E SDG Poster with UN emblem

The Sustainable Development Goals, in five minutes

The Sustainable Development Goals, the short version

In 2015, the United Nations drew up a set of 17 global goals to combat poverty, inequality, environmental destruction, and more by 2020. These Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – representing international collaboration unparalleled in human history – are now adopted by 193 countries.

The Sustainable Development Goals, the longer version

All 193 member states of the United Nation have adopted 17 global goals to be achieved by 2030, known as the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs. The SDGs offer a framework and blueprint for achieving sustainable global prosperity and commit participating countries to individual and joint action for the good of all on the planet. The SDGs are a successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which ran from 2000 to 2015.

The 17 SDGs are focused on a wide variety of topics:

    1. No Poverty
    2. No 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. Reduced Inequalities
    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

Each of the overarching 17 goals is underpinned by several targets that add specificity and measurability. For example, SDG6 on water features specific targets for water quality, access to drinking, access to sanitation, water use efficiency, and more. 

Each country adopting the SDGs is responsible for establishing national policy that offers a concrete plan for achieving SDGs in their country. Organizations and institutions are also encouraged to frame their own strategic objectives around the SDGs, creating a global task force of cooperation and joint interest.

Progress toward achieving the SDGs is continuously updated at: https://sdg-tracker.org/.

As with any large scale scheme for progress, the SDGs are not without their detractors and weaknesses. For example, the SDGs do not include explicit goals related to LGBTQ rights, which many countries regard as critical to global equality, but others actively oppose. Further, some think the various goals are in conflict with one aother (e.g., can we have economic growth and sustainable consumption?). Others think the SDGs are not focused enough on the most urgent issues, especially the climate crisis. And perhaps most importantly, at present, we simply are not doing enough to achieve the SDGs by 2030.

With that said, simply garnering widespread agreement on the SDGs is a monumental achievement in international cooperation and coordination in and of itself. The Goals demonstrate humanity’s growing ability not only to largely agree upon its intended trajectory but to coordinate resources and action on a vast level. They are an opportunity to more fully acknowledge that the fate and well-being of all countries and all humans are inextricably linked with one another.

Recommended Reading

Legacy: The Sustainable Development Goals in Action

by Masami Sato and Paul Dunn

This brilliantly conceived and crafted book shows how ‘ordinary’ people are adopting, embracing and applying the Sustainable Development Goals and directly changing our world. More importantly, this book shows you how you can tread that pathway with them.

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Peter Schulte

Peter Schulte is the founder and editor of Kindling. Peter is also Senior Digital Engagement Associate for the Pacific Institute and the UN Global Compact's CEO Water Mandate, connecting businesses to sustainable water practices. Peter holds a B.S. in Conservation and Resource Studies and a B.A. in Comparative Literature from University of California, Berkeley, and an M.B.A. in Sustainable Systems from Pinchot University. He lives in Bellingham, WA, USA with his wife, son, and cat.

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