the Paris Agreement. 

By reducing emissions by two-thirds, we can not only help limit global warming to below 2°C, in line with our climate goals but also unlock economic benefits valued at US$26 trillion by 2030. This shift towards sustainable energy could create approximately 18 million jobs within the energy sector alone.

Engaging in this collective effort for sustainable development is not limited to nations or governmental bodies alone. This call for action is universal and extends to private enterprises, investments and innovations.

The Journey So Far: Tracking the Implementation Progress

Medical mask

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are global ambitions seen as signposts towards a better future, not without their stumbles and triumphs.

Success Stories and Examples of Progress

The SDGs have been driving meaningful action since their introduction in 2015.

For instance, resource efficiency in consumption and production has improved. Notably, there's been a global effort to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, a fundamental aspect of the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption.

Developed countries have taken the lead, paving the way for less developed nations. The UK, for example, recently introduced new biodiversity net gain laws. No new development may leave the environment less than 10% better off than it found it.

Another major achievement is in the economic sector. Focusing on high-value-added and labour-intensive sectors has raised economic productivity. The target is at least 7 per cent gross domestic product growth per annum in the least developed countries, and progress is being made to reach this goal.

The energy sector has also witnessed significant improvement, with bold climate action projected to trigger at least US$26 trillion in economic benefits by 2030. The same action can potentially create around 18 million more jobs in sustainable energy.

Challenges and Difficulties Involved

Even though these are promising narratives, the SDGs have faced considerable challenges. 

The largest roadblock has been the COVID-19 pandemic that threatens to reverse decades of progress.  The pandemic could potentially push 119 million more people into poverty, setting back years of fruitful work

Also, the goals are interconnected.

Negative implications in one area tend to ripple into others. For instance, failure to meet the Climate Action goal affects Life Below Water and Life on Land goals. So, a multipronged, holistic approach to these goals is crucial.

Besides, climate pledges under the Paris Agreement cover merely one-third of the emissions reductions necessary to keep global warming below 2C. This shortfall highlights the need for increased commitment and action to fight climate change.

Although marked with numerous success stories, the journey towards achieving the SDGs isn't straightforward. The road is fraught with resilience-testing barriers, but the promise of a sustainable and equitable world makes the journey not just necessary but essential.

Financing the Sustainable Development Goals

how to calculate biodiversity net gain

According to an estimate from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the annual costs of achieving the SDGs hover around the staggering sum of US $2.5 trillion.

However, the Basel Institute of Commons and Economics, which operates the World Social Capital Monitor, estimates the financial need at between US $2.5 and 50 trillion per year. 

Significant differences exist due to the variability of factors considered by different entities.

Allocation of Funds

Finances allocated for the SDGs should foster a balance between economic growth, environmental conservation, and social integration. For instance, goal 6, which aims to provide clean water and sanitation globally, costs as much as US $200 billion.

The distribution of funds needs to be assessed based on each country's needs and regularly reviewed. This involves collaboration among local financial institutions and supportive organisations, such as the IMF, European Investment Bank, and governments, to ensure an innovative and efficient allocation. By working in this way, we can identify developmental gaps and create a financial plan that meets each state's unique needs.

SDG-Driven Investment

With the SDGs as a guiding framework, investing in sustainable development can play a vital role in the global quest for sustainable development. Economic growth can go hand in glove with enhanced sustainability.

For instance, the European Investment Bank’s Group Climate Bank Roadmap 2021-2025 aims to channel funds towards climate action and inclusive growth.

Different sectors have the potential for SDG-driven investments. As per the Stockholm Environment Institute, such initiatives unlock a better future, contributing to efficient resource management and more inclusive societies.

What next?

While achieving these sustainable goals may seem like the domain of big corporations and politicians, landowners and developers can still make an impact.

Whether we take a sustainable approach to construction, build habitat banks, or donate to marine conservation efforts, we all have a part to play.

What’s your first effort going to be?