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Understanding The SDGs


In 2015, world leaders agreed to 17 Global Goals (officially known as the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs). It's now seven years on, and we have more work than ever to do. These goals have the power to create a better world by 2030, by ending poverty, fighting inequality and addressing the urgency of climate change. Guided by the goals, it is now up to all of us, governments, businesses, civil society and the general public to work together to build a better future for everyone.

What is the Global Goals?

In September 2015, the leaders of all 193 member states of the UN adopted Agenda 2030, a universal agenda that contains the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. The 17 Goals in turn hold 169 targets and 230 indicators.

Over the next fifteen years, countries will mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind.

The Global Goals is the most ambitious agreement for sustainable development that world leaders has ever made. It integrates all three aspects of sustainable development; social, economic and enviromental. The Global Goals and Agenda 2030 builds on the success of the Millennium Development Goals and aim to go further to end all forms of poverty. The new Goals are unique in that they call for action by all countries, poor, rich and middle-income to promote prosperity while protecting the planet.

With the help of the Global Goals, we will be the first generation who can eradicate poverty and the last who can tackle climate change.

Who is in charge of the Global Goals?

For the goals to be met, everyone needs to do their part: governments, the private sector, civil society and the general public.

While the Global Goals are not legally binding, governments are expected to take ownership and establish national frameworks for the achievement of the 17 Goals. Countries have the primary responsibility for follow-up and review of the progress made in implementing the Goals, which will require quality, accessible and timely data collection. Regional follow-up and review will be based on national-level analyses and contribute to follow-up and review at the global level.

How will the progress of the Global Goals be monitored?

At the global level, the 17 Goals and 169 targets will be monitored and reviewed using a set of global indicators, agreed on by the UN Statistical Commission. The Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly will then adopt these indicators. Governments will also develop their own national indicators to assist in monitoring progress made on the goals and targets.

The follow-up and review process will be informed by an annual SDG Progress Report to be prepared by the Secretary-General. The annual meetings of the High-level Political Forum on sustainable development will play a central role in reviewing progress towards the SDGs at the global level.

Why are there 17 Goals?

The United Nations conducted the biggest public consultation in its history to ask which issues should be included in the Goals. It was agreed that 17 Goals were needed in order to accommodate people’s views . That way the correct focus will be placed on the areas that are essential for creating a sustainable future for all.

What is Sustainable Development?

Sustainable development has been defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It calls for concerted efforts towards building an inclusive, sustainable and resilient future for people and planet.

Why are the Goals numbers and is the order significant?

The Goals begin with Goal 1 – No Poverty, to mark the continuation of the MDGs ambition to eliminate extreme poverty,. They end with Goal 17 – Partnerships for the Goals - to emphasise a continued commitment to work together in order to achieve progress for all. The order of the other goals does not signify any priority as all are critical and interdependent.

Are the colours for the Goals significant and how were they chosen?

It was a creative challenge to find 17 colours, that looked good together and to make sure similar colours weren’t next to each other. It was also important to keep certain colour associations – like making the two Goals about water blue and the Energy goal yellow like the sun. The designer himself said: “in the end it was like a big color-puzzle!”

How do we achieve Sustainable Development?

For sustainable development to be achieved, it is crucial to harmonize three core elements: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection. These elements are interconnected and all are crucial for the well-being of individuals and societies.

Eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions is an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. To this end, there must be promotion of sustainable, inclusive and equitable economic growth, creating greater opportunities for all, reducing inequalities, raising basic standards of living, fostering equitable social development and inclusion, and promoting integrated and sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems.

Does every country have to achieve all the Goals?

Yes though some Goals will be more urgent in some countries than others and so that will determine the efforts made and in what order.

How much will it cost to achieve the Goals

There is no definitive answer – however economist Jeffrey Sachs calculated that the total cost to eliminate extreme poverty would be $175bn per year. This represents less than one percent of the combined income of the richest countries in the world.

To achieve all the Goals recent estimates suggest 2% world GDP would be sufficient. While these sums are large, they are far outweighed by the cost of not investing in the Goals including increased impacts of climate change, effects of inequality and poor health on the world economy.

What happens if the Goals aren't achieved?

Although unanimously agreed, the Goals are not legally binding, The Goal are a promise made by all countries to each other to work together on a plan. No one can enforce that they are achieved but by working together, urging businesses to play their part and holding governments accountable they can be.

Why is it important that everyone is aware of the Goals?

For the goals to be met, everyone needs to do their part: governments, the private sector, civil society and the general public. The Goals affect all 7 billion people on Earth and for them to be met, it is crucial that everyone is aware of and have knowledge of them. Only then can we take action and contribute to making the world a better place.

What can I do to contribute to meeting the Global Goals?

There are so many things everyone can do to contribute. Here are a few good things to start you off:

  • Spread the word about the Global Goals, so that more people can take action and contribute to meeting the Goals.

  • Join an organization (Link to that section) that actively contributes to meeting the Goals.

  • Reduce your general waste and your enviromental footprint. Avoid plastics, take the train instead of the airplane, the bike instead of the car.

  • Make conscious choices in your consumtion. Buy local and try to make sure what you buy is produced in fair and sustainable ways.

  • Show compassion and stand up against racism, exclusion, discrimination and injustice.

  • Use your imagination. The future depends on our ability to imagine it.

For more hints and tips of good things you can do in your everyday life, read the UNs Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World.

Can I support just one Goal?

Choosing one Goal to support is a good way to start, and to take specific action. However, all the Goals are interlinked, so by supporting one Goal your actions will have positive impacts on other Goals. For example, promoting gender equality (Goal 5) in your school will help support a growing economy (Goal 8) and quality education for all (Goal 4).

How are the Global Goals different from the Millennium Development Goals?

The 17 Global Goals and their 169 targets are broader in scope and go further than the MDGs by addressing the root causes of poverty and the universal need for development that works for all people. The goals cover the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection.

Building on the success and momentum of the MDGs, the new global goals cover more ground, with ambitions to address inequalities, economic growth, decent jobs, cities and human settlements, industrialization, oceans, ecosystems, energy, climate change, sustainable consumption and production, peace and justice.

The new Goals are universal and apply to all countries, whereas the MDGs were intended for action in developing countries only.

A core feature of the SDGs is their strong focus on means of implementation—the mobilization of financial resources—capacity-building and technology, as well as data and institutions.

The new Goals recognize that tackling climate change is essential for sustainable development and poverty eradication. SDG 13 aims to promote urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

Why are they called both the Sustainable Development Goals and the Global Goals?

The Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, is the real name for the Goals as agreed by the member states of the UN. The Global Goals is a nickname for the SDGs.

It is easier to say and more “friendly” so it is used to help connect and engage people with them.


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