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The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were set up in 2015 for a better future

Sustainable Development – Part One

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were set up in 2015 with the incentive being to create a strategy to achieve a more sustainable and therefore better future for everyone. The SDGs were created by the UN General Assembly, one of the six principle departments of the United Nations. Full realization of the goals is hoped to be seen by the year 2030 and it is hoped they will steer the bulk of humanity to a place where environmental necessities, human rights, and human freedoms, will all meet and work together in harmony.


The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals are a set of global-facing objectives that are meant to inform and guide the planet’s international community to a place where human rights and freedoms are respected in all corners of the world while at the same time safeguarding the environment and the natural world. There are 17 goals in total and these are shown in figure one.

Figure 1: The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (as set out by the

The goals were developed during the period known as the ‘Post-2015 Development Agenda’ as the impending framework to eclipse the Millennium Development Goals which ended in 2015. The 17 objectives have been designed so that they overlap and attempt to envelop all aspects of human activity.

Some of the goals fall transparently into particular categories. Climate Action for example indicates how the human activity should involve taking measures to reduce and prevent global warming, one of the biggest threats to mankind today.

This is clearly part of the environmental agenda. Other goals also in this subset are Life on Land and Life Below Water. In contrast, other goals evidently fall into categories that deal with human rights and liberties such as No Poverty and Good Health and Wellbeing. Where the overlap resides is within many of the other objectives.

Responsible Consumption and Production for example encompasses all those practices that provide jobs but also keeps in mind the needs of the environment and ecological impacts. Sustainable Cities and Communities not only takes into consideration all the amenities and utilities that a given population requires within an urban settlement, but also maintain a long-term and ethical relationship with the environment and its ecological habitats so that they may exist alongside one another and continue to coexist. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure too is a goal designed to foster invention and progress in the workplace that benefits the workforce with jobs and means, but also maintains viable and renewable practices that are green and environmentally friendly.

In conjunction with the goals as they stand, the UN set out specific targets to be achieved within each goal, and these too can be seen in figure one. For example, accompanying the more wholesale objective of Zero Hunger, there is the refined target of wasting less food and supporting local farmers. Similarly, accompanying the goal Affordable and Clean Energy is the target to use energy-efficient appliances.

The Road To Now

In 1972, in order to ponder on the rights of the family to create a vital and effective environment, various governments convened in Stockholm for the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. Following this, the UN devised the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1983. This defined sustainable development as ‘meeting the needs of the present without comprising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (Wikipedia). Then, it was in 1992 that the first agenda for environmental development was created and implemented, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. So, it was that over this 20-year period, around once a decade milestones toward the development of the SDGs were being established.

Colombia was the first nation to put forward the notion of the SDGs. It floated about until it was picked up by the United Nations’ Department of Public Information 64th NGO Conference in Bonn, Germany, in September 2011.

It was there (and in the resulting documentation) that the 17 goals first emerged. At a press conference in November 2016, Ban Ki Moon, the UN’s Secretary-General from 2007-2016, stated ‘We don’t have a plan B because we don’t have a planet B (remarks to the press at COP 22).’ This idea has driven the evolution of the SDGs since. To reach the current situation, the UN has led a process involving its 193 member states as well as the global civil society (seen as the ‘third sector’ of civilization beyond government and business and involving family and the private sphere).

In 2019, the UN’s current Secretary-General (Antonio Guterres) allocated new public advocates to the SDGs. Their role has been to raise awareness, inspire ambition, and press for greater momentum for putting the SDGs into action.

These people are: Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo (the president of Ghana), Erna Solberg (the Prime Minister of Norway), Queen Mathilde of the Belgians, Muhammadu Sanusu II (Emir of Kano), Sheikha Moza bint Nasser (founder of the Education Above All Foundation), Richard Curtis (screenwriter, producer, and film director), Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim (environmental and indigenous rights activist), Jack Ma (founder and executive chairman of the Alibaba group), Graca Machel (founder of the Graca Machel Trust), Dia Mirza (actress, film producer, and UN Environmental Program Goodwill Ambassador), Edward Ndopu (founder of Global Strategies on Inclusive Education), Paul Polman (chair of the International Chamber of Commerce and vice-chair of the board of the United Nations Global Compact), Jeffrey Sachs (director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University), Marta Veira da Silva (footballer for Orlando Pride ad UN Women Goodwill Ambassador), and Forest Whitaker (actor, founder and CEO of the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative).

In order to try to keep the goals current and meaningful, they are reviewed and refined. This was the case at the 51st Session of the United Nations Statistical Commission in 2020. The strategy behind the goals is due to be revisited in 2025.

At the last review, consideration was proposed for 36 modifications to be made to the framework. Under the watchful eye of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, global monitoring of the SDGs is undertaken annually by the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. Progress made for all of the objectives are published as reports by the United Nations Secretary-General and the most up-to-date one is from April 2020.

In recent years, urgency around the SDGs has gathered pace due to the ever more emerging compelling evidence that climate change and damage to the environment is taking place faster. It has also become apparent that governments cannot confront the climate/environmental question on their own. As such, this has heaped pressure on the commercial and industrial sectors to get involved more voluntarily and has seen the emergence of the ESG principles that businesses are being more readily held accountable.

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