Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a collection of 17 global goals set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 for the year 2030. They are part of Resolution 70/1 of the United Nations General Assembly, the 2030 Agenda. The SDGs are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.


The SDGs build on the principles agreed upon in Resolution 66/288, entitled “The Future We Want.” This was the outcome document of the Rio+20 Conference in 2012. The SDGs significantly expand the scope of their predecessor, the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were agreed in 2000 and expired in 2015. While the MDGs were primarily focused on reducing poverty in developing countries, the SDGs emphasize sustainable development for all countries.

Key Features

Some key features of the SDGs:

  • Universal agenda that applies to all countries, in contrast to the MDGs that targeted only developing countries
  • Integrated and indivisible set of goals balancing the three dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental
  • Broad and ambitious set of 17 goals and 169 targets
  • Developed through an inclusive process with inputs from governments, civil society, academic institutions and the private sector
  • Strong focus on means of implementation including finance, technology and capacity building

The 17 Goals

  1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
  2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
  3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
  4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
  5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
  6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
  7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
  8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
  9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.
  10. Reduce inequality within and among countries.
  11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
  12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
  13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
  14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
  15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
  • Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
  • Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.
  • Challenges

    While the SDGs are ambitious and aim to transform the world, there are several challenges:

    Too Many Goals and Targets

    With 17 goals and 169 targets, there is concern that the SDG agenda may be too broad and unfocused. This makes prioritization and measurement difficult. About 70% of the targets are measurable but 30% need more work.


    The estimated costs are between $3-5 trillion per year. As Official Development Assistance is around $135 billion per year, there is a huge gap between needs and what is available. Significant public and private financing will be needed.

    Role of Developed Countries

    While the SDGs apply universally, developed countries need to assist developing countries with financing and technology to achieve sustainable development. However, commitment has been lacking so far.

    Business Engagement

    The business sector will play a crucial role in providing technology, innovation and investments to meet the targets. However, many businesses still prioritize profits over sustainability.

    Inclusive Process but Challenges in Implementation

    While the SDGs were created through a historic inclusive process, implementation remains challenging as countries struggle to incorporate them into national planning and budgets.

    Transforming the World

    The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development states “We are determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world on to a sustainable and resilient path.” The SDGs provide an action plan to reach this vision and transform the world.

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