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Sustainable Development Goals

In this step, Dr Maro Triantafyllou outlines the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.

Having looked at the concept of sustainable development, you will be introduced to the 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development and learn how countries and businesses can develop and evaluate their sustainability programmes using the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

There is no ‘Plan B’ because we do not have a ‘Planet B.’ We have to work and galvanize our action.
(Ban Ki-moon, former Secretary-General of the United Nations)

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in the Sustainable Development Summit that was held in New York in September 2015.
The Agenda is a blueprint report that emphasises a holistic approach to achieving sustainable development for people and the planet by building on the principles of ‘leaving no one behind’. It calls all developed and developing countries to work in tandem to end poverty, tackle climate change, improve health and education and fight inequalities (United Nations 2015).
The Agenda is underpinned by 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (UNDP-SDGs 2019) that build on the success of the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were established from 2000 to 2015 (UNDP-MDG 2015):

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

The 17 goals

Sustainable development goal Description
Goal 1: Poverty End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Goal 2: Zero hunger End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
Goal 3: Good health and wellbeing Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages
Goal 4: Quality education Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Goal 5: Gender equality Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Goal 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Goal 10: Reduced inequalities Reduce inequality within and among countries
Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Goal 13: Climate action Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Goal 14: Life below water Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Goal 15: Life on land Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Goal 17: Partnerships for the goals Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) indicators

The Agenda is not legally binding, however governments are expected to use a set of 232 individual global indicators (in total 244, including nine indicators repeated under different SDGs) that have been developed by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEA-SDGs) and approved by the UN Statistical Commission (UNSTATS-SDGs 2018).
In addition, governments are expected to develop their own indicators to monitor progress against set goals and targets. Implementation and success, both at a national and global level, rely on country-led sustainable development programmes, plans and policies and require resource mobilisation and financing strategies. The key to the successful realisation of the agenda is the establishment of multi-stakeholder partnerships among governments, civil societies, the private sector and others (UNSTATS-IAEG-SDGs 2019).
You can see more about the 232 SDG indicators in the diagram in the link below.

Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs)

According to the 2030 Agenda, all member states are expected to:
…conduct regular and inclusive reviews of progress at the national and sub-national levels.
(United Nations 2015)
Known as Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), these are voluntary, country-led and country-driven initiatives that involve multiple stakeholders and are conducted by both developed and developing countries.
VNRs aim to facilitate the sharing of experiences among member states, including successes, challenges and lessons learned, in order to strengthen government policies, mobilise multi-stakeholder support and accelerate the implementation of the Agenda (UN-VNRS 2019). In addition, the Inter-Agency and Expert Group is conducting periodic comprehensive reviews of the Global Indicator Framework in order to propose potential revisions, refinements, replacements, additions and deletions (UNSTATS-IAEG-SDGs 2019).

Your task

Select three out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals included in the ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ to which you would like to contribute through your own actions in your daily life.
How can you achieve these goals? What challenges do you expect to face and how do you plan to overcome them?
Share your thoughts with your fellow students in the comments section below.


Ritchie, H. (2018) ‘Introducing Our New and Improved ‘Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Tracker’. Our World in Data [online]. available from [8 July 2019]

United Nations (2015) ‘Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ [A/RES/70/1]. Resolution adopted by the General Assembly held 25 September 2015. New York: United Nations, 35 [online]. available from: [8 July 2019]

UNDP-MDGs (2015) ‘Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)’. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) [online]. New York: United Nations [online]. available from: [8 July 2019]

UNDP-SDGs (2019) ‘Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)’. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) [online]. available from [8 July 2019]

UNSTATS-SDGs (2018) ‘The Sustainable Development Goals Report: An Overview’. Statistics Division. Department of Economic and Social Affairs [online]. available from [9 July 2019]

UNSTATS-IAEG-SDGs (2019) ‘Sustainable Development Goal Indicators Website’. Statistics Division. Department of Economic and Social Affairs [online]. available from [9 July 2019]

UN-VNRS (2019) ‘Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs)’. High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, United Nations [online]. available from [8 July 2019]

Further reading

United Nations (2019) ‘About the Sustainable Development Goals’. United Nations – Sustainable Development Goals [online]. available from [8 July 2019]

© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0
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