Sustainable Development Goals

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The Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are 17 internationally agreed goals and 169 targets to eradicate poverty, fight inequality and improve environmental stability worldwide.

The goals and targets were officially agreed by heads of state and government and high-level representatives at the United Nations General Assembly on 25-27 September 2015 at the UN headquarters in New York. The goals form the basis of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which seeks to build on the Millennium Development Goals and complete what these did not achieve.

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The SDGs aim to mobilise international action over a 15-year period from 2015 to 2030 in a number of areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet, referred to as the five “P’s”’: people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership.

The 17 goals are as follows (click on each goal for more detail):

Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere

Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation

Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries

Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Goal 14: Conserve and sustainable use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainable manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

 How were the SDG indicators chosen?

A highly integrated agenda[1]:

Recognizing the interlinkages and integrated nature of the SDGs is crucial in ensuring the purpose of the new 2030 agenda is realized; all goals are linked and are interdependent. A lack of integration across the sectors is the greatest barrier to achieve sustainable development (theoretically speaking). Making sure cohesion and harmony exists between policies as well as multi-stakeholder collaboration is essential in seeing through the targets of the SDGs. However it is important to understand target relationships in realizing the new agenda. Relationships between targets can act in three different ways:

  • Interdependency: another target can be met only upon completion of another target
  • Conditioning/constraining: targets can either create favourable conditions to achieve other targets, or alternatively place constraints in achieving other targets
  • Reinforcing: targets can reinforce one another

Therefore, it is realistic to assume that not all of the same targets will be met among all countries. It is important to realize the relationship between specific targets that countries are looking to achieve, and that it is more efficient to ensure sustainable development by looking at respective targets that fit a specific country’s needs rather than the entirety of the goal itself. 

How were the SDGs created?

The process of arriving at the post-2015 development agenda was facilitated by the United Nations, and was Member State-led with broad participation from civil society and other international organisations.

In June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil at the Rio20+ UN conference (2012), the need for a new set of sustainable development goals was proposed. Rio20+ did not elaborate specific goals, but stated that the SDGs should be limited in number, aspirational and easy to communicate. It was also stated that the post-2015 goals should address in a balanced way all three dimensions of sustainable development and be coherent with and integrated in the UN development agenda beyond 2015. A 30-member Open Working Group (OWG) of the General Assembly was tasked with preparing a proposal on the SDGs.[2]

The OWG was co-chaired by Mr. Csaba Kőrösi, representative of Hungary, and Mr. Macharia Kamau, representative of Kenya, and gathered input both from Member States as well as so-called “Major Groups” and other civil society stakeholders. The UN Major Groups facilitate civil society stakeholder input into UN activities on sustainable development in nine sectors: Women, Children and Youth, Indigenous Peoples, Non-Governmental Organizations, Local Authorities, Workers and Trade Unions, Business and Industry, Scientific and Technological Community, and Farmers. In addition, governments invited other stakeholders, including local communities, volunteer groups and foundations, migrants and families, as well as older persons and persons with disabilities, to participate in UN processes related to sustainable development, through close collaboration with the Major Groups.

Inputs into the process of creating the SDGs include:

SDG financing:

Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, funded mainly through foreign aid, it is likely that the implementation of the SDGs will need to rely much more heavily on alternative sources of financing such as domestic taxation and other natural resources. Many funds have been created to support sustainable development activities through integrated and multidimensional joint programs. One such fund, the Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDGF), was created under the UN as an aggregation of multi-donor, multi-partner development mechanisms to support sustainable development activities. They operate under a $63 million (US) budget of which is invested in joint programs in developing countries as well as UN partnerships. Many other funds and organizations in this capacity provide assistance or grants to encourage partnership and programs devoted to SDG implementation. Additionally, UN secretary-general Ban Kim-moon, called on all OECD countries to make food on the 1970 pledge to donate 0.7 per cent of GNI to development assistance. 

In an effort to reach an agreement on a financing framework to execute the SDGs,a conference composed of representatives from 100 countries was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in July 2015. Countries, developed and developing alike, discussed barriers, funding gaps, and calculated estimates for all seventeen goals. Emphasis was placed on international tax reform, remittance reform, and resolving tax fraud. Finally, tax evasion was discussed as a critical component in closing the vast funding gap: developing countries lose nearly $1 trillion a year to illicit financial flows[4].

How do the SDGs differ from the MDGs?

Monitoring progress towards the SDGs

High Level Political Forum

As discussed in the SDG declaration, the High Level Political Forum acts as the central platform in overseeing SDG progress. The forum will meet yearly under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council as well as every four years under the auspices of the General Assembly at the Heads of State level. National reviews will be examined, of which 22 countries so far have agreed to produce (China, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Madagascar, Morocco, Norway, Philippines, republic of Korea, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, Togo, Turkey, Uganda, and Venezuela).



[1] Lucci, Paula and Steven Lally (2016). Starting Strong: The first 1000 days of the SDGs. Development Progress, London.


[3] OECD SDG Statistics Database

[4] Kar, Dev & Joseph Spanjers (2014). Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries 2003-2012. Global Financial Integrity. Washington, DC