Sustainable Development Goals
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Sustainable Development Goals

A diagram listing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a collection of 17 global goals designed to be a "blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all".[1] The SDGs, set in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and intended to be achieved by the year 2030, are part of a UN Resolution called "The 2030 Agenda".[2] The targets and indicators for the SDGs are included in the UN Resolution adopted by the General Assembly two years later on 6 July 2017.[3]

The 17 goals are broad and interdependent. Each of the SDGs has a list of targets which are measured with indicators (see list of SDG targets and indicators). The year by which the target is meant to be achieved varies between the year 2020 or 2030, or no end date is given.

There are a total of 169 targets that specify the SDGs. Most of the SDGs have around 8-12 targets (or about 10 on average). Each of these targets has one to four indicators to measure progress toward reaching the targets. In total, there are 231 unique indicators to measure progress.[4] In an effort to make the SDGs successful, data has been made available in an easily-understood form.[5] A variety of tools exist to track and visualize progress towards the goals.[5]

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are:

  1. No Poverty
  2. Zero 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. Reducing Inequality
  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


Work of the Statistical Commission pertaining to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development containing the targets and indicators, July 2017 (UN resolution A/RES/71/313)

There are 169 targets which specify the 17 goals (each goal has typically 8-12 targets). They are shown in detail in the list of SDG targets and indicators. Each target has between 1 and 3 indicators used to measure progress toward reaching the targets.

The targets are distinguished into "outcome" (circumstances to be attained) and "means of implementation" targets.[6] The latter targets were introduced late in the process of negotiation of the SDGs. They provided a way to accommodate some of the concerns of Member States regarding how the SDGs were to be achieved. The first 16 SDGs have mainly outcome targets (which use numbers, for example Target 6.1) but also some "means of implementation" targets (which use letters, for example Target 6.a). Goal 17 is wholly about how the SDGs will be achieved.[6]


Targets specify the goals, whereas the indicators represent the metrics by which the world aims to track whether these targets are achieved. The global indicator framework currently (March 2020) includes 231 unique indicators.[4] The total number of indicators listed in the global indicator framework is 247 but twelve indicators repeat under two or three different targets.

Review of indicators

The indicator framework was planned to be comprehensively reviewed at the 51st session of the United Nations Statistical Commission in 2020 and the 56th session in 2025.[7] The 51st session of the Statistical Commission took place in New York from 3 - 6 March 2020 and Data and indicators for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was on the agenda.[8] There are a total of 36 changes to the global indicator framework proposed for the Commission's consideration at that session. This includes several proposals for replacements or revisions of existing indicators, addition of indicators and some deletions of indicators.[7] Between 15 October 2018 and 17 April 2020, a range of changes have been made to the indicators.[9]

The United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) website provides a current official indicator list which includes all updates until the 51st session Statistical Commission in March 2020.[4]

The indicators have been classified into three tiers based on their level of methodological development and the availability of data at the global level.[10] Tier 1 and Tier 2 are indicators that are conceptually clear, have an internationally established methodology, and data are regularly produced by at least some countries. Tier 3 indicators had no internationally established methodology or standards, and those indicators have now been abandoned, replaced or refined. As of March 2020 (the 51st session of the UN Statistical Commission), the global indicator framework no longer contains any Tier 3 indicators.[10]

Several updates have been made. as of 17 July 2020 there are 123 Tier 1 indicators, 106 Tier 2 Indicators and 2 indicators that have multiple tiers.[10] The total number is 231 unique indicators.

Individual goals

Goal 1: No poverty

SDG 1 is to: "End poverty in all its forms everywhere". This means, SDG 1 is to end extreme poverty globally by 2030. The goal has five targets which are all meant to be reached by 2030, and two targets that have no specified end date. There are 13 indicators to measure progress. The targets cover a wide of issues including eradication of extreme poverty (Target 1.1), reduction of poverty by half (Target 1.2), implementation of social protection systems (Target 1.3), ensuring equal rights to ownership, basic services, technology and economic resources (Target 1.4), building of resilience towards environmental, economic and social disasters (Target 1.5) and mobilisation of resources to end poverty (Target 1.6).

Despite ongoing progress, 10 per cent of the world live in poverty and struggle to fulfill basic needs such as health, education, and access to water and sanitation. Extreme poverty remains high in low-income countries particularly those affected by conflict and political upheaval, like in sub-Saharan Africa. Without significant shifts in policy, extreme poverty will double in digits in by 2030. Around 1 in 10 people live on less than the target figure of international-$1.25 per day. A very low poverty threshold is justified by highlighting the need of those people who are worst off.

Goal 2: Zero hunger

SDG 2 is to:"End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture".[11] The UN has defined 8 targets and 13 indicators for SDG 2.[3] Four of them are to be achieved by the year 2030, one by the year 2020 and three have no target year. Each of the targets also has one or indicators to measure progress. In total there are fourteen indicators for SDG 2. The six targets include ending hunger and access to food (Target 2.1), ending all forms of malnutrition (Target 2.2), agricultural productivity (Target 2.3), sustainable food production systems and resilient agricultural practices (Target 2.4), genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals (Target 2.5), investments, research and technology (Target 2.a), trade restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets (Target 2.b) and food commodity markets and their derivatives (Target 2.c).

Globally, 1 in 9 people are undernourished, the vast majority of whom live in developing countries. Undernutrition causes wasting or severe wasting of 52 million children worldwide.[12] It contributes to nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five - 3.1 million children per year.[13] A study published in Nature concluded that it is unlikely there will be an end to malnutrition by 2030.[14]

Goal 3: Good health and well-being for people

SDG 3 is to: "Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages".[15] The targets of SDG 3 cover a wide of issues including reduction of maternal mortality (Target 3.1), ending all preventable deaths under 5 years of age (Target 3.2), fight communicable diseases (Target 3.3), ensure reduction of mortality from non-communicable diseases and promote mental health (Target 3.4), prevent and treat substance abuse (Target 3.5), reduce road injuries and deaths (Target 3.6), grant universal access to sexual and reproductive care, family planning and education (Target 3.7), achieve universal health coverage (Target 3.8), reduce illnesses and deaths from hazardous chemicals and pollution (Target 3.9), implement the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (Target 3.a), support research, development and universal access to affordable vaccines and medicines (Target 3.b), increase health financing and support health workforce in developing countries (Target 3.c) and improve early warning systems for global health risks (Target 3.d).[16]

Significant strides have been made in increasing life expectancy and reducing some of the common causes of child and maternal mortality. Between 2000 and 2016, the worldwide under-five mortality rate decreased by 47 percent (from 78 deaths per 1,000 live births to 41 deaths per 1,000 live births).[12] Still, the number of children dying under age five is extremely high: 5.6 million in 2016 alone.[12]

Goal 4: Quality education

SDG 4 is to: "Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all".[17] The UN has defined 10 targets and 11 indicators for SDG 4. SDG 4 targets several thematic issues including free primary and secondary education (Target 4.1), equal access to; quality pre-primary education (Target 4.2),affordable technical, vocational and higher education (Target 4.3), increased number of people with relevant skills for financial success (Target 4.4), elimination of all discrimination in education (Target 4.5), universal literacy and numeracy (Target 4.6), education for sustainable development and global citizenship (Target 4.7), build and upgrade inclusive and safe schools (Target 4.a), expand higher education scholarships for developing countries (Target 4.b) and increase the supply of qualified teachers in developing countries (Target 4.c).

Major progress has been made in access to education, specifically at the primary school level, for both boys and girls. The number of out-of-school children has almost halved from 112 million in 1997 to 60 million in 2014.[18] Still, at least 22 million children in 43 countries will miss out on pre-primary education unless the rate of progress doubles.[12]

Goal 5: Gender equality

SDG 5 is to: "Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls".[19] The targets and indicators for SDG 5 are extensive and provide equal opportunity for women and girls. Targets cover a broad crosscutting gender issues including ending all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere (Target 5.1), violence and exploitation of women and girls (Target 5.2), eliminate harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation (Target 5.3), increase value of unpaid care and promote shared domestic responsibilities (Target 5.4), ensure full the participation of women in leadership and decision-making (Target 5.5), ensuring access to universal reproductive rights and health (Target 5.6), fostering equal rights to economic resources, property ownership and financial services for women (Target 5.a), promoting empowerment of women through technology (Target 5.b) and adopting, strengthening policies and enforcing legislation for gender equality (Target 5.c).[20]

The targets call for example for an end to gender discrimination and for empowering women and girls through technology.[21] According to the UN, "gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world."[22] Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will nurture sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large. Achieving gender equality will require enforceable legislation that promotes empowerment of all women and girls.[23]

Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation

Example of sanitation for all: School toilet (IPH school and college, Mohakhali, Dhaka, Bangladesh)

SDG 6 is to: "Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all".[24] It has eight targets and 11 indicators that will be used to monitor progress toward the targets. Most are to be achieved by the year 2030. One is targeted for 2020.[24] The eight targets cover the entire water cycle including: "provision of drinking water (Target 6.1) and sanitation and hygiene services (Target 6.2), treatment and reuse of wastewater and ambient water quality (Target 6.3), water-use efficiency and scarcity (Target 6.4), IWRM including through transboundary cooperation (Target 6.5), protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems (Target 6.6), international cooperation and capacity-building (Target 6.a) and participation in water and sanitation management (Target 6.b).[25] The first three targets relate to drinking water supply, sanitation services and wastewater treatment and reuse.[26]

The main indicator for the sanitation target is the "Proportion of population using safely managed sanitation services, including a hand-washing facility with soap and water".[27] The Joint Monitoring Programme of WHO and UNICEF (JMP) reported in 2017 that 4.5 billion people currently do not have safely managed sanitation.[28] In other words, worldwide, 6 out of 10 people lack safely managed sanitation services, and 3 out of 10 lack safely managed water services.[12] Safe drinking water and hygienic toilets protect people from disease and enable societies to be more productive economically.

Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy

SDG 7 is to: "Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all".[29] Targets for 2030 include access to affordable and reliable energy while increasing the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. This would involve improving energy efficiency and enhancing international cooperation to facilitate more open access to clean energy technology and more investment in clean energy infrastructure. Plans call for particular attention to infrastructure support for the least developed countries, small islands and land-locked developing countries.[29]

As of 2017, only 57 percent of the global population relies primarily on clean fuels and technology for cooking, falling short of the 95 percent target.[12]

Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth

SDG 8 is to: "Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all".[30] For the least developed countries, the economic target is to attain at least a 7 percent annual growth in gross domestic product (GDP). Achieving higher productivity will require diversification and upgraded technology along with innovation, entrepreneurship, and the growth of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Some targets are for 2030; others are for 2020. The target for 2020 is to reduce youth unemployment and operationalize a global strategy for youth employment. Implementing the Global Jobs Pact of the International Labour Organization is also mentioned.

Strengthening domestic financial institutions and increasing Aid for Trade support for developing countries is considered essential to economic development. The Enhanced Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Technical Assistance to Least Developed Countries is mentioned as a method for achieving sustainable economic development.[30]

Goal 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure

SDG 9 is to: "Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation".[31] This goal includes striving for resilience (engineering and construction) and urban resilience. Manufacturing is a major source of employment. In 2016, the least developed countries had less "manufacturing value added per capita". The figure for Europe and North America amounted to US$4,621, compared to about $100 in the least developed countries.[32] The manufacturing of high products contributes 80 percent to total manufacturing output in industrialized economies but barely 10 percent in the least developed countries.

The last of the seven targets is about "Target 9.c Universal Access to Information and Communications Technology". Mobile-cellular signal coverage is the target's indicator and has improved a great deal. In previously "unconnected" areas of the globe, 85 percent of people now live in covered areas. Planet-wide, 95 percent of the population is covered.[32]

Goal 10: Reducing inequalities

SDG 10 is to: "Reduce income inequality within and among countries".[33] SDG 10 covers issues including reducing income inequalities (Target 10.1), promoting universal social, economic and political inclusion (Target 10.2), ensuring equal opportunities and end discrimination (Target 10.3), adopt fiscal and social policies that promotes equality (Target 10.4), improved regulation of global financial markets and institutions (Target 10.5), enhanced representation for developing countries in financial institutions (Target 10.6), responsible and well-managed migration policies (Target 10.7), special and differential treatment for developing countries (Target 10.a), encourage development assistance and investment in least developed countries (Target 10.b) and reduced transaction costs for migrant remittances (Target 10.c).[3]

Target 10.1 is to "sustain income growth of the bottom 40 per cent of the population at a rate higher than the national average". This goal, known as 'shared prosperity', is complementing SDG 1, the eradication of extreme poverty, and it is relevant for all countries in the world.[34]

Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities

SDG 11 is to: "Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable".[35] The Target 11.1 for 2030 is to ensure access to safe and affordable housing. The indicator named to measure progress toward this target is the proportion of urban population living in slums or informal settlements. Between 2000 and 2014, the proportion fell from 39 percent to 30 percent. However, the absolute number of people living in slums went from 792 million in 2000 to an estimated 880 million in 2014. Movement from rural to urban areas has accelerated as the population has grown and better housing alternatives are available.[36]

Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production

SDG 12 is to: "Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns".[37] SDG 12 has 11 targets. The targets talks about different issues ranging from implementing the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns (Target 12.1) achieving the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources (Target 12.2), having per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels (Target 12.3), achieving the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle (Target 12.4), substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse (Target 12.5), Encourage companies to adopt sustainable practices (Target 12.6), Promote public procurement practices that are sustainable, in accordance with national policies and priorities (Target 12.7), ensure that people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable development (12.8), support developing countries to strengthen their scientific and technological (Target 12.a), develop and implement tools to monitor sustainable development impacts for sustainable (Target 12.b), rationalize inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption by removing market distortions (Target 12.c).

Goal 13: Climate action

SDG 13 is to: "Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts by regulating emissions and promoting developments in renewable energy".[38] The targets cover a wide of issues surrounding climate action, including to strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related disasters (target 13.1), integrate climate change measures into policies and planning (Target 13.2), build knowledge and capacity to meet climate change (Target 13.3), implement the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (Target 13.a), and promote mechanisms to raise capacity for planning and management (Target 13.b).[39]

Goal 14: Life below water

SDG 14 is to: "Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development".[40] Effective strategies to mitigate adverse effects of increased ocean acidification are needed to advance the sustainable use of oceans. As areas of protected marine biodiversity expand, there has been an increase in ocean science funding, essential for preserving marine resources.[41] The deterioration of coastal waters has become a global occurrence, due to pollution and coastal eutrophication (overflow of nutrients in water), where similar contributing factors to climate change can affect oceans and negatively impact marine biodiversity. "Without concerted efforts, coastal eutrophication is expected to increase in 20 per cent of large marine ecosystems by 2050."[42]

Goal 15: Life on land

SDG 15 is to: "Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss".[43] This goal articulates targets for preserving biodiversity of forest, desert, and mountain eco-systems, as a percentage of total land mass. A "land degradation-neutral world" can be reached by restoring degraded forests and land lost to drought and flood. Goal 15 calls for more attention to preventing invasion of introduced species and more protection of endangered species.[44] Forests have a prominent role to play in the success of Agenda 2030, notably in terms of ecosystem services, livelihoods, and the green economy; but this will require clear priorities to address key tradeoffs and mobilize synergies with other SDGs.[45]

Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions

SDG 16 is to: "Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels".[46] Reducing violent crime, sex trafficking, forced labor, and child abuse are clear global goals. The International Community values peace and justice and calls for stronger judicial systems that will enforce laws and work toward a more peaceful and just society.

Goal 17: Partnerships for the goals

SDG 17 is to: "Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development".[47] Increasing international cooperation is seen as vital to achieving each of the 16 previous goals. Goal 17 is included to assure that countries and organizations cooperate instead of compete. Developing multi-stakeholder partnerships to share knowledge, expertise, technology, and financial support is seen as critical to overall success of the SDGs. The goal encompasses improving north-south and South-South cooperation, and public-private partnerships which involve civil societies are specifically mentioned.[48]


World map showing countries that are closest to meeting the SDGs (in dark blue) and those with the greatest remaining challenges (in the lightest shade of blue) in 2018.[49]

The UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) is the annual space for global monitoring of the SDGs, under the auspices of the United Nations economic and Social Council. In July 2020 the meeting took place online for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The theme was "Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development" and a ministerial declaration was adopted.[50]

High-level progress reports for all the SDGs are published in the form of reports by the United Nations Secretary General. The most recent one is from April 2020.[50] Additionally, updates and progress can also be found on the SDG website that is managed by the United Nations.[51]

The online publication SDG-Tracker was launched in June 2018 and presents data across all available indicators.[5] It relies on the Our World in Data database and is also based at the University of Oxford.[52][53] The publication has global coverage and tracks whether the world is making progress towards the SDGs.[54] It aims to make the data on the 17 goals available and understandable to a wide audience.[55]

The website "allows people around the world to hold their governments accountable to achieving the agreed goals".[52] The SDG-Tracker highlights that the world is currently (early 2019) very far away from achieving the goals.

The Global "SDG Index and Dashboards Report" is the first publication to track countries' performance on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.[56] The annual publication, co-produced by Bertelsmann Stiftung and SDSN, includes a ranking and dashboards that show key challenges for each country in terms of implementing the SDGs. The publication features trend analysis to show how countries performing on key SDG metrics have changed over recent years in addition to an analysis of government efforts to implement the SDGs.

There were serious impacts and implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on all 17 Goals in the year 2020.[50]

Cross-cutting issues

Young people holding SDG banners in Lima, Peru

Three sectors need to come together in order to achieve sustainable development. These are the economic, socio-political, and environmental sectors in their broadest sense.[57] This requires the promotion of multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary research across different sectors, which can be difficult, particularly when major governments fail to support it.[57]

According to the UN, the target is to reach the community farthest behind. Commitments should be transformed into effective actions requiring a correct perception of target populations. However, numerical and non-numerical data or information must address all vulnerable groups such as children, elderly folks, persons with disabilities, refugees, indigenous peoples, migrants, and internally-displaced persons.[58]

Gender equality

There is widespread consensus that progress on all of the SDGs will be stalled if women's empowerment and gender equality are not prioritized holistically - by policy makers as well as private sector executives and board members.[59][60]

Statements from diverse sources, such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), UN Women and the World Pensions Forum have noted that investments in women and girls have positive impacts on economies. National and global development investments often exceed their initial scope.[61]

Gender equality is mainstreamed throughout the SDG framework by ensuring that as much sex-disaggregated data as possible are collected.[62]:11


Education for sustainable development (ESD) is explicitly recognized in the SDGs as part of Target 4.7 of the SDG on education. UNESCO promotes the Global Citizenship Education (GCED) as a complementary approach.[63] At the same time, it is important to emphasize ESD's importance for all the other 16 SDGs. With its overall aim to develop cross-cutting sustainability competencies in learners, ESD is an essential contribution to all efforts to achieve the SDGs. This would enable individuals to contribute to sustainable development by promoting societal, economic and political change as well as by transforming their own behavior.[64]


Culture is explicitly referenced in SDG 11 Target 4 ("Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world's cultural and natural heritage"). Culture contributes across different SDGs and policy areas.[62] Culture plays a role in SDGs related to:[62]:2

  • environment and resilience (for example Targets 11.4 Cultural & natural heritage, 11.7 Inclusive public spaces, 12.b Sustainable tourism management, 16.4 Recovery of stolen assets),
  • prosperity and livelihoods (for example Targets 8.3 Jobs, entrepreneurship & innovation; 8.9 Policies for sustainable tourism),
  • knowledge and skills,
  • inclusion and participation (for example Targets 11.7 Inclusive public spaces, 16.7 Participatory decision-making).

Implementation and support

A Boeing 787 of XiamenAir in Sustainable Development Goals livery in 2018

Implementation of the SDGs started worldwide in 2016. This process can also be called "Localizing the SDGs". All over the planet, individual people, universities, governments and institutions and organizations of all kinds work on several goals at the same time.[65] In each country, governments must translate the goals into national legislation, develop a plan of action, establish budgets and at the same time be open to and actively search for partners. Poor countries need the support of rich countries and coordination at the international level is crucial.[66]

The independent campaign "Project Everyone" has met some resistance.[67][68] In addition, several sections of civil society and governments felt the SDGs ignored "sustainability" even though it was the most important aspect of the agreement.[69]

A 2018 study in the journal Nature found that while "nearly all African countries demonstrated improvements for children under 5 years old for stunting, wasting, and underweight... much, if not all of the continent will fail to meet the Sustainable Development Goal target--to end malnutrition by 2030".[70]

There have been two books produced one by each of the co-chairs of the negotiations to help people to understand the Sustainable Development Goals and where they came from: "Negotiating the Sustainable Development Goals: A transformational agenda for an insecure world" written by Ambassador David Donoghue, Felix Dodds and Jimena Leiva as well as "Transforming Multilateral Diplomacy: The Inside Story of the Sustainable Development Goals" by Macharia Kamau, David O'Connor and Pamela Chasek.


In 2019 five progress reports on the 17 SDGs were published. Three came from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), one from the Bertelsmann Foundation and one from the European Union.[71][72][73][74] According to a review of the five reports in a synopsis, the allocation of the Goals and themes by the Basel Institute of Commons and Economics, the allocation was the following:[75]

Allocation of the Goals and their major themes in five leading SDG reports 2019[75]
SDG Topic   Rank    Average Rank Mentions[Note 1]
Health 1 3.2 1814
2 4.0 1328
Education 3 4.6 1351
Poverty 4 6.2 1095
Food 5 7.6 693
Economic Growth 6 8.6 387
Technology 7 8.8 855
Inequality 8 9.2 296
Gender Equality 9 10.0 338
Hunger 10 10.6 670
Justice 11 10.8 328
Governance 12 11.6 232
Decent Work 13 12.2 277
Peace 14 12.4 282
Clean Energy 15 12.6 272
Life on Land 16 14.4 250
Life below Water 17 15.0 248
Social Inclusion 18 16.4 22

In explanation of the findings, the Basel Institute of Commons and Economics said Biodiversity, Peace and Social Inclusion were "left behind" by quoting the official SDGs motto "Leaving no one behind".[75]

Country examples


The Commonwealth of Australia was one of the 193 countries that adopted the 2030 Agenda in September 2015. Implementation of the agenda is led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) with different federal government agencies responsible for each of the goals.[76]

In July 2018, the Australian Government released its first Voluntary National Review (VNR) of its SDG implementation to the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF)[77]. The VNR was part of a comprehensive package of reporting on SDG progress that included the development and launch of a Data Reporting Platform on the SDGs Indicators and the Australian SDGs website.[78]

In February 2019, a Senate inquiry into the SDGs published its report and made 18 recommendations. The Committee's first recommendation is to publish a national SDG implementation plan that "includes national priorities and regular reports of Australia's performance agains (sic) the goals".[79] More than a year after this recommendation was made, "the government is yet to release such a plan or indicate when such a roadmap will be presented".[80]

Australia is not on-track to achieve the SDGs by 2030.[81] Four modelled scenarios based on different development approaches found that the 'Sustainability Transition' scenario could deliver "rapid and balanced progress of 70% towards SDG targets by 2020, well ahead of the business-as-usual scenario (40%)".[81]

In the world's first SDG Index in 2015, Australia's overall performance was ranked 18th out of 34 countries.[82] In 2020, Australia's overall performance is ranked 37th out of 166 countries.[83]


Bangladesh publishes the Development Mirror to track progress towards the 17 goals.[84]


The Sustainable development process in Bhutan has a more meaningful purpose than economic growth alone. The nation's holistic goal is the pursuit of Gross National Happiness (GNH),[85] a term coined in 1972 by the Fourth King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, which has the principal guiding philosophy for the long term journey as a nation. Therefore, the SDGs find a natural and spontaneous place within the framework of GNH sharing a common vision of prosperity, peace, and harmony where no one is left behind. Just as GNH is both an ideal to be pursued and a practical tool so too the SDGs inspire and guide sustainable action. Guided by the development paradigm of GNH, Bhutan is committed to achieving the goals of SDGs by 2030 since its implementation in September 2015. In line with Bhutan's commitment to the implementation of the SDGs and sustainable development, Bhutan has participated in the Voluntary National Review in the 2018 High-Level Political Forum.[86] As the country has progressed in its 12th Five year plan (2019-2023), the national goals have been aligned with the SDGs and every agency plays a vital role in its own ways to collectively achieving the committed goals of SDGs.


Countries in Africa such as Ethiopia, Angola and South Africa worked with UN Country Teams and the UNDP to provide support to create awareness about SDGs among government officers, private sector workers, MPs and the civil society.[87]

In Cape Verde, the government received support from the UNDP to convene an international conference on SDGs in June 2015. This contributed to the worldly discussions on the specific needs of Small Island Developing States in the view of the new global agenda on sustainable development. In the UN country team context, the government received support from UNDP to develop a roadmap to place SDGs at the middle of its national development planning processes.[87]

In Liberia, the government received support from UNDP to develop a Roadmap to domesticate the AU Agenda 2063 and 2030 Agenda into the country's next national development plan. Outlines from the roadmap are steps to translate the Agenda 2063 and the SDGs into policies, plans and programs whiles considering the country is a Fragile State and applies the New Deal Principles.[87]

Uganda was also claimed to be one of the first countries to develop its 2015/16-2019/20 national development plan in line with SDGs. It was estimated by its government that about 76% of the SDGs targets were reflected in the plan and was adapted to the national context. The UN Country Team was claimed to have supported the government to integrate the SDGs.[87]

In Mauritania, the Ministry for the Economy and Finances received support from the UNDP to convene partners such as NGOs, government agencies, other ministries and the private sector in the discussion for implementing of the SDGs in the country, in the context of the UN Country Team. A national workshop was also supported by the UNDP to provide the methodology and tools for mainstreaming the SDGs into the country's new strategy.[87]

The government of countries such as Togo, Sierra Leone, Madagascar and Uganda were claimed to have volunteered to conduct national reviews of their implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Support from UNDP were received to prepare their respective reports presented at the UN High-Level Political Forum. It was held n 11-20 July 2016 in New York in the United States. This forum was the UN global platform to review and follow-up the SDGs and 2030 Agenda. It is said to provide guidance on policy to countries for implementing the goals.[87]

Europe and Russia

Baltic nations, via the Council of the Baltic Sea States, have created the Baltic 2030 Action Plan.[88]

The World Pensions Forum has observed that the UK and European Union pension investors have been at the forefront of ESG-driven (Environmental, Social and Governance) asset allocation at home and abroad and early adopters of "SDG-centric" investment practices.[60]


The Government of India established the NITI Aayog to attain sustainable development goals.[89] In March 2018 Haryana became the first state in India to have its annual budget focused on the attainment of SDG with a 3-year action plan and a 7-year strategy plan to implement sustainable development goals when Captain Abhimanyu, Finance Minister of Government of Haryana, unveiled a (equivalent to INR120 billion, US$1.7 billion or EUR1.6 billion in 2019) annual 2018-19 budget.[90] Also, NITI Aayog starts the exercise of measuring India and its States' progress towards the SDGs for 2030, culminating in the development of the first SDG India Index - Baseline Report 2018[91]


In December 2016 the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran held a special ceremony announcing a national education initiative that was arranged by the UNESCO office in Iran to implement the educational objectives of this global program. The announcement created a stir among politicians and Marja' in the country.[92]

United Kingdom

The UK's approach to delivering the Global SDGs is outlined in Agenda 2030: Delivering the Global Goals, developed by the Department for International Development. In 2019, the Bond network analyzed the UK's global progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).[93] The Bond report highlights crucial gaps where attention and investment are most needed. The report was compiled by 49 organizations and 14 networks and working groups.

United States

193 governments including the United States ratified the SDGs. However, the UN reported minimal progress after three years within the 15-year timetable of this project. Funding remains trillions of dollars short. The United States stand last among the G20 nations to attain these Sustainable Development Goals and 36th worldwide.[94]

Costs and sources of finance

Cost comparison for UN Goals

The Rockefeller Foundation asserts that "The key to financing and achieving the SDGs lies in mobilizing a greater share of the $200+ trillion in annual private capital investment flows toward development efforts, and philanthropy has a critical role to play in catalyzing this shift."[95] Large-scale funders participating in a Rockefeller Foundation-hosted design thinking workshop (June 2017: Scaling Solutions) were realistic. They concluded that "while there is a moral imperative to achieve the SDGs, failure is inevitable if there aren't drastic changes to how we go about financing large scale change".[96]

The Economist estimated that alleviating poverty and achieving the other sustainable development goals will require about US$2-3 trillion per year for the next 15 years which they called "pure fantasy".[97] Estimates for providing clean water and sanitation for the whole population of all continents have been as high as US$200 billion.[98] The World Bank says that estimates need to be made country by country, and reevaluated frequently over time.[98]

In 2014, UNCTAD estimated the annual costs to achieving the UN Goals at $2.5 trillion per year.[99]

In 2017 the UN launched the Inter-agency Task Force on Financing for Development (UN IATF on FfD) that invited to a public dialogue.[100] In a policy paper, delivered by the Basel Institute of Commons and Economics, that conducts the World Social Capital Monitor, a UN SDG Partnership Initiative, the following figures on both the costs and the major sources to finance the SDGs have been published by the UN IATF on FfD:[101]

Annual cost and sources comparison for UN Goals (in US$ billion)
Costs Source
All 17 Goals UNCTAD 2,500
SDG 16 Peace 1,822
SGG 3 Health 1,160
SDG 13 Climate Action 350
SDG 7 Clean Energy 327
SDG 6 Clean Water 150
SDG 1 No Poverty 132
OECD new debt (2018) 10,500
Military spending worldwide (2018) 1,822
Increase OECD debt (2018) 1,400
European Union budget (2018) 176
Official development assistance (2018) 149.3
Public-private partnerships (2018) 60
UN total budget (2018) 47.8
World Bank budget (2018) 43.5

SDG-driven investment

Capital stewardship is expected to play a crucial part in the progressive advancement of the SDG agenda:

"No longer absentee landlords', pension fund trustees have started to exercise more forcefully their governance prerogatives across the boardrooms of Britain, Benelux and America: coming together through the establishment of engaged pressure groups [...] to shift the [whole economic] system towards sustainable investment"[102] by using the SDG framework across all asset classes.[60]

In 2017, 2018 and early 2019, the World Pensions Council (WPC) held a series of ESG-focused discussions with pension board members (trustees) and senior investment executives from across G20 nations in Toronto, London (with the UK Association of Member-Nominated Trustees, AMNT), Paris and New York - notably on the sidelines of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly. Many pension investment executives and board members confirmed they were in the process of adopting or developing SDG-informed investment processes, with more ambitious investment governance requirements - notably when it comes to Climate Action, Gender Equity and Social Fairness: "they straddle key Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including, of course, Gender Equality (SDG 5) and Reduced Inequality (SDG 10) [...] Many pension trustees are now playing for keeps".[103]

The notion of "SDG Driven Investment" gained further ground amongst institutional investors in the second semester of 2019, notably at the WPC-led G7 Pensions Roundtable held in Biarritz, 26 August 2019,[104] and the Business Roundtable held in Washington, DC, on 19 August 2019.[105]

Communication and advocacy

Katherine Maher, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, talks about "The role of free knowledge in advancing the SDGs" in Stockholm, 2019
A proposal to visualize the 17 SDGs in a thematic pyramid.

UN agencies which are part of the United Nations Development Group decided to support an independent campaign to communicate the new SDGs to a wider audience. This campaign, "Project Everyone," had the support of corporate institutions and other international organizations.[67]

Using the text drafted by diplomats at the UN level, a team of communication specialists developed icons for every goal.[106] They also shortened the title "The 17 Sustainable Development Goals" to "Global Goals/17#GlobalGoals," then ran workshops and conferences to communicate the Global Goals to a global audience.[107][108][109]

An early concern was that 17 goals would be too much for people to grasp and that therefore the SDGs would fail to get a wider recognition.[when?] That without wider recognition the necessary momentum to achieve them by 2030 would not be archived. Concerned with this, British film-maker Richard Curtis started the organization in 2015 called Project Everyone with the aim to bring the goals to everyone on the planet.[110][111][112] Curtis approached Swedish designer Jakob Trollbäck who rebranded them as The Global Goals and created the 17 iconic visuals with clear short names as well as a logotype for the whole initiative. The communication system is available for free.[113] In 2018 Jakob Trollbäck and his company The New Division went on to extend the communication system to also include the 169 targets that describe how the goals can be achieved.[114]

The benefits of engaging the affected public in decision making that affects their livelihoods, communities, and environment have been widely recognized.[115] The Aarhus Convention is a United Nations convention passed in 2001, explicitly to encourage and promote effective public engagement in environmental decision making. Information transparency related to social media and the engagement of youth are two issues related to the Sustainable Development Goals that the convention has addressed.[116][117]


In 2019, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres appointed new SDG advocates.[118] The role of these 17 public figures is to raise awareness, inspire greater ambition, and push for faster action on the SDGs. They are:



Global Goals Week

Global Goals Week is an annual week-long event in September for action, awareness, and accountability for the Sustainable Development Goals.[119] It first took place in 2016. It is often held concurrently with Climate Week NYC.[120]

Film festivals

The annual "Le Temps Presse" festival in Paris utilizes cinema to sensitize the public, especially young people, to the Sustainable Development Goals. The origin of the festival was in 2010 when eight directors produced a film titled "8," which included eight short films, each featuring one of the Millennium Development Goals. After 2.5 million viewers saw "8" on YouTube, the festival was created. It now showcases young directors whose work promotes social, environmental and human commitment. The festival now focuses on the Sustainable Development Goals.[121]

The Arctic Film Festival is an annual film festival organized by HF Productions and supported by the SDGs' Partnership Platform. Held for the first time in 2019, the festival is expected to take place every year in September in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway.[122][123]


The sustainable development goals are a UN initiative.


UN SDG consultations in Mariupol, Ukraine

In 1972, governments met in Stockholm, Sweden for the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, to consider the rights of the family to a healthy and productive environment.[124] In 1983, the United Nations created the World Commission on Environment and Development (later known as the Brundtland Commission), which defined sustainable development as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".[125] In 1992, the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) or Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro, where the first agenda for Environment and Development, also known as Agenda 21, was developed and adopted.

In 2012, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), also known as Rio+20, was held as a 20-year follow up to UNCED.[126][127] Colombia proposed the idea of the SDGs at a preparation event for Rio+20 held in Indonesia in July 2011.[128] In September 2011, this idea was picked up by the United Nations Department of Public Information 64th NGO Conference in Bonn, Germany. The outcome document proposed 17 sustainable development goals and associated targets. In the run-up to Rio+20 there was much discussion about the idea of the SDGs. At the Rio+20 Conference, a resolution known as "The Future We Want" was reached by member states.[129] Among the key themes agreed on were poverty eradication, energy, water and sanitation, health, and human settlement.

The Rio+20 outcome document mentioned that "at the outset, the OWG [Open Working Group] will decide on its methods of work, including developing modalities to ensure the full involvement of relevant stakeholders and expertise from civil society, Indigenous Peoples, the scientific community and the United Nations system in its work, in order to provide a diversity of perspectives and experience".[129]

In January 2013, the 30-member UN General Assembly Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals was established to identify specific goals for the SDGs. The Open Working Group (OWG) was tasked with preparing a proposal on the SDGs for consideration during the 68th session of the General Assembly, September 2013 - September 2014.[130] On 19 July 2014, the OWG forwarded a proposal for the SDGs to the Assembly. After 13 sessions, the OWG submitted their proposal of 8 SDGs and 169 targets to the 68th session of the General Assembly in September 2014.[131] On 5 December 2014, the UN General Assembly accepted the Secretary General's Synthesis Report, which stated that the agenda for the post-2015 SDG process would be based on the OWG proposals.[132]

Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary-General from 2007 to 2016, has stated in a November 2016 press conference that: "We don't have plan B because there is no planet B."[133] This thought has guided the development of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).[]

The Post-2015 Development Agenda was a process from 2012 to 2015 led by the United Nations to define the future global development framework that would succeed the Millennium Development Goals. The SDGs were developed to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which ended in 2015. The gaps and shortcomings of MDG Goal 8 (To develop a global partnership for development) led to identifying a problematic "donor-recipient" relationship.[134] Instead, the new SDGs favor collective action by all countries.[134]

The UN-led process involved its 193 Member States and global civil society. The resolution is a broad intergovernmental agreement that acts as the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The SDGs build on the principles agreed upon in Resolution A/RES/66/288, entitled "The Future We Want".[135] This was a non-binding document released as a result of Rio+20 Conference held in 2012.[135]

The lists of targets and indicators for each of the 17 SDGs was published in a UN resolution in July 2017.[3]


Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (UN Resolution A/RES/70/1), containing the goals (October 2015)

Negotiations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda began in January 2015 and ended in August 2015. The negotiations ran in parallel to United Nations negotiations on financing for development, which determined the financial means of implementing the Post-2015 Development Agenda; those negotiations resulted in adoption of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda in July 2015. A final document was adopted at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in September 2015 in New York.[136]

On 25 September 2015, the 193 countries of the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Development Agenda titled "Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development".[137][138] This agenda has 92 paragraphs. Paragraph 59 outlines the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the associated 169 targets and 232 indicators.


The SDGs have been criticized for setting contradictory goals and for trying to do everything first, instead of focusing on the most urgent or fundamental priorities. The SDGs were an outcome from a UN conference that was not criticized by any major non-governmental organization (NGO). Instead, the SDGs received broad support from many NGOs.[139]

A commentary in The Economist in 2015 said that the SDGs are "a mess" compared to the eight MDGs used previously.[97] Others have pointed out that the SDGs mark a shift from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and emphasise the interconnected environmental, social and economic aspects of development, by putting sustainability at their centre.[140]

The SDGs may simply maintain the status quo and fall short of delivering on the ambitious development agenda. The current status quo has been described as "separating human wellbeing and environmental sustainability, failing to change governance and to pay attention to trade-offs, root causes of poverty and environmental degradation, and social justice issues".[140]

Regarding the targets of the SDGs, there is generally weak evidence linking the "means of implementation" to outcomes.[6] The targets about "means of implementation" (those denoted with a letter, for example, Target 6.a) are imperfectly conceptualized and inconsistently formulated, and tracking their largely qualitative indicators will be difficult.[6]

Competing and too many goals

Some of the goals compete with each other. For example, seeking high levels of quantitative GDP growth can make it difficult to attain ecological, inequality reduction, and sustainability objectives. Similarly, increasing employment and wages can work against reducing the cost of living.[]

A commentary in The Economist in 2015 argued that 169 targets for the SDGs is too many, describing them as "sprawling, misconceived" and "a mess".[97] The goals are said to ignore local context. All other 16 goals might be contingent on achieving SDG 1, ending poverty, which should have been at the top of a very short list of goals. In addition, Bhargava (2019) has emphasized the inter-dependence between the numerous sub-goals and the role played by population growth in developing countries in hampering their operationalization.

On the other hand, nearly all stakeholders engaged in negotiations to develop the SDGs agreed that the high number of 17 goals was justified because the agenda they address is all-encompassing.[]

Weak on environmental sustainability

Continued global economic growth of 3 percent (Goal 8) may not be reconcilable with ecological sustainability goals, because the required rate of absolute global eco-economic decoupling is far higher than any country has achieved in the past.[141] Anthropologists have suggested that, instead of targeting aggregate GDP growth, the goals could target resource use per capita, with "substantial reductions in high-income nations."[141]

Environmental constraints and planetary boundaries are underrepresented within the SDGs. For instance, the paper "Making the Sustainable Development Goals Consistent with Sustainability[142]" points out that the way the current SDGs are structured leads to a negative correlation between environmental sustainability and SDGs. This means, as the environmental sustainability side of the SDGs is underrepresented, the resource security for all, particularly for lower-income populations, is put at risk. This is not a criticism of the SDGs per se, but a recognition that their environmental conditions are still weak.[141]

The SDGs have been criticized for their inability to protect biodiversity. They could unintentionally promote environmental destruction in the name of sustainable development.[143][144]

See also


  1. ^ While the total ranking results on the average ranking in five different reports, the number of mentions is not identical with the average ranking.


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