Can these 17 Sustainable Development Goals Transform the World?

Show Notes

In this episode, we discuss the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs) created by the United Nations General Assembly that have the power to transform our world. These 17 Sustainable Development goals provide a holistic approach to sustainability that includes fighting hunger, achieving equality, and more while also addressing climate change.

Use these goals to hone in your values and communicate with others what YOU mean when you say you want to see sustainability in this world.

Sustainable development goals

Global initiatives

You’ve probably heard of the Kyoto Protocol, the first legally binding climate treaty, or the Paris Agreement, a significant climate agreement requiring countries to set emission-reduction pledges for hopes of a carbon-neutral world.

But today, I want to discuss the Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs) created by the United Nations General Assembly that have the power to transform our world. While the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement address reducing emissions specifically for climate action, the 17 Sustainable Development goals provide a holistic approach to sustainability that includes fighting hunger, achieving equality, and more while also addressing climate change. These SDGs were unveiled at the Sustainable Development Summit in 2015 in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and were quickly adopted by 193 Countries.

I want to note that I gathered this information from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and it is a 10,000-foot overview, for the full goals and more detailed information – visit the UN’s website for Sustainable Development Goals.

What are the sdgs?

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs reports that at its heart, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were developed as part of this 2030 agenda are an “urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing – in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.” One thing is certain – everything is interconnected, and these 17 goals I’ll go over (and their related 169 sub-target actions which I won’t go over in detail) have interacting relationships with one another – which is why it’s so important to address all of these issues instead of just one aspect.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the SDGs are “A roadmap to ending global poverty, building a life of dignity for all and leaving no one behind. It is also a clarion call to work in partnership and intensify efforts to share prosperity, empower people’s livelihoods, ensure peace and heal our planet for the benefit of this and future generations.”

What makes the Sustainable Development goals different is that they can be utilized by individuals, businesses, donors, and international organizations as a framework for universal, inclusive, and comprehensive sustainability. They promote sustainable action and awareness for all.

What do these goals mean for you?

I want to share these 17 Sustainable Development goals with you so that you can begin to put the many pieces to sustainability together in one place. As you listen to these goals, I encourage you to try to make connections with how one goal can affect another, or rather how these puzzle pieces can fall into place for a complete picture of sustainable life on this planet. Use these goals to hone in your values and communicate with others what YOU mean when you say you want to see sustainability in this world.

Goal 1 – No Poverty

The first goal is to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. This goal includes targets to make sure the poor and vulnerable have equal rights to economic resources and encourages the creation of a policy framework to support poverty eradication through funding of poverty reduction programs and essential services like education, healthcare, and social protection.

Significant strides were made to reduce global poverty. However, the Covid 19 Pandemic compounded with climate change and conflict resulted in the rise of the global extreme poverty rate in 2020 for the first time in over 20 years. Even though many countries made short-term social protections – many of these protections have already ended or don’t have a longer-term plan. “It is predicted that around 600 million people will still be living in extreme poverty by 2030.” This goal, along with many other goals, realistically won’t be met by 2030 unless we take immediate massive action.

Goal 2 – Zero Hunger

Goal number two is to End hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. 2021 Reports by the UN tell us that 2.37 Billion people are without food or unable to eat a healthy balanced diet regularly.

This goal includes targets to end all forms of malnutrition, especially in children, and increase agricultural productivity, income, and accessibility for women, indigenous, and family farmers. It also calls for investment in agricultural research that can increase crop resilience, efficiency, and diversity.

One thing I want to stress here is that Malnutrition and food insecurity occurs even in developed countries. One of the most enlightening things I’ve done is to stay up to date with the yearly poverty reports in my state, including statistics for poverty, food insecurity, education, and more. Finding similar reports in your state will help you to understand how prevalent these issues are everywhere.

Goal 3 – Good Health + Wellbeing

The third goal is to ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all. In short, this means longer life expectancies through reduced global maternal mortality rates, decreased epidemics, increased support for reproduction and family planning, help for addiction and abuse, and universal health coverage.

As you probably guessed, the global pandemic put a strain on essential healthcare services worldwide. “90 percent of countries and territories are still reporting one or more disruptions to essential health services” for communicable and non-communicable health issues, including mental health, TB, family planning, and more.

To reach this goal, we need to scale up investment in universal health coverage.

Goal 4 – Quality Education

Goal number 4 is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. These targets warrant that all children complete free primary and secondary education, that there are safe, accessible, and inclusive educational spaces, and that adults can gain literacy and the skills and knowledge needed for sustainable living and global stewardship.

The UN discloses that Covid 19 has wiped out 20 years of educational gains. There are huge disparities in education and outcomes that we need to reduce to ensure that students of any age receive a quality education.

To reach this goal, we need to scale up investment in universal health coverage.

Goal 5 – Gender Equality

Goal 5 is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. This goal means to end discrimination, violence, and child marriages, to bring women to the table for decisions and leadership, and to support reforms that would give women equal access to economic resources that they are typically not afforded.

Women still can’t enjoy full rights because of legal gaps and discrimination, something that we need to remedy if we want to value and respect these individuals.

Goal 6 – Clean water and sanitation

Goal 6 ensures availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. These targets include affordable and accessible access to water, reduction in water pollution at every level, protection of our water ecosystems, infrastructure for clean water and wastewater, and increased water use efficiency.

The UN reports that 129 Countries are not on track to have sustainably managed water resources by 2030. Billions don’t have access to basic necessities such as safe drinking water, sanitation, or water for basic hygiene. I don’t know about you, but that makes me rethink how lucky I am when I drink clean water and quickly go to a sanitary restroom.

Goal 7 – Affordable and Clean Energy

Goal 7 is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all. The targets here are to increase global adoption and availability of renewable energy and promote efficient energy usage and energy research and infrastructure improvements.

One-third of the global population uses dangerous and inefficient cooking systems that pollute the air and harm people. And with the growing global need for power, we will need to make sure that we are using our energy wisely for everyone’s sake.

Goal 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth

Goal 8 promotes sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all. These targets hope to maintain per capita economic growth, eliminate child labor and trafficking, promote development policies to support jobs creation and entrepreneurship, and increase productivity with high-value labor-intensive jobs created through diversification, technology, and innovation.

The pandemic led to the equivalent of 255 million full-time job losses – a number 4x that of the global financial crisis in the early 2000s. We need to create a green economy to combat unemployment, inactivity, and unsustainable growth.

Goal 9 – Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure

Goal 9 is to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation. This goal encompasses many targets such as upgrading to clean and efficient industrial processes, improving technology and communications, and increasing access to financial services in developing countries.

Traditional manufacturing jobs have been in decline, and we saw them plummet during the pandemic. However, employment in technology industries has stayed strong, providing some stability. But with any industry, we need to make sure we continue innovating while keeping sustainability at the forefront.

The pandemic led to the equivalent of 255 million full-time job losses – a number 4x that of the global financial crisis in the early 2000s. We need to create a green economy to combat unemployment, inactivity, and unsustainable growth.

Goal 10 – Reduced Inequalities

Goal 10’s focus is to reduce inequality within and among countries. One of these targets reads to “empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or another status,” ensuring accomplishment through policy, law, and representation. This goal also hopes to provide financial assistance among countries for the least developed countries and the facilitation of safe migration and mobility of people. Within countries, the hope is to reduce income inequality and diminish the exclusion and separation that occurs from it.

Goal 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities

Goal 11 is to make cities and human settlements (aka communities) inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. This goal applies to housing, transportation, and green spaces for all and emphasizes enhanced sustainable urban planning and management while protecting the world’s culture.

For example, we promote sustainable public transportation. Still, only half of the world’s urban population has convenient access to public transport – meaning it is within about 550 yards walking distance to a bus or similar system. We have to design for these sustainable cities and communities with people in mind to make them work equitably and meet the needs of all citizens.

Goal 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production

Goal 12 is to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. This goal encourages countries and individuals alike to develop sustainable consumption and production plans and uphold them. Data indicate that our global material footprint per capita increased by 40% from 2000-2017. We need to reduce fossil fuel use subsidies and promote a circular economy. Through responsible consumption and production, we could finally get to the point of efficient global use of our natural resources, reduced global food waste and material waste, and equal access to the information needed to live sustainably and in harmony with our world.

Goal 13 – Climate Action

Goal 13 finally brings us to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. From Episode 42, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the IPCC climate change report, we know that we need to take massive climate action now. We are way off track to hit the goals for keeping the global average temperature at bay according to the Paris Agreement. This goal addresses the targets of strengthening our resilience to climate change, improving and integrating climate policy, and spreading education to reduce our impact and mitigate climate change.

Climate action is one of the most important goals because due to the impacts of climate change, every other goal harder becomes harder to achieve.

Goal 14 – Life Below Water

Goal 14 addresses life below water with the intent to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development. Over 3 billion humans rely on our oceans for their livelihood, however, our marine areas, especially our oceans, remain extremely unprotected and unresearched. The main targets for this goal include the protection of our marine and coastal ecosystems through a reduction in pollution, restoration, and more ocean research. This goal also addresses overfishing and access for small-scale fishers to markets. Through the sustainable management of fish stocks, we can continue to have economic growth.

Goal 15 – Life on Land

Goal 15 addresses life on land – aiming 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.”. This also includes putting an end to poaching and trafficking of protected species, reducing invasive species, and making sure there are adequate finances and resources towards sustainable management of land.

In two decades, we’ve lost close to 250 million acres of forest, and species extinction continues to rise.

We need to safeguard our biodiversity and the land on this earth as it is crucial for our economy and survival.

Goal 16 – Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions

Goal 16 focuses on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels. This means reducing illegal activity and corruption, reducing violence against children, and developing practical, transparent, inclusive institutions.

Although peace and justice sound like a pipedream, it is possible when we make it a priority to bring everyone to the table and protect fundamental freedoms.

Goal 17 – Partnerships for the Goals

The final goal, Goal 17, positions us to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development. This goal calls on developed countries to mobilize resources and finances to help developing countries by employing increased shared communication and technology and supporting trade and partnerships to allow everyone the opportunity to combat the issues the world faces today and achieve sustainable development.

Putting together the puzzle

So you probably realized as I was going through the SDGs how connected they are. It’s not so much a linear set of goals but moving pieces that involve relationships and tradeoffs.

It is fitting that ending poverty is number one on the list of sustainable development goals because research shows that reducing poverty will have the most beneficial relationship with the other goals, resulting in significant benefits all around.

This particular study by Kroll, Warchold, and Pradhan gives the following example. “A family that no longer suffers from extreme poverty (SDG1) will be able to lead healthier lives for themselves and others, halting the spread of infectious diseases (SDG 3), contributing to a stronger economy (SDG 8), raising the means of implementation through tax payments (SDG 17) which will, in turn, enable public investments in infrastructure (SDG 9), which will provide education and other important services (SDG 4).”

Another example is the interactions between SDG 9 (Industry, innovation, and infrastructure), and SDG 13 (Climate Action), and SDG 11 (Sustainable cities and communities). Climate-friendly infrastructure can improve the quality of life in cities and communities while helping to mitigate the dangers of global warming.

A third example is that by enhancing rural road connectivity (SDG 9), you can help reduce poverty (SDG 1).

The same study points out the negative connections between goals as well. For instance, the relationship between SDG 7 (Affordable and clean energy), SDG 1 (No poverty), and SDG 3 (Good health and well-being). “As countries manage to lift millions out of poverty and provide much-needed health care, the demands on affordable and clean energy currently rises at a rate that jeopardizes progress regarding the Agenda 2030.” This suggests that we need to continue to invest in innovative solutions and research on renewable energy to meet new demands without putting too much pressure on planetary boundaries.

The list goes on.

The problem with SDGs

These goals aren’t perfect. To make them work, we need reliable monitoring and reporting from all countries to hold each other accountable for global transformative progress. Governments are also formulating their individual plans, making having a benchmark for success hard to measure. We need communication, review, and renewal of the goals to make them effective catalysts for change.

And we need more adoption and awareness by individuals so that it becomes a reality – so that we can come together to save this planet.

Something to grow on

On this week’s something to grow on, I’ll leave you with this final quote by Dan Shechtman

“Sustainable development requires human ingenuity. People are the most important resource.”

YOU are an important resource – and I’m thankful to have you on the side of sustainability.

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