Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs)

Origins of the sustainable Development Goals

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals were adopted alongside 169 targets by all member states in the form of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the UN Sustainable Development Summit, New York, in September 2015. The goals form a vision and commitment for all countries to work towards and achieve by the year 2030. 

How the United nations sustainable development goals were developed over time

Although the goals themselves were adopted in 2015, their foundation lies in various agreements and goals adopted at UN conferences through the years. Agenda 2030 follows Agenda 21, adopted in June 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio and the SDGs themselves encapsulate and build upon the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted in 2000. 

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals and current figures

#1 No poverty: End poverty in all its forms everywhere 

It is estimated that the number of global poor rose from 119 million to 124 million in 2020. In the same year, the rate of extreme poverty was at 9.5%. By 2030, this rate is projected to fall to 7%.
(Extreme poverty here translates to people living on less than $1.50 per day) 

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

The impact of COVID-19 on hunger and food security saw the number of people facing hunger rise anywhere between 720 and 811 million in 2020, up to 161 million higher than in 2019.
Undernourishment also increased to 9.9% in 2020, from 8.4% in 2019. A total of 2.37 billion people in the world were affected by moderate or severe food insecurity in 2020. 

#3 Good health and well-being: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages 

Till date over 5 million deaths have been reported from COVID-19 worldwide. The pandemic has also hampered many of the gains of the last decades in maternal and child health, immunization coverage, and reduction of communicable diseases. According to the UN “In 2020, 35 percent of countries reported interruptions in reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health services, along with nutrition services.” 

Under communicable diseases: In 2019, 10 million people suffered from tuberculosis, an 8.5% decline from 2015, and 1.7 million people were infected by HIV, far higher than the 2020 target of 500000.   

#4 Quality Education: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all 

Given the pandemic, it is estimated that 101 million more children in primary and lower secondary schools have fallen below the minimum reading proficiency threshold from 2019 to 2020, bringing the total number to 584 million. However, in terms of global completion rates for primary and secondary schools the rate increased from 46-53% in 2010 to 82-85% in 2019. 

“In these Goals and targets, we are setting out a supremely ambitious and transformational vision. We envisage a world free of poverty, hunger, disease and want, where all life can thrive. We envisage a world free of fear and violence. A world with universal literacy. A world with equitable and universal access to quality education at all levels, to health care and social protection, where physical, mental and social well-being are assured. A world where we reaffirm our commitments regarding the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation and where there is improved hygiene; and where food is sufficient, safe, affordable and nutritious. A world where human habitats are safe, resilient and sustainable and where there is universal access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy.” 

Our Vision, Declaration, 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development  

#5 Gender Equality: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls 

Approximately 736 million women have faced physical or sexual violence at least once since age 15. In 2019, nearly 39% of the global workforce were women. However only 28.2% of managerial positions were held by women in the same year, a rise of only 3% points from 2000. Based on a 95-country study in 2020, over half of the countries, with data, lacked quotas for women in national parliaments. Also, one-fifth of the countries ‘maintained discriminatory nationality laws’. 

Clean water and sanitation are among most important sustainable development goals

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

In 2020, 2 billion people lacked ‘safely managed drinking water’, out of which 771 million lacked even basic drinking water. This is after global numbers as per people using ‘safely managed drinking water’ rose from 70.2% to 74.3% from 2015 to 2020. In terms of sanitation services that were safely managed, global numbers increased to 54% in 2020 from 47.1% in 2015, which meant that 3.6 billion people were still left without ‘safely managed sanitation’. 

#7 Affordable and clean energy: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all 

While the global rates for access to electricity increased from 83% in 2010 to 90% in 2019, it still meant that 759 million people stayed without access. At the current rate, this number is estimated to reduce to 660 million by 2030. 

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

Given the pandemic, the global per capita gross domestic product is estimated to have decreased by 4.6% in 2020. It is expected to rise by 4.3% in 2021 and 3.1% in 2022. 2020 also saw the global unemployment rate rise to 6.5% which translates to 220 million people unemployed worldwide.

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

Production fell by 6.8% globally in 2020. In terms of manufacturing value added (MVA) in global GDP, this meant a fall from 16.6% in 2019 to 16% in 2020. This period also saw a rise in high-tech manufacturing, with industries showing almost 4% growth in the fourth quarter of 2020 compared to the same in 2019. 
In terms of infrastructure, 2018-19 data from 25 countries showed that 300 million people living in rural areas still lacked proper access to roads. 

UN SDG, sustainable development goal 10 is to reduce inequalities

#10 Reduced inequalities: Reduce inequality within and among countries 

As per the latest estimates from 104 countries with data, up to 25% of the population in some of these countries is living on less than half of the median income. Also, on average 13% of people live on ‘relatively low income’. Additionally, as per data available till mid-2020, the number of people who became refugees, increased to 24 million, the highest number ever recorded. 

“From 1993 up to 2017, between-country inequality has been constantly falling. Interestingly, the largest reduction came in the period affected by another global shock, the financial crisis. Between 2008 and 2013, inequality decreased by over 16% (i.e., the between-country MLD decreased from 59.6 to 49.8 points). Overall, the inequality between countries has declined by 34% between 1993 and 2017. Put differently, a third of the gap between nations has been eradicated in roughly 25 years.  This convergence has been attributed to the economic development of mainly poor and populous countries in Asia.”

World Bank Blogs  

#11 Sustainable cities and communities: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable 

In 2018, the number of people living in slums worldwide increased to 24% (1 billion people), up from 23% in 2014. The urban area UN-Habitat recommendation allocation is 30% for streets and 10-15% more for open public spaces. However, the average global urban area allocation was only a total of 16% for both streets and open public spaces. This data was based on a 2020 study across 911 cities in 114 countries. 

#12 Responsible consumption and production: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns 

As per the UN “the global material footprint increased by 70 percent between 2000 and 2017.” This rapid increase in material usage is an indicator of an unsustainable production and consumption system that contributes heavily to growing emissions and the climate crisis, destruction of natural stocks and ecosystems, and rising pollution levels. 

While efforts are being made through sustainable production approaches such as circular economy to reduce this footprint, its share is limited to only 8.6% of the global economy, and thereby its effect is only marginal.   

Sustainable Development Goal 13 is Climate action, which helps to avert forest fires and biodiversity loss

#13 Climate Action: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts* 

With the global temperature already 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels, the world is already moving towards exceeding the Paris Agreement target of 1.5°C. Furthermore, according to the latest IPCC report, if the world continues as it is, the climate will warm by 2°C by the middle and 2.7°C by the end of the century.

The European GreenDeal, Fit for 55, announcements to achieve net-zero emissions in the future by various countries, and the latest commitments at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP 26) regarding deforestation, methane emissions reduction, and coal usage are some of the current large scale policy efforts that are being made to tackle the climate crisis. 

 #14 Life below water: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development 

Rising CO2 levels, overfishing, and land-based pollution are causing widespread damage to water bodies and the ecosystems they are home to. An indicator of this is the rise in the number of dead zones (‘areas of water that lack sufficient oxygen to support marine life’) from 400 to 700 globally between 2008 and 2019. 

Although by 2020, 7.74% of global oceans and coastal waters were under marine protected areas including 44% of key biodiversity areas, in the last five years the coverage has increased by only 1% point, leaving a large proportion of such areas still outside protection.   

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

According to WWF Living Planet Report 2020, between 1970 and 2016, there has been a loss of 68% in the number of mammals, birds, fish, plants, and insects. The same report also points to land and sea use change and pollution as two out of the five biggest threats to biodiversity. Conservation efforts have worked towards reducing the effect of this loss with the prevention of extinction of 7-16 mammal species and 21 to 32 bird species since 1993 worldwide.  

United Nations SDGs help in fighting climate change

“Among the highest likelihood risks of the next ten years are extreme weather, climate action failure and human-led environmental damage” 

The Global Risks Report 2021, World Economic Forum  

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

The number of people forcibly displaced as of 2020 end was 82.4 million. These include people who were forced to move due to conflict, persecution, human rights violations, or due to events that disturbed public order. At least 39 states saw armed conflicts in 2020 compared to 34 in 2019 and the total number of deaths recorded for 2020 was approximately 120000, 30% lower than in 2018.  

#17 Partnerships for the goals: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development 

As a result of the pandemic, in 2020, while foreign direct investment (FDI) fell by up to 40%, foreign aid at $161 billion saw a 7% increase as compared to 2019. 

The world community met in November at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26), resulting in multiple national-level commitments for battling climate change and an overall shift towards sustainability. Some of these key commitments were:  

  • 100 countries signing a deforestation pledge to restore the world’s forests by 2030  
  • 100 countries signing the methane agreement to cut down methane emission by 30% by 2030 
  • India the third largest emitter of CO2, sets out a net zero target for 2070 

Where to find further information on the Sustainable Development Goals?

The purpose of this article is to provide a brief introduction to the UNSDGs and what some of the key current statistics are. No text is included about the goals and targets themselves to avoid any lack of specificity and statistics are not included in their entirety. All content, unless otherwise linked to, has been sourced from the following United Nations websites which we recommend for a more precise and detailed understanding of the UNSDGs: