What are the SDGs

Module 1: Caring about the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development -> Section 1: What are the SDGs

Big challenges need bold action to overcome them, and that is where the Global Goals come in. On 25 September 2015 all 193 Member States of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with the goal of transforming our world. 

Why the SDGs matter now more than ever

The main purpose of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to achieve dignified life without poverty, hunger, and inequality for all people on earth. Each of us is responsible for the planet we live on, we respect other people and protect ecosystems on which all living beings depend.

A sustainable future means a future for all people of different origins, religions, education levels, social class, and abilities. Get to know each of the SDGs and the targets attached to them here in this UNICEF video (UN Sustainable development goals – Overview).

When all 193 United Nations Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, they made a pledge to ensure ‘no one will be left behind’ and to ‘endeavour to reach the furthest behind first.’ In practice, this means taking explicit action to end extreme poverty, curb inequalities, confront discrimination and fast-track progress for the furthest behind. 

Leaving No One Behind

People get left behind when they lack the choices and opportunities required to participate and benefit from development progress. All persons living in extreme poverty, in any form, are left behind, together with those enduring disadvantage(s) that deny or limit their choices and opportunities relative to others in society. 

All disadvantages and deprivations that leave people behind should be considered across five factors:

  • Discrimination
  • Geography
  • Governance
  • Socio-economic status
  • Shocks and fragility

Read more about this UNDP framework that proposes five intersecting factors as essential to understand who is being left behind and why. (What does it mean to leave no one behind? – A framework for implementation).

Dimensions of Sustainable Development

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets which were announced in 2015 demonstrate the scale and ambition of this universal 2030 Agenda. They seek to build on the Millennium Development Goals (2000–2015) and complete what these did not achieve. They seek to realize the human rights of all and to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. They are integrated and indivisible, and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental.

As written in the SDGs Preamble: The SDGs and their targets will stimulate action in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet:

  • People: We are determined to end poverty and hunger, in all their forms and dimensions, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.
  • Planet: We are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations.
  • Prosperity: We are determined to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.
  • Peace: We are determined to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence. There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.
  • Partnership: We are determined to mobilize the means required to implement this Agenda through a revitalised Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focussed in particular on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable and with the participation of all countries, all stakeholders and all people.

According to the UN: The interlinkages and integrated nature of the Sustainable Development Goals are of crucial importance in ensuring that the purpose of the new Agenda is realised. If we realize our ambitions across the full extent of the Agenda, the lives of all will be profoundly improved and our world will be transformed for the better. 

In this whiteboard animation by Sustainability illustrated, you can find an explanation How the UN Sustainable Development Goals are interconnected (the SDG wedding cake) and how you can use them to understand how sustainable your country or your business is (Sustainable Development Goals explained with 3 useful tips).

Sustainable Development and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the situation and it has vastly impacted the wider social, economic, and environmental fabric of the world. Workers in the informal sector have lost jobs. Due to the crisis, migrants, the elderly, persons with disabilities, indigenous communities, persons discriminated against based on work and descent, women, and children were especially affected in multiple ways

Getting ‘back to normal’ simply is not feasible, the reason being that it was ‘normal’ that got us here. The crisis has shown us how deeply connected we are to everyone else and the planet. COVID-19 was forcing us to revisit our values and design a new area of development that truly balances economic, social, and environmental progress, as envisioned by the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. Integrated solutions are the only way in which we’ll be able to build a greener and more inclusive future to help countries meet the 2030 goals. Read more on How the ‘roadmap for humanity’ could be changed by a pandemic in the UNDP website dedicated to this topic (Covid-19 and the SDGs).

It’s your turn

UNESCO estimates about 1.25 billion students were affected by lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic. UNDP estimates 86 percent of primary school children in developing countries were not being educated. The pandemic has re-emphasized the ‘digital divide’ and the right to internet access, particularly for those in rural areas. After reading all the materials on the importance of SDGs, share the following information / post your comment in the discussion forum below: 

  • What challenge did the Covid-19 pandemic present for reaching the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs?
  • What opportunity did the pandemic present for reaching the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs?
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