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The 17 sustainable development goals.

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What comes to your mind when you hear about Sustainable Development Goals? Maybe climate change and the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who is getting many of our younger generation to take action against global warming.Some will already have a good understanding of what the Sustainable Development Goals mean, and think about how they can implement them in their personal and business lives. Globally, however, less than one third of the population have ever heard of these goals. Even fewer will have the necessary basic knowledge to act on them. This article aims to give you a broad overview.


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to enable a decent life for all worldwide and at the same time preserve the natural basis of life for the longer term. They address economic, ecological and social aspects and solutions to global challenges such as extreme poverty, environmental degradation as well as injustice and discrimination.

They comprise of 17 ambitious and global goals, which were developed by the United Nations (UN) as part of its 2030 Agenda and is ratified by all member states. Furthermore, the Sustainable Development Goals are an immense economic driver. According to the United Nations, developing countries alone lack $2.5 to $3 trillion annually to achieve the goals. 380 million jobs are expected to be created worldwide in a wide range of industries as a result of attaining these goals. Up to $12 trillion in economic output is expected to be unlocked annually by the goals.

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Since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, it has served as a framework for organisations, institutions and governments to work towards a more sustainable world. Today, 2030 is less than a decade away and we still face many challenges and difficulties to overcome.

Knowing about the 17 goals is the basis for achieving a better and sustainable future. Not all of the Sustainable Development Goals are equally relevant to you as an individual or business. However, knowledge about them is important as is minimising the negative impacts. Find out below what the goals are and why they are important for all of us.


Sustainable Development Goal 1 seeks to end poverty in all its forms, everywhere. Poverty is more than the lack of income and resources to sustain a livelihood. Its manifestations include hunger and malnutrition, limited access to education and other basic services, social discrimination and exclusion, as well as a lack of participation in any decision-making processes.

High rates of poverty are found especially in conflict-ridden regions, and children are disproportionately affected. One in five children currently lives in extreme poverty.

According to the United Nations, more than 700 million people - or about 10% of the world's population - still live in extreme poverty and cannot afford the most basic needs such as health, education and access to clean water and sanitation. A large proportion live in sub-Saharan Africa and have to get by on less than $2 per day. Globally, the poverty rate in rural areas is more than three times higher than in urban areas, at around 17%.


This Sustainable Development Goal aims to end hunger, in other words, achieve food security and promote sustainable agriculture.

Currently, one in nine people in the world goes hungry or suffers from a permanent lack of essential nutrients. Children, again, are particularly affected by hunger. Every 10 seconds, a child dies of malnutrition. Climate change in particular is having a negative impact on soils, drinking water, biodiversity, forests and oceans. As a result, droughts and floods exacerbate the hunger problem.

Every 10 seconds a child dies of malnutrition.

"It is time to rethink how we grow, share and consume our food. If we get it right, agriculture, forestry and fisheries can provide nutritious food for all and generate adequate incomes, while supporting people-centered rural development and protecting the environment." (Source: United Nations)


Sustainable Development Goal 3 aims to ensure our health and promote well-being for all by 2030. Child health, maternal health, malaria and other diseases are all important issues to be considered on the path towards health and well-being. Progress has already been made in increasing life expectancy as well as in treating fatal diseases. Compared to 1990, 17,000 fewer children die each year, but there are still more than five million children who die before the age of five. Maternal mortality has fallen by 37% since 2000, but women in developing regions are 14 times more likely to die during childbirth compared to women in developed regions.

"Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being at all ages is essential for sustainable development." (United Nations)


Sustainable Development Goal 4 aims to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.

Over the past decade, there has been great progress in getting more people into school; educating girls and women; and improving access to education for all people worldwide. Yet more than 265 million children still do not go to school. Even those who do attend lack basic reading and mathematics skills. Reasons for the lack of quality education include unqualified teachers, poor school conditions and limited opportunities for rural children to attend school. To achieve the sustainability goal, more investment in education scholarships, better infrastructure of school buildings and improved teacher training workshops are needed.

265 million children cannot go to school.

"Obtaining quality education is the basis for sustainable development. In addition to improving the quality of life, access to education can help equip local people with the tools they need to develop innovative solutions to their own problems." (United Nations)


This Sustainable Development Goal aims to achieve gender equality by 2030 and seeks to strengthen the position of girls and women overall.

While gender equality, the strengthening of women's rights and equal access to primary education for girls and boys gradually improved at the beginning of the millennium, women and girls worldwide still suffer from severe violence and discrimination. Currently, there are no laws protecting women from domestic violence in around 50 countries. This continues to affect at least one in five women between the ages of 15 and 49.

The UN wants girls and women to have equal access to education, health care, decent work and representation in political and economic decision-making processes.


Ensuring access to clean water and sanitation for all is what Sustainable Development Goal 6 is all about.

Currently, more than 2 billion people have limited access to drinking water resources. By 2050, one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurrent drinking water shortages. Drought in particular is hitting some of the world's poorest countries very hard, exacerbating hunger and malnutrition. To improve sanitation and access to drinking water, there needs to be increased investment in ecosystem and sanitation management.

By 2050, one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurrent shortages of drinking water.

"Clean water for all is an essential part of a world we want to live in. There is enough drinking water on the planet to achieve this. However, due to poor economic conditions or inadequate infrastructure, millions of people - including many children - die every year from diseases caused by inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene." (United Nations)


Ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all is the aspiration of Sustainable Development Goal 7.

Energy is essential for most of the challenges of modern society. Energy continues, by and large, to depend on the use of fossil fuels, but these sources will not last forever. Scientists estimate that the world has consumed about 40% of all oil, and if consumption continues at the same rate, reserves will be exhausted in 50 years. We therefore need to integrate more and more renewable energy in housing, transport and industry.

"Energy is central to almost all the major challenges facing the world today. Working on this goal is particularly important because it is linked to other Sustainable Development Goals. Focusing on universal access to energy, increasing energy efficiency and enhancing the use of renewable energy through new economic and employment opportunities is critical to creating more sustainable and inclusive communities and resilience to environmental challenges such as climate change." (United Nations)


The aim is to promote sustainable, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

Declining labour productivity and a persistent lack of decent work opportunities are currently leading to an increase in unemployment. Incomes and living standards are falling. Today, more people are living in forced labour than ever before. This includes about 40 million people worldwide in agriculture, the textile industry or in the extraction of raw materials.

The current COVID-19 pandemic is expected to have a devastating impact on global unemployment. According to estimates by the International Labour Organisation, global working hours could fall by 14 per cent in the second quarter of 2020. This is equivalent to about 400 million full-time workers working a 48-hour week.

"Having a job in many places does not automatically mean escaping poverty. We need to rethink and reshape our economic and social policies if we are to fight poverty effectively." (United Nations)

„Sustainable development means meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
United Nations


Promoting inclusive and sustainable industries and investing in infrastructure, innovation and research are important for long-term economic development. Investment in infrastructure - including transport, energy and communication technology - generates productivity growth, increases income, improves education and healthcare.

In less developed countries, only 19 percent use the internet, compared to 87 percent in developed countries. The main reasons for this large gap are the cost of using the internet and the lack of the necessary skills.

"In developing countries, manufacturing jobs are an essential source of income and key to poverty reduction. The impact of COVID-19 is so destabilising that it threatens to halt or even reverse progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 9 and other goals." (United Nations)


Sustainable Development Goal 10 aims to reduce inequality within and between countries. Reducing this inequality contributes to sustainable economic growth and strengthens the social cohesion of a society. Social inclusion means full participation in society and a fair share of social wealth, economic inclusion means full education and labour rights and access to financial services, and political inclusion means active and passive voting and participation rights.

In the last decade, however, inequality has increased almost everywhere. It is lowest in Europe and highest in the Middle East. The COVID 19 crisis is exacerbating inequality. It hits the most vulnerable people the hardest. These same groups often experience increased discrimination.

"Data from 31 countries for 2014-2019 show that one in five people are affected by personal discrimination (as per international human rights law). The pandemic risks exacerbating this condition." (United Nations)


Cities should become safer, more resilient and more sustainable. Cities are hubs for ideas, trade, culture, science, productivity, social development and much more. With the number of people living in cities expected to reach 5 billion by 2030, efficient urban planning and management methods are needed to meet the challenges of urbanisation.

"Over 90 per cent of COVID-19 cases occur in urban areas. The pandemic hits the most vulnerable hardest, including around 1 billion people of the - densely populated - informal settlements and slums of this world. Even before the pandemic, rapid urbanisation meant that 4 billion people in the world's cities face increasing air pollution, inadequate infrastructure and services, and unplanned urban sprawl." (United Nations)


This goal seeks to change our lifestyle and economic practices. Sustainable consumption and production are necessary in order not to endanger future generations - while respecting the Earth's carrying capacity limits and universal human rights.

A large part of the population continues to be unable to meet its basic needs. At the same time, 1.3 billion tons of food are thrown away every year or are losses along the value chain. There is no doubt that it is generally necessary to reduce resource consumption. In this regard, the UN emphasises the importance of transparency in the value chain. There needs to be a significant focus on the functioning of the value chain involving everyone from the producer to the end consumer.

Every year, 1.3 billion tons of food are thrown away or are losses along the value chain.

"Global consumption and production rely on the use of the natural environment and resources in a model that continues to lead to destructive impacts on the planet. The pandemic provides an opportunity for many countries to create a recovery plan that reverses current trends and transforms consumption and production patterns towards a sustainable future." (United Nations)


There is now a consensus that urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts is essential. Every country, every company and every one of us is affected by the consequences of climate change. More than 90% of geophysical disasters are climate-related, killing millions and affecting billions. Hundreds of billions of USD are lost annually due to climate-related disasters. The problem of climate change extends far beyond national borders, so this issue relies heavily on a global alliance between nations and all stakeholders.

"2019 was the second warmest year on record and the end of the warmest decade ever recorded (2010- 2019). Levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere rose to new record highs in 2019. Although greenhouse gas emissions are expected to fall by about 6 per cent in 2020 due to travel bans and economic slowdowns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, this improvement is only temporary." (United Nations)


Measures to combat climate change and its impacts are at the heart of this Sustainable Development Goal. The fauna and flora in the oceans are the most underestimated resources that could contribute to a reduction in temperature rise, as more than a quarter of greenhouse gases end up in the oceans. The oceans thus slow down the rise in global temperature.

Over half a billion people are directly or indirectly economically dependent on fishing. Due to its unique nutrient composition, fish contributes significantly to a healthy diet. Oceans must therefore be effectively managed, regulated and protected, and challenges such as overfishing, marine pollution and ocean acidification must be addressed.

"The ocean drives global systems that make the Earth habitable for humanity. Our rainwater, drinking water, weather, climate, coastlines, much of the food we eat, and even the oxygen in the air we breathe are all ultimately provided and regulated by the ocean." (United Nations)


Protect, restore and promote the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss; this is the aspiration of Sustainable Development Goal 15.

Land is as important a resource for humans as the oceans. 80% of human nutrition is derived from plants. Yet 13 million hectares of forest are lost every year. Around 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction - many within decades - according to the Global Assessment Report 2019 on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

13 million hectares of forest are lost every year.

"Forests cover over 30% of the Earth's surface and not only provide food security and protection, but are also key to combating climate change, protecting biodiversity and indigenous peoples' homelands. By protecting forests, we can also strengthen natural resource management and increase the country's productivity." (United Nations)


Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Sustainable development can never be achieved without working for effective governance, peace, and human rights. Sadly, every minute somewhere in the world a child is killed by violence. Corruption, bribery, theft and tax evasion cost developing countries over a trillion US dollars a year. The number of people who have fled war, persecution and conflict was almost 80 million in 2019 - the highest level recorded by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in almost 70 years.

"In 2019, 40 per cent of countries had a national human rights institution that successfully met the Principles for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (the Paris Principles). However, access to internationally recognized national human rights institutions remains denied to people in 78 countries, particularly those in East and Southeast Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Oceania and sub-Saharan Africa." (United Nations)


"Only together can we make a sustainable difference" is the headline on the Intalcon Foundation website. This conviction is also followed by Sustainable Development Goal 17: Strengthen the means to implement and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.

In the aftermath of the global COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen that strengthening multilateralism and global partnerships is more important than ever if we are to solve the world's problems. The Agenda, with its 17 goals, is universal and calls on all countries to act, both developed and developing, to ensure that no one is left behind.

"A successful sustainable development agenda requires partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society. These inclusive partnerships, based on shared principles, values and a common vision along shared goals that put people and the planet at the center, are needed at global, regional, national and local levels." (United Nations)


United Nations, New York

The United Nations Department for Sustainable Development Goals (DSDG) acts as the secretary for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and provides substantive support and capacity building for the Goals and related thematic issues.

SDG Business Hub

Captures and collates the latest insights, developments, and emerging trends on the Sustainable Development Goals to help businesses navigate this dynamic agenda.

GIIN. Global Impact Investing Network

By convening impact investors to facilitate knowledge exchange, highlighting innovative investment approaches, building the evidence base for the industry, and producing valuable tools and resources, the GIIN seeks to accelerate the industry's development through focused leadership and collective action.

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