The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

In 2015, the United Nations came together in New York to set the agenda for the interval of 2015-2030 following the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the latter set for the period of 2000 to 2015 and having been moderately successful.

The MDGs set 08 goals and 17 targets to be reached by 2015 (you can read the goals here). These goals were unevenly achieved by signatory countries: developed countries seemed to reach more goals than developing countries (surprise surprise). On a good note though, the MDGs contributed to debt relief among developing countries and to important improvements in sub-Saharan Africa, such as lifting over 1 billion people out of poverty.

The SDGs set 17 goals to be reached by 2030, nine more than its predecessor MDGs, making it an ambitious agenda. While the MDGs set an important foundation over which to build the SDGs, it didn’t emphasise environmental action — it only vaguely cited environmental sustainability. As you will see, this seems to have been addressed by the SDGs, namely by goals 07, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15, which directly emphasise environmental matters. Below are all seventeen goals, and if you click each one you will be redirected to the UN’s SDGs website where they explain more about each goal, their metrics, targets and sub-goals.

United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

GOAL 1: No Poverty

GOAL 2: Zero Hunger

GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being

GOAL 4: Quality Education

GOAL 5: Gender Equality

GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality

GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

GOAL 13: Climate Action

GOAL 14: Life Below Water

GOAL 15: Life on Land

GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions

GOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal

One particular action I found interesting that has been taken for the SDGs that is an improvement from the MDGs experience is the measurement and track of progress. A lot of the criticism surrounding the MDGs was relative to the lack of instruments and institutions to keep track of the goals’ statuses via data and numbers. From what I’ve found so far, this has been addressed for the SDGs.

Another interesting thing to point out is that these goals are interconnected. You can’t, though some try, cherry-pick one goal or another to focus on without affecting the other goals. For instance, Goal 3: good health and well-being is intimately linked to Goal 6: clean water and sanitation. Goals 14: life below water and 15: life on land are intimately linked with goal 13. Goal 15 is also linked to goals 11, 12 and 02. Thus, the goals form a complex web that seek to address social, political, economic and environmental matters in an integrative way. This is amazing as an idea, but I wonder how effective it is in practice. I’ll post my conclusions once I dig deeper into that.

I’ve also been reading some more on the United Nations as an institution and particularly how it works as such for environmental matters. The UN’s structure can be confusing, what with all the agencies, committees, councils and such. I’ll write a specific post about that once I finish my readings; you can search for it under the tag “United Nations” in a few weeks. It seems to me, so far, that the adherence to put these goals in practice by organisations, governments, companies and etc may serve more as a means for boasting (“look how sustainable I am”) than a commitment to creating change. I admit this may just be my skeptic self speaking, but rest assured I am very open (in fact even hopeful) to being wrong.


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