Background History

The history of the SDGs can be traced to 1972 when governments met in Stockholm, Sweden, for the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, to consider the rights of the human family to a healthy and productive environment. It was not until 1983 that the United Nations decided to create the World Commission on Environment and Development which defined sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. In 1992 the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development was held in Rio.

The 17 goals

On 25 September 2015, the 194 countries of the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Development Agenda titled Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Following the adoption, UN agencies, under the umbrella of the United Nations Development Group, decided to support a campaign by several independent entities, among them corporate institutions and International Organizations. The Campaign, known as Project Everyone, introduced the term Global Goals and is intended to help communicate the agreed Sustainable Development Goals to a wider constituency. However the decision to support what is an independent campaign, without the approval of the member states, has met resistance from several sections of civil society and governments, who accuse the UNDG of ignoring the most important communication aspect of the agreement: Sustainability. There are also concerns that Global Goals is a term used to refer to several other processes that are not related to the United Nations.

The Official Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted on 25 September 2015 has 92 paragraphs, with the main paragraph (51) outlining the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and its associated 169 targets. This included the following 17 goals.

  1. No Poverty– End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  • Extreme poverty has been cut by more than half since 1990- however, more than 1 in 5 people live on less than $1.25 a day
  • Poverty is more than lack of income or resources- it includes lack of basic services, such as education, hunger, social discrimination and exclusion, and lack of participation in decision making.
  • Gender inequality plays a large role in the perpetuation of poverty and its risks; they then face potentially life-threatening risks from early pregnancy, and often lost hopes for an education and a better income.
  • Age groups are affected differently when struck with poverty; its most devastating effects are on children, to whom it poses a great threat. It affects their education, health, nutrition, and security. It also negatively affects the emotional and spiritual development of children through the environment it creates.
  1. Zero Hunger– End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  • Globally, 1 in 9 people are undernourished, the vast majority of these people live in developing countries
  • Agriculture is the single largest employer in the world, providing livelihoods for 40 per cent of today’s global population. It is the largest source of income and jobs for poor rural households. Women comprise on average 43 per cent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, and over 50 per cent in parts of Asia and Africa, yet they only own 20% of the land.
  • Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45 per cent) of deaths in children under five – 3.1 million children each year.
  1. Good Health and Well-being– Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  • Significant strides have been made in increasing life expectancy and reducing some of the common killers associated with child and maternal mortality, and major progress has been made on increasing access to clean water and sanitation, reducing malaria, tuberculosis, polio and the spread of HIV/AIDS.
  • However, only half of women in developing countries have received the health care they need, and the need for family planning is increasing exponentially, while the need met is growing slowly – more than 225 million women have an unmet need for contraception.
  • An important target is to substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from pollution-related diseases.
  1. Quality Education– Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  • Major progress has been made for education access, specifically at the primary school level, for both boys and girls. However, access does not always mean quality of education, or completion of primary school. Currently, 103 million youth worldwide still lack basic literacy skills, and more than 60 per cent of them are women
  • Target 1 “By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 effective learning outcomes”- shows the commitment to nondiscriminatory education outcomes
  1. Gender Equality– Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  • Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large
  • While a record 143 countries guaranteed equality between men and women in their Constitutions by 2014, another 52 had not taken this step. In many nations, gender discrimination is still woven through legal and social norms
  • Though goal 5 is the gender equality stand-alone goal- the SDG’s can only be successful if women are completely integrated into each and every goal
  1. Clean Water and Sanitation– Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  2. Affordable and Clean Energy– Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  3. Decent Work and Economic Growth– Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  4. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure– Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  5. Reduced Inequalities– Reduce income inequality within and among countries
  6. Sustainable Cities and Communities– Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  7. Responsible Consumption and Production– Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  8. Climate Action– Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts by regulating emissions and promoting developments in renewable energy
  9. Life Below Water– Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. Partnerships for the Goals– Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

As of August 2015, there were 169 proposed targets for these goals and 304 proposed indicators to show compliance.