What are the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals?

Nicole Sara Sivens
August 9, 2018
10 min read
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In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Building on the principle of “leaving no one behind”, the new agenda emphasizes a holistic approach to achieving sustainable development for all.

Every company we include in our portfolios must have revenues in alignment with at least 1 of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

What are the 17 UNSDGs?

No Poverty

In 2016, just under 10% of the world’s workers were living on less than $1.90 per person per day – way down from 28% in 2000. In the least developed countries, more than ⅓ of workers were living below the poverty line.

Disaster risk is highly concentrated in low- and lower-middle-income countries. In relation to the size of their economies, small island developing States have suffered a disproportionate impact.

Strengthening disaster risk reduction is a core development strategy for ending extreme poverty. Economic loss from disasters are now reaching an average of $250 billion to $300 billion a year.

Zero Hunger

In 2016, an estimated 52 million children under 5 years of age worldwide suffered from wasting (with a low weight for their height, usually the result of an acute and significant food shortage and/or disease). At the other end of the spectrum, overweight and obesity affected 41 million children under 5 years of age worldwide in 2016.

Ending hunger demands sustainable food production systems and resilient agricultural practices. Aid allocated to agriculture from the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) fell to 7% in the 1990s, where it remains today. The decline reflects a shift away from aid for financing infrastructure and production towards a greater focus on social sectors.

Good Health and Well-being

Preventing unintended pregnancies through universal access to sexual and reproductive health care is crucial to the health and well-being of women, children, and adolescents. Globally, the adolescent birth rate declined by 21% from 2000 to 2015; in Northern America and Southern Asia, it dropped by more than 50%.

Indoor and ambient air pollution is the greatest environmental health risk. Household air pollution from cooking with unclean fuels or inefficient technologies led to an estimated 4.3 million deaths, while ambient air pollution from traffic, industrial sources, waste burning or residential fuel combustion resulted in an estimated 3 million deaths.

Quality Education

Even though more children than ever are going to school, many don’t learn basic skills in reading and math. Recent studies show that in 9 of 24 sub-Saharan African countries and 6 of 15 Latin American countries (of those with data), fewer than half of the students had attained minimum proficiency levels in math by the end of elementary school.

The lack of trained teachers and the poor condition of schools in many parts of the world are jeopardizing quality education for all. Sub-Saharan Africa has a low percentage of trained teachers in preschool through secondary education with around half being technically proficient. Moreover, the majority of schools in the region lack access to electricity or potable water.

Gender Equality

Gender inequality persists worldwide, depriving women and girls of their basic rights and opportunities. True gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will require more vigorous efforts, including legal framework, to work against deeply rooted gender-based discrimination that often results from patriarchal attitudes and related social norms.

Women are still underrepresented in managerial positions. There are more Fortune 500 CEOs named John than there are females.

Clean Water and Sanitation

More than 2 billion people globally are living in countries with excess water stress, defined as the ratio of total freshwater to total renewable freshwater resources. Northern Africa and Western Asia experience water stress levels above 60 %, which indicates the strong probability of future water scarcity.

Effective water and sanitation management relies on the participation of a range of stakeholders, including local communities and industries.

Affordable and Clean Energy

From 2012 to 2014, three quarters of the world’s 20 largest energy-consuming countries had reduced their energy intensity — the ratio of energy used per unit of GDP. The reduction was driven mainly by greater efficiencies in the industry and transport sectors. However, that progress is still not sufficient to meet the target of doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency.

Solar and wind power still make up a relatively minor share of energy consumption, despite their rapid growth in recent years. The challenge is to increase the share of renewable energy in the heat and transport sectors, which together account for 80% of global energy consumption.

Decent Work and Economic Growth

The global unemployment rate stood at 5.7% in 2016, with women more likely to be unemployed than men across all age groups. Additionally, while the number of children from 5 to 17 years of age who are working has declined from 246 million in 2000 to 168 million in 2012, child labor remains a serious concern.

Access to financial services enables individuals and firms to manage changes in income, deal with fluctuating cash flows, accumulate assets and make productive investments. Access to financial services through automated teller machines increased by 55% worldwide from 2010 to 2015.

Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

Manufacturing is a principal driver of economic development, employment and social stability. Globally, manufacturing value added as a share of GDP increased from 15.3% in 2005 to 16.2% in 2016.

Manufacturing is increasingly shifting towards more technologically complex products. While medium- and high-tech products continue to dominate manufacturing production in industrialized economies, the share has barely reached 10% in the least developed countries.

Reduced Inequality

The voices of developing countries still need to be strengthened in decision-making forums of international economic and financial institutions. Moreover, while remittances can be a lifeline for families and communities of international migrant workers in their countries of origin, the high cost of transferring money continues to reduce such benefits.

On average, post offices and money transfer operators charge over 6% of the amount remitted; commercial banks charge 11%. Both are significantly above the 3% target. New and improved technologies, such as prepaid cards and mobile operators, result in lower fees for sending money home, but are not yet widely available or used for many remittance corridors.

Sustainable Cities and Communities

In 2015, close to 4 billion people — 54% of the world’s population — lived in cities and that number is projected to increase to about 5 billion people by 2030. Rapid urbanization has brought enormous challenges, including growing numbers of slum dwellers, increased air pollution, inadequate basic services and infrastructure, and unplanned urban sprawl, which also make cities more vulnerable to disasters. Better urban planning and management are needed to make the world’s urban spaces more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

The safe removal and management of solid waste represents one of the most vital urban environmental services. Uncollected solid waste blocks drains, causes flooding and may lead to the spread of water-borne diseases. On the basis of data from cities in 101 countries from 2009 to 2013, 65% of the urban population was served by municipal waste collection.

Responsible Consumption and Production

We require a strong national framework for sustainable consumption and production that is integrated into national and sectoral plans, sustainable business practices and consumer behavior – together with adherence to international norms on the management of hazardous chemicals and wastes.

Decoupling economic growth from natural resource use is fundamental lead to sustainable development.

Climate Action

Mitigating climate change and its impacts will require building on the momentum achieved by the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which entered into force on 4 November 2016. Stronger efforts are needed to build resilience and limit climate-related hazards and natural disasters.

Developed countries have committed to jointly mobilizing $100 billion per year by 2020 to address the climate-related needs of developing countries and to continue that level of support through 2025.

Life Below Water

The increasingly adverse impacts of climate change (including ocean acidification), overfishing, and marine pollution are jeopardizing recent gains in protecting portions of the world’s oceans.

When effectively managed and well resourced, marine protected areas are important mechanisms for safeguarding ocean life.

Life on Land

From 1998 to 2013, about one fifth of the Earth’s land surface covered by vegetation showed persistent and declining trends in productivity. South America and Africa are most affected; in some cases, advanced stages of land degradation there are leading to desertification in dryland areas, particularly in the grasslands and rangelands. Land and soil degradation undermine the security and development of all countries.

Reversing the effects of land degradation and desertification through sustainable land management is key to improving the lives and livelihoods of more than 1 billion people currently under threat.

Peace and Justice Strong Institutions

Violent conflicts have increased in recent years, while homicides have declined slowly and more citizens around the world have better access to justice. A few high-intensity armed conflicts are causing large numbers of civilian casualties. Progress promoting peace and justice, together with effective, accountable and inclusive institutions, remains uneven across and within regions.

Partnerships to achieve the Goal

Despite some positive developments, a stronger commitment to partnership and cooperation is needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. That effort will require coherent policies, an enabling environment for sustainable development at all levels and by all actors and a reinvigorated Global Partnership for Sustainable Development.

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