Skip to content

The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals Made Simple

    What are the UN Sustainable Development Goals and why should you care? Well, since 2015, these goals have underpinned a lot of national and international policies around the world… so they are pretty important… and in this article I will tell you exactly what the UN sustainable Development Goals are and why they are so important.

    What are the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

    The UN (United Nations) was founded in 1945 and currently boasts 193 member states – almost every country in the world. It is an international organisation with the overarching goal of ‘maintaining international peace and security; developing friendly relations among nations; promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights.

    In 2015 they put together 17 goals, known as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, for ensuring global sustainable development going forward. The UN says that these goals ‘are an urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing – in a global partnership. They recognise that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.’

    Here are all 17 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals…

    • No poverty
    • Zero hunger
    • Good health and well-being
    • Quality education
    • Gender equality
    • Clean water and sanitation
    • Affordable and clean energy
    • Decent work and economic growth
    • Industry, innovation and infrastructure
    • Reduced inequalities
    • Sustainable cities and communities
    • Responsible consumption and production
    • Climate action
    • Life below water
    • Life on land
    • Peace, justice and strong institutions
    • Partnerships for the goals

    Many of the SDGs are interlinked – by achieving climate action, for example, you improve hunger levels and so on. Below I’ll talk you through each of the UN’s sustainable development goals in more detail…

    No poverty

    The first of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is to ‘end poverty in all its forms everywhere’. This goal looks at completely getting rid of all extreme poverty with seven targets:

    • Eradication of extreme poverty
    • Reduction of all poverty by half
    • Implementation of social protection systems
    • Ensuring equal rights to ownership, basic services, technology & economic resources
    • Building of resilience to environmental, economic and social disasters
    • Mobilisation of resources to end poverty
    • Establishment of poverty eradication policy frameworks at all levels

    The first 5 targets are ‘outcome targets’, with the remaining two being ‘means of achieving targets’. You will see this with each of the SDGs in this blog post, with the targets split into these two types. 

    Global poverty has increased rapidly in recent years due to both the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, undoing a lot of the hard work from previous years. 10% of the world’s population currently live in poverty, struggling to meet their basic needs – this goal aims to get that number down to zero by 2030.

    Zero hunger

    The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals Made Simple

    Goal number two aims to ‘end hunger, achieve food security & improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture’. Hunger goes hand in hand with poverty, but this goal has more of a nod to ensuring people have ways of preventing hunger from being an issue in the future too. The second of the UN Sustainable Development Goals has eight targets:

    • Ending hunger and improving access to food
    • Ending all forms of malnutrition
    • Doubling agricultural productivity/income
    • Ensuring sustainable food production systems and resilient agricultural practices
    • Maintaining the genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants and farmed & domesticated animals
    • Addressing trade restrictions and distortion
    • Increasing investment in infrastructure, technology and research
    • Ensuring proper functioning of food commodity markets

    Hunger has been increasing steadily since 2015, despite this goal being in place; the pandemic and climate shocks are responsible for a lot of this. This SDG is important as hunger/malnutrition is a huge reason for mental and physical development in children. The last three of the above goals are the ways in which the UN plan to try and achieve this goal, although it is said to *not* be on track for 2030.

    Good Health and Well-Being

    The third SDG aims to ‘ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages’. Through eradicating poverty and hunger, this is definitely achievable – the goals are definitely interlinked. The UN aims to achieve this particular sustainable development goal through 13 targets:

    • Reduce maternal mortality rates
    • End preventable deaths of newborns/children up to 5
    • End various epidemics and communicable diseases
    • Reduce mortality rates from non-communicable diseases & promote mental health
    • Strengthen the prevention/treatment of substance abuse
    • Halve the number of injuries/deaths from road traffic accidents
    • Ensure access to sexual health services
    • Achieve universal health coverage
    • Reduce deaths/illness from hazardous chemicals/pollution/contamination
    • Strengthen the implementation of the WHO tobacco control framework
    • Support research into vaccines and medicines
    • Increase health financing/support health workforce
    • Strengthen global capacity for handling health risks

    This goal has a lot to do with improving mortality rates and ensuring people live a long, healthy and happy life! Where deaths can be prevented, they absolutely should be and this SDG aims to do just that.

    Quality Education

    Fourth of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’. Learning, whether that be in a formal education setting or not, is so vital for our development as humans and also for a better world. The UN aims to achieve this goal through 10 targets:

    • Ensure all children complete free, equitable and quality primary & secondary education
    • Ensure all children can access pre-school care/education
    • Equal access to technical, vocational and tertiary education
    • Increase the number of skilled people for jobs and entrepreneurship 
    • Eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access for the vulnerable 
    • Ensure literacy and numeracy for all children and large number of adults
    • Ensure all learners acquire the knowledge to promote sustainable development 
    • Build safe and accessible educational facilities
    • Expand scholarships for developing countries
    • Increase supply of teachers

    We can see that these targets focus on ensuring that education is accessible and equal, which is so important and fits in well with the UN promise of ‘leave no one behind’.

    The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals Made Simple

    Gender Equality

    Next on the list of UN Sustainable Development Goals is ‘achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’. This is a really important goal, as we have lived for so long in a world which is strongly patriarchal. By the UN posing this as one of their goals, it shows how important it is to start undoing this. They have nine targets for this SDG:

    • End discrimination against women and girls
    • Eliminate violence against women and girls
    • Eliminate ALL harmful practices towards women and girls
    • Recognise unpaid care/domestic work
    • Ensure women’s participation and equal opportunities in leadership roles
    • Universal access to sexual health care
    • Undertake equal rights reforms
    • Enhance technology for empowering women
    • Adopt policies which promote gender equality

    Globally, women have achieved around 25% representation in parliaments. There is still a way to go for making things equal! This goal is again heavily related to the ‘leave no one behind’ pledge; the UN are aiming to level things up for women and girls so they have equal rights and can live freely without the threat of gender-based discrimination or violence like FGM, cat-calling and so on.

    Clean Water and Sanitation

    The 6th of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is to ‘ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’. As of May 2022, 2 billion people lacked access to clean drinking water at home – unsafe water is also linked to 1.2 million deaths per year, so this particular SDG goes hand in hand with the Good Health and Well-Being goal. In order to achieve Clean Water and Sanitation, the UN have 8 targets:

    • Achieve universal access to safe/affordable drinking water
    • Achieve access to good sanitation and hygiene for all
    • Improve water quality
    • Increase water-use efficiency 
    • Implement integrated water-resources management 
    • Protect water-related ecosystems 
    • Expand international cooperation in water/sanitation-related activities 
    • Strengthen participation of local communities in water/sanitation management

    Water is one of our most basic needs and requirements, yet so many still struggle to access it – and it is one of the things most heavily supported by global charities. The UN is definitely looking at how people can work together at all levels in order to ensure access to clean and safe water globally.

    Affordable and Clean Energy

    Goal number 7 is to ‘ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all’. Progress has definitely already been made in this area, with more and more people gaining access to electricity – something which is so important for a lot of the other goals such as ending hunger and increasing access to education/learning. The UN look to achieve this particular SDG through five targets:

    • Ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy
    • Increase the share of renewable energy in the global mix
    • Double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency 
    • Enhance international research cooperation
    • Expand infrastructure and upgrade energy-based technology

    As you can see, the UN Sustainable Development Goals are focused on getting people to work together towards this goal, as well as improving the types of energy we use. This is something which really springs to mind when we see the word sustainability – clean, renewable energy which has less of an impact on our climate.

    Decent Work and Economic Growth

    The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals Made Simple

    When it comes to goal number 8, the UN is aiming to ‘promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all’. In real terms, this is all about growing individual and global economies as well as ensuring individual people are in work that is fulfilling and ensures them a good quality of life. They are doing this through a set of 12 targets:

    • Sustainable economic growth
    • Diversify and upgrade to ensure economic productivity 
    • Promote policies which support job creation
    • Improve global resource efficiency 
    • Achieve full & productive employment for all with equal pay
    • Reduce the number of unemployed young people
    • Eradicate forced labour/modern slavery as well as child labour
    • Protect labour rights
    • Implement policies to promote sustainable tourism with job creation & promotion of local culture
    • Strengthen the capacity of domestic financial institutions 
    • Increase aid for trade support
    • Develop a global strategy to combat youth unemployment 

    As you can see there is a focus on getting young people into employment, improving their well-being. The 9th target here is particularly interesting with its focus on tourism; a lot of tourism creates what is known as economic leakage, whereby the money spent on tourist activity doesn’t go directly to the location due to hotels, excursions and so on being booked through companies located in other countries. This target aims to correct some of that which is really important.

    Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure 

    The ninth of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is to ‘build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation’. This is one of the major SDGs, encompassing a huge range of things from manufacturing employment to the internet… There are eight targets to go with this goal:

    • Develop quality and accessible infrastructure to support economic growth and human well-being
    • Promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation
    • Increase global access to financial services and markets
    • Upgrade all industries to be more sustainable 
    • Enhance research into industrial tech
    • Aid sustainable infrastructure development in developing countries
    • Support domestic tech development in developing countries
    • Increase access to information and the internet in least developed countries

    As you can see, there is a big focus on the least developed countries as part of this particular goal. This is to help them level up in terms of infrastructure that works well and safely, giving them the opportunity to grow their economies. It also promotes access to the internet, which almost 3 billion people are unable to use currently. By accessing the internet, people are able to learn more, research more, support their mental health and much more.

    Reduced Inequalities 

    Tenth on the list of UN Sustainable Development Goals is ‘reduce inequality within and among countries’. There are 10 targets in place to try and achieve this major goal, which is so important to ensure the UN fulfils their promise of ‘no one left behind’. These targets are:

    • Reduce income inequalities
    • Promote social, economic and political inclusion for all globally
    • Ensure equal opportunities and eliminate discriminatory laws
    • Adopt policies which steer towards achieving equality
    • Improve regulation of global financial markets
    • Enhance representation of developing countries in global economic decision-making
    • Facilitate safe mobility and migration of people through policies
    • Implement special treatment of developing countries
    • Encourage assistance and investment for least developed countries
    • Reduce transaction costs for migrant remittance 

    Again there is a definite focus on levelling up the least developed countries, bridging the gap to ensure inequalities are reduced. That way, all countries will be on a more level playing field.

    Sustainable Cities and Communities

    The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals Made Simple

    This is the goal with one of the strongest focuses on actual sustainability – to ‘make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’. In order to decrease the number of people living in slums, and to make other living areas better, the UN has 10 targets:

    • Ensure access to safe/affordable housing and upgrade slums
    • Provide access to safe/affordable/sustainable public transport and improve road safety
    • Promote inclusive and sustainable urbanisation
    • Protect the world’s culture and natural heritage
    • Reduce the negative impact of natural disasters
    • Reduce the environmental impact of cities
    • Provide access to safe/inclusive green and public spaces
    • Strengthen national and regional development planning
    • Implement policies aimed at increasing inclusion, resource efficiency, disaster resilience and climate control
    • Support least developed countries to create sustainable buildings using local materials 

    More than a billion people live in slums, and only roughly half of the global population have access to safe public transport – in order to improve health and well-being, one of the earlier UN Sustainable Development Goals, this is definitely something which needs to be addressed. This is another example of the interlinking of these goals. By making housing and transport safe and accessible, as well as working towards overall sustainability, you increase the quality of peoples’ lives.

    Responsible Production and Consumption

    The 12th of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is to ‘ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns’, something which we as individuals are able to work on ourselves too. The UN’s 11 targets for this are:

    • Reduce global food waste and loss at production, retail and consumer levels
    • Achieve environmentally sound chemical waste management
    • Reduce waste generation 
    • Encourage sustainable practice
    • Promote sustainable public procurement practices 
    • Ensure people have access to information about sustainable development 
    • Support developing countries in strengthening their scientific and technological capacity
    • Develop and implement tools for monitoring sustainable development impacts
    • Remove market distortions that encourage wasteful consumption

    Meeting this goal has a lot to do with the improvement of plastic circularity – e.g, ensuring plastic can be used again and again by making better recycling practices and systems. Eliminating single use plastics is a route that many businesses, particularly in the tourism industry, have gone down.

    Climate Action

    The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals Made Simple

    Goal 13 is aimed at climate action, and is to ‘take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’. This is, of course, probably one of the most important SDGs on the list due to how rapidly our planet is deteriorating as the climate changes. There are five targets within this goal:

    • Strengthen global resilience to climate hazards/natural disasters
    • Put climate change measures into national policies and planning
    • Improve education and capacity surrounding climate change 
    • Send $100billion annually to developing countries
    • Promote mechanisms for climate-change planning and management 

    This goal goes hand in hand with the 7th on the list, related to clean energy, and is also closely linked to goals 11 and 12. By making policy changes and increasing education in this area, we can attempt to reverse as much damage as possible when it comes to climate change.

    Life Below Water

    The 14th goal on the list is to ‘conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development’. 71% of the planet is covered by water, and it is a vital resource for ensuring humanity can survive. This is why this goal is particularly important, as we need to reverse the damage climate change has done to the planet’s water thus far. The UN has 10 targets in place to achieve this goal:

    • Reduce marine pollution
    • Protect and restore ecosystems
    • Reduce ocean acidification 
    • Ensure sustainable fishing 
    • Conserve our coastal and marine areas
    • End subsidies which contribute to overfishing 
    • Increase economic benefits which come from using marine resources sustainably 
    • Increase scientific knowledges, research and tech for ocean health
    • Support small scale fishers with resources and markets
    • Enhance conservation through use of sea law

    Blue tourism is already looking at ways to ensure sustainability when it comes to marine life and ocean; cruise ships are looking at how they can be more eco-friendly, and tourists are choosing green hotels more often. This is one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals that we can already see having an impact on tourism and life in general.

    Life on Land

    Goal number 15 is to ‘protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss’. Again, this particular goal looks at how we can undo the damage caused by climate change – but on land – through 12 targets:

    • Conserve and restore terrestrial/freshwater ecosystems
    • Put an end to deforestation and restore currently degraded forests
    • Eradicate desertification and restored degraded land
    • Ensure the conservation of mountain ecosystems to protect biodiversity and natural habitats
    • Protect current and future access to genetic resources and fair benefit sharing
    • Eliminate the poaching/trafficking of endangered and protected species
    • Prevent the invasion of alien species on land/in water
    • Integrate ecosystem and biodiversity values in governmental planning 
    • Increase financial resources for conserving and sustainably using our ecosystem and biodiversity 
    • Finance and incentivise sustainable forest management 
    • Combat global poaching and trafficking

    The land gives us so many resources and it is so important that we protect them, so that future generations can benefit from them in the ways that previous generations have – from their beauty, from the way they can feed and heal us, and more.

    Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions 

    The penultimate goal on the list of UN Sustainable Development Goals is to ‘promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels’. This goal relates to ensuring people are safe, happy, and living in a fair society. It aims to do so through 12 targets:

    • Reduce all violence and related deaths
    • Protect children from harm including abuse, violence and trafficking
    • Promote the rule of law and ensure everyone can access justice
    • Combat organised crime as well as illicit financial/arms flows alongside corruption and bribery
    • Develop institutions that are effective, accountable and transparent 
    • Ensure decision making is responsive, inclusive and representative 
    • Strengthen participation of developing countries in global governance 
    • Provide birth registration and legal identity for all
    • Ensure readily available public access to information and fundamental freedom
    • Strengthen national institutions to be able to prevent violence and to combat crime and terrorism 
    • Promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws/policies 

    As you can see, this goal has a lot to do with law and justice – getting rid of bribery, making sure people have access to a fair judicial system, ensuring violence is minimised and children are protected. All of these things are vitally important for public safety.

    Partnerships for the Goals – the last of the UN Sustainable Development Goals

    The final goal on the list is to ‘strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development’. It is aimed at increasing international cooperation so that the previous 16 goals can be achieved… With multi-stakeholder partnerships sharing their knowledge, expertise, resources and more, it should be much easier to achieve these Sustainable Development Goals. There are 19 targets for this final goal:

    • Strengthen domestic resource mobilisation 
    • Developed countries to implement a plan to assist lesser developed countries
    • Create additional financial resources for the least developed countries
    • Assist developing countries in reaching debt sustainability 
    • Implement investment promotion regimes for the least developed countries
    • Enhance international cooperation in terms of science, tech and innovation
    • Promote the development/transfer of environmentally sound technologies to lesser developed countries
    • Operationalise the shared technology bank and capacity-building mechanisms for developing countries
    • Promote a universal trading system
    • Increase the exports of developing countries
    • Implement a duty-free and quota-free market access for the least developed countries
    • Enhance global macroeconomic stability
    • Enhance policy coherence for sustainable development
    • Respect individual countries’ policy spaces and leadership
    • Enhance the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development 
    • Promote effective partnerships
    • Enhance capacity-building support for the least developed countries
    • Build on existing initiatives when it comes to measure sustainability progress

    As you can see, this last of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is based heavily on sharing knowledge with each other and with developing countries who are again in need of that leg up to ensure sustainability.

    UN Sustainable Development Goals- FAQs

    Now that we understand what the UN Sustainable Development Goals are, lets answer some of the most common questions on this topic.

    What are the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

    The UN Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the Global Goals, are a set of 17 goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015 to achieve a sustainable future for all by 2030. They aim to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure peace and prosperity for everyone.

    Why were the UN Sustainable Development Goals created?

    The UN Sustainable Development Goals were created to provide a blueprint for a more sustainable and equitable future for all people and the planet. They were designed to address the world’s most pressing social, economic, and environmental challenges, and to build a better future for everyone.

    How are the UN Sustainable Development Goals different from the Millennium Development Goals?

    The Millennium Development Goals were a set of 8 goals adopted by the United Nations in 2000, aimed at reducing poverty and improving the lives of people in developing countries. The UN Sustainable Development Goals are a more comprehensive set of 17 goals that focus on a wider range of issues, including poverty, inequality, climate change, and environmental degradation, and are applicable to all countries, not just developing ones.

    Who is responsible for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

    Achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals is the responsibility of all countries, governments, businesses, civil society organisations, and individuals. The goals are designed to be implemented through partnerships and collaborations, and everyone has a role to play in achieving them.

    How can individuals contribute to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

    Individuals can contribute to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals by making small changes in their daily lives, such as reducing their carbon footprint, volunteering for social and environmental causes, supporting businesses that prioritise sustainability, and advocating for policies and actions that promote sustainability.

    How are the UN Sustainable Development Goals funded?

    The UN Sustainable Development Goals are primarily funded through a combination of public and private financing, including official development assistance, philanthropy, private investments, and domestic resource mobilisation. Innovative financing mechanisms, such as impact investments and social bonds, are also being used to fund sustainable development projects.

    How are the UN Sustainable Development Goals being monitored and evaluated?

    The UN Sustainable Development Goals are being monitored and evaluated through a comprehensive framework of indicators and targets, which are designed to measure progress towards achieving the goals. The data is collected and analysed by the United Nations and other international organisations, and is used to inform policy and decision-making.

    What are some challenges to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

    Some of the challenges to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals include inadequate funding, political instability, conflict, lack of political will, and social and cultural barriers. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing challenges and created new ones.

    What is the role of technology in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

    Technology plays a critical role in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, by providing innovative solutions to social, economic, and environmental challenges. For example, renewable energy technologies can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while digital technologies can improve access to education and healthcare.

    What is the timeline for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

    The UN Sustainable Development Goals are set to be achieved by 2030. However, progress towards achieving the goals is already being made, and many countries and organisations have set their own targets to achieve the goals earlier than the 2030 deadline.

    UN Sustainable Development Goals: To Conclude

    So those are the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals; each one has been thought through and broken down to provide a basis for ensuring global sustainability going forward. Achieving these goals is vital if we want a healthy planet full of well-rounded, happy, healthy and safe individuals.

    If you enjoyed this blog post, you might also enjoy…