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by Kelly Secrest August 05, 2020 9 min read

What are the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations?

These development goals are a blueprint set in place to help the world step towards a more sustainable future.  The goals are interconnected and configured to tackle global challenges related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, justice, and peace.  There are 17 goals with a shared global mission for expected achievement by 2030.  The World in 2050 is a global research initiative that supports the effective implementation of the 2030 United Nations vision.
Reports come out frequently detailing the progress achieved and outline ways to improve their methods.  The 2020 report shows significant progress was made in improving the health of children and mothers.  Also, access to electricity has begun to accelerate, which significantly improves the living conditions for many living in poorer countries around the world.  In terms of gender equality, a growing number of women became a part of the government.  These are just a few successes. Understanding the intertwined 17 global goals and doing your part to help accomplish them is critical for transforming our world within the boundaries of the planet.


Photography Credit: UN News

17 Goals

Here are the 17 goals and a quick synopsis of why each is important:
Goal 1: No Poverty
  • Poverty eradication is ranked as the second most pressing goal.  More than 700 million people or 10% of the world population live in extreme poverty and struggle with meeting the basic necessities that most of us take for granted.  These include health, education, and access to water and sanitation.  The poverty rate is estimated to be three times as high in rural areas than in urban areas.
  • You might think that having a job will secure a decent wage for an individual, but 8 percent of the workforce still live in extreme poverty.  In fact, one in every five children is subject to poverty.


Photography Credit: Business Green

Goal 2: Zero Hunger
  • Hunger was steadily declining for decades until 2015 when it began to increase again slowly.  This goal is off track, and it is predicted it will not be met by 2030.  A more significant increase is predicted as many suffer from hunger and malnutrition due to human-made conflicts, climate change, and economic depressions.
  • A change in the global food and agriculture system must be made to stop this number from rising.  Worldwide efforts must increase agricultural productivity and find ways to make food production more sustainable.
  • The world produces enough food to feed all 7 billion people, but logistics and food waste are problems.
Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being
  • Significant progress has been made in improving the life expectancies and well-being of those before the Pandemic began, which, in itself, created issues.  There must be a movement toward ensuring sanitation, hygiene, and access to health services to promote vaccinations to eradicate diseases. COVID-19 shows the critical need for preparedness in this area.

Goal 4: Quality Education
  • Significant progress has been made in rising access to education, but some countries are still struggling in having their children meet education standards.  As of 2018, about one-fifth of children worldwide were not enrolled in schools.  Globally, half of all children and adolescents do not meet the minimum proficiency standards for reading and arithmetic.

Photography Credit: United Nations

Goal 5: Gender Equality
  • This is ranked as the third most important goal as gender equality is a fundamental human right.  Working toward equality will create a framework for a future without sexism or discrimination and where women are equally represented in all positions in the workplace.

Photography Credit: International Journalism Festival

Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
  • On a global scale, one in three people do not have proper access to safe drinking water, and two out of five people do not have a hand-washing facility with soap available.  Sanitation is an essential step in avoiding illness and diseases and will save many lives.

Photography Credit: Toronto Water and Air

Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
  • Many encouraging statistics revolve around this goal as many developing countries have gained access to safe fuels and technology for cooking.  Energy is becoming more sustainable and accessible worldwide, such as in places like sub-Saharan Africa.  This energy can power healthcare facilities, help with the supply of clean drinking water, and allow for services to help people get the help they need.
Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • If all people globally had adequate employment, the living conditions of many would improve and foster sustainable economic development.  This objective is challenging to quantify as the market is continually shifting with recessions and booms, and many who were once secure find themselves struggling.  With technological changes, many jobs are being altered, created, and lost.

Photography Credit: Policyed

Goal 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure

  • By innovating and improving technology, it is possible to find long-lasting solutions.  Global investments in research and development increased from 2000 to 2015 and stayed at a consistent level up to current time.  As climate change and natural disasters become more serious, having resilient infrastructure is of the utmost importance.
Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities
  • Reducing inequality means diminishing the differences between the wealthy and the poor, women and men, and between races and countries.  This is ranked as the most important goal that must be solved to take on other critical global problems.  Having inequality creates a loss of human potential and capital, and can create tensions between groups of people.  We all see and experience inequalities in our daily lives with access to healthcare, the job application process, access to education, justice, paying taxes, wages, and more.  Studies show that income inequality has steadily decreased as inequalities have declined between countries.  However, within countries, income inequality has increased.  We require a transformative change to meet the goals that the United Nations has set for reducing inequality.
Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • The development of the manufacturing sector must be accelerated if the 2030 goal is going to be achieved.  The key to achieving this goal is to innovate and improve technology to make cities inclusive, safe, and sustainable with access to essential energy, housing, and transportation.  
Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
  • It is estimated that around one-third of all food produced is wasted every single year due to spoilage or poor transportation.  We must all create “recovery plans” to alternate consumption patterns and production to more sustainable methods.  This will help the green economy.

Photography Credit: Iberdrola

Goal 13: Climate Action
  • I’m sure you have read a lot about climate change and the dramatic consequences that it creates.  Carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas levels rose to a new record high as 2019 became the second warmest year.  Climate change has impacted every nation on Earth and will continue to further disrupt lives and the economy if a change is not made quickly.  Weather patterns are becoming more unpredictable, and sea levels are rising, making it harder to prepare for natural disasters and weather-related events.

Photography Credit: Nasa

Goal 14: Life Below Water
  • If you have had the chance to look throughout our website and read any past blogs, you know how important the water is to our economy and sustaining life on Earth.  The biodiversity of oceans must be a priority, and everyone needs to do their part to live sustainably and recycle.  It is of utmost importance to the Blue Economy.

Photography Credit: Project Aware

Goal 15: Life on Land
  • Without all the services which nature provides, we simply could not survive.  We are supplied with oxygen, crops are pollinated, and nature provides us with nourishing food.  However, one million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, and we must act as a unit to restore and protect all terrestrial ecosystems.
Goal 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
  • The tracking and recording of people is a task that often comes with a high level of error.  The births of approximately one in four children under the age of five are never officially recorded and do not have proof of legal identity.  Correcting these errors is so important because these children do not have access to social services and justice and cannot protect their rights.  In the way of conflict, it is estimated that over 70 million people flee war, persecution, and conflict in just 2018.  Achieving these human rights and creating legal and non-discriminatory responses to these issues is essential.

Photography Credit: Nudge Academy

Goal 17: Partnerships

  • This goal is vital because none of the other sixteen goals can be achieved without collaboration between partnerships and alliances. Partnerships need to be built on a global, national, regional, and state level.  At these fundamental levels, countries, companies, and individuals are working together to shape lives around these priorities and are doing whatever they can to be sustainable within their environment.

Photography Credit: OECD

How has the Pandemic Affected this Long Term Plan?

Last September, the SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) Summit was held, and it was announced that global efforts were not up to the standard needed to accomplish these goals by the 2030 deadline.  Soon after this meeting, COVID-19 tremendously impacted many countries and is a considerable threat to achieving these goals in a timely manner.
The latest data shows that the poor, including children, the elderly, people with disabilities, migrants, and refugees, have been affected the most since the Pandemic started.  Many of these people suffer from a lack of housing, clean water, access to healthcare facilities, and sanitary products such as hand sanitizer.  Statistics from the United Nations estimate that 71 million people will be pushed back into extreme poverty from being secure in 2020, making this year the first that progress will not be made since 1998.  This will also be the first year in 20 years that the improvement in reducing child labor will be reversed.  Women are also being affected more than men, setting back gender equality (Goal 5).
The statistics for hunger have been increasing and getting worse for several years. The effects of COVID-19 are predicted to double the number, placing an extra 130 million people at risk for being affected by acute hunger by the end of 2020.
Goal 4 for quality education has hit a roadblock as students are not capable of assembling in schools, and the threat of COVID-19 has made it even more difficult.  In many countries, the proper technology is not available to create an online learning environment.  UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) has tried to help countries by providing resources and solutions that will teach them remotely.  The solutions incorporate hi-tech, low-tech, and no-tech.  They are desperately attempting to create a plan for students to return to schools to avoid an increase in dropout rates.  UNICEF has also increased its work in providing mental health support and alternative learning programs.
Goal 5, gender inequality, has been hindered by the virus as lockdowns have increased domestic abuse, and the impacts have affected women and girls significantly harder.
Always try to look at the positive side of events when hearing a lot of bad news! Although most of the effects of the Pandemic are negative, climate change has benefited.  Because of the travel bans and lockdowns, greenhouse gas emissions are predicted to decrease by about 6 percent in 2020.  However, this shift is only temporary, and steps must be taken to keep these levels low once everything returns to normal.

Why are the Sustainability Goals Important?

Sustainability is something that everyone should and must care about because it addresses the global challenges we face.  Being sustainable will improve human health and living conditions and allow the environment to prosper.  Each of the 17 goals is intertwined, and it is crucial that we achieve them all.  Being sustainable can save money, reduce pollution, and so much more.  Sustainability meets present needs without compromising future generations. We cannot continue to use the level of resources in the same manner without affecting generations to come.  We must decrease degradation, pollution, climate change, and habitat loss.  It is essential to know the three pillars of sustainability: economy, society, and the environment.  You might have heard of the informal names of these principles: profit, people, and the planet.
Here are some tips that can help you start a sustainable lifestyle:
  1. Conserve energy by taking shorter showers and turning off the lights when they aren’t in use.
  2. Eat locally and consume sustainable food
  3. Waste less food
  4. Plant seeds and build a garden
  5. Recycle (Read our last article that discusses all the rules of recycles and what each number means!)
  6. Resell and donate your old clothes and other items you do not use
  7. Volunteer your time and skills
  8. Help educate at-risk children in your community
  9. Mobilize a call to action from your government
  10. Plant a tree
  11. Use energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs
  12. Help support the marginalized in your community
  13. Drink from the tap as opposed to using plastic water bottles 
  14. Understand the sustainable UN goals and educate others
  15. Support sustainable brands (Purchase a hat from our website!)

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