Editorial Feature

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals offer a collective roadmap for a peaceful and prosperous future for people and the planet. These goals are interconnected, so progress in one area affects the others, emphasizing the need for sustainable development that balances social, environmental, and economic factors.

the 17 sustainable development goals

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Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, all United Nations member states adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and pledged to fast-track progress for those furthest behind through the "Leave No One Behind" initiative.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to achieve prosperity and peace by addressing poverty, education, health, inequality, climate change, economic growth, and environmental sustainability.

While progress has been made since 2015, the 2022 Sustainable Development Goals report warns that goals are currently off track and not expected to be achieved by 2030.

UN Sustainable Development Goals - Overview

Video Credit: UNICEF Georgia/YouTube.com

Goal 1: No Poverty

The 2030 agenda for sustainable development has set a crucial target of eliminating extreme poverty worldwide by 2030. Despite significant progress since 1990, over 800 million people live in extreme poverty.

This goal seeks to address relative poverty, establish social security systems, and strengthen livelihood resilience to prevent people from falling back into poverty.

Technological development to fast-track the progress

Researchers from Stanford University used satellite imagery and machine learning to create impact maps that differentiate between areas of poverty and extreme poverty in developing countries.

It can help governments target their efforts and resources toward difficult-to-access areas that need urgent help.

Progress

The COVID-19 pandemic has erased years of progress in reducing poverty, with almost 100 million more people living in extreme poverty than pre-pandemic projections. Therefore, the goal of eradicating poverty by 2030 is not being met, and there is a need for rapid acceleration to achieve it.

Goal 2: Zero Hunger

SDG 2 aims to end global hunger and malnutrition by 2030. Although progress has been made, approximately 800 million people, primarily women and children, still suffer from hunger. Smallholder farmers are particularly at risk of undernourishment since they rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Goal 2 targets ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition, doubling the income and productivity of small-scale farmers by 2030, and promoting sustainable agriculture to avoid environmental damage.

Technological development to fast-track the progress

Artificial intelligence and synthetic biology enhance crop resilience, productivity, and food distribution. For example, NRgene uses genetic sequencing and machine learning to identify the best gene profiles for crop performance.

Phytech's "Plant Internet of Things" delivers real-time alerts and insights to farmers' smartphones to optimize crop production.

Progress

The goal is not being met, as the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation, with an estimated 828 million people suffering from hunger in 2021. Therefore, urgent action is needed to prevent a food emergency and its potential consequences.

Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being

SDG 3 aims to ensure the well-being and healthy lives of people of all ages by focusing on key targets that boost overall population health. Priority areas are regions with the highest disease burden and neglected groups.

The objective for 2030 is to ensure all people have access to good-quality healthcare, financial protection, and universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare.

Technological development to fast-track the progress

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the vulnerability of humanity to unknown diseases but also demonstrated the potential of technology to protect people.

VirVi is an example of such technology, providing healthcare and government leaders with a global view of virus surveillance and a helpline web portal.

Progress

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected critical health services, leading to a decline in immunization coverage for the first time in ten years and increased deaths from malaria and tuberculosis (TB).

As a result, immediate action is required to get back on track toward achieving Goal 3.

Goal 4: Quality Education

The international community recognizes that education and quality training is crucial in improving living conditions for individuals and communities. Therefore, SDG 4 ensures equitable access to inclusive, high-quality education for all, reducing disparities and inequities.

This goal is critical as education is essential for achieving sustainable development, and it can transform individuals' lives and break the cycle of poverty, enabling upward socioeconomic mobility.

Progress

The goal is slowly being met, and acceleration is needed to reach 2030 targets. In addition, the pandemic disrupted education systems, with 147 million children missing more than 50% of in-person teaching in 2020-2021.

Goal 5: Gender Equality

SDG 5 seeks to promote gender equality and empower women, which is a fundamental human right and necessary for sustainable development.

Gender disparities become more pronounced as children grow. For example, women remain underrepresented in political leadership and perform a disproportionate share of domestic work. In addition, they face various inequalities, including deprived access to healthcare and nutrition in some countries, leading to a higher mortality rate.

Progress

According to the U.N., progress toward achieving gender equality by 2030 is not on track, particularly in unpaid care, domestic work, and violence against women. Therefore, the U.N. calls for decisive action, including implementing laws, budgets, policies, and institutions that promote gender equality to accelerate progress.

Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

SDG 6 aims to provide access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene for all and ensure the sustainability and quality of water resources. Millions of people die yearly due to water-related diseases, and over half the population lacks access to clean drinking water and sanitary facilities.

The goal also targets the protection and restoration of water-related ecosystems and promotes cross-border cooperation for integrated water resource management at all levels.

Technological development to fast-track the progress

Desalination is a globally popular but energy-extensive process of making seawater drinkable. MIT researchers have developed a portable desalination unit that produces drinking water with a push of a button. It weighs less than 10 kg and can be powered by a pocket solar panel.

Progress

The goal is slowly being met, with limited to no progress in some areas. Current rates of progress indicate that 1.6 billion people will lack access to clean water and 2.8 billion will lack sufficient sanitation by 2030.

Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

SDG 7 aims to provide access to clean and affordable energy, vital for various aspects of development, such as agriculture, business, education, and healthcare.

Universal access to affordable and clean energy services is essential for achieving several sustainable development goals. However, 1.6 billion people worldwide still have no access to electricity, and 2.5 billion depend on biomass as an energy source.

Technological development to fast-track the progress

An electric vehicle charging point powered by tidal energy has been installed on Yell, a Scottish island, using electricity from Nova Innovation's Shetland tidal array.

The project is part of Scotland's effort to decarbonize the island's transportation and shift from traditional fuels by 2030. It is the world's first electric vehicle charging point that uses tidal energy as its power source.

Progress

Progress towards sustainable energy goals is slow and insufficient to achieve targets set by 2030. At current rates, 679 million people will still need more electricity in 2030, while 2.4 billion people are at risk due to slow progress toward clean cooking solutions. To meet the target, the annual energy efficiency improvement rate must average 3.2% until 2030.

Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

SDG 8 encourages sustainable and inclusive employment, economic growth, and decent work conditions.

Creating sustainable economic growth is essential for combating poverty and providing decent employment opportunities for developing countries and industrialized and emerging economies. However, over 200 million people worldwide, particularly young people, are unemployed.

The goal also targets combatting forced labor and enhancing global resource efficiency to separate economic development from environmental deterioration.

Progress

The global economy is rebounding, but recovery remains fragile, and progress toward Goal 8 is deteriorating. The GDP growth in the least developed countries is expected to increase in the coming years but is still below the target of 7% for 2030.

Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

Goal 9 focuses on building strong infrastructure, encouraging sustainable industrialization, and fostering innovation. Investing in sustainable infrastructure and scientific research leads to job creation and economic development.

SDG 9 promotes technological innovation in developing countries and aims to increase access to financial services for small-scale industries. It also emphasizes universal and affordable internet access in the least developed countries.

The goal advocates for resource efficiency and clean technologies to make industries sustainable by 2030.

Technological development to fast-track the progress

B.C. materials, a Brussels-based company, converts excess soil from construction sites into construction materials, aiming to create a closed-loop system that reduces waste and lowers carbon emissions in the building sector.

Progress

The goal is being met, and significant progress has been made globally. However, recovery has been uneven, with high-income countries recovering more significantly than others.

Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities

SDG 10 is focused on reducing inequality within and among countries, which is considered one of the biggest obstacles to poverty reduction and sustainable development.

Inequalities based on sex, race, income, ethnicity, and religion persist worldwide and limit opportunities for social groups to contribute to economic, social, political, and cultural life.

Goal 10 aims to achieve sustained income growth for the poorest 40% of the population and promote social, economic, and political inclusion for all by 2030. It also advocates for eliminating discriminatory laws, practices, and policies and implementing sound migration policies while giving developing countries a greater voice in decision-making within international financial and economic institutions.

Progress

The goal has made significant progress but is being achieved slowly and requires acceleration to meet the target by 2030. Moreover, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have reversed any positive trends in income inequality and intensified discrimination, particularly for vulnerable populations.

Projections suggest that between-country and within-country income inequality has increased since the start of the pandemic by 1.2% and 1%, respectively, halting the decline seen in previous years.

Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

SDG 11 focuses on building safe, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable cities and communities. Over 50% of the global population resides in cities, and this proportion is projected to rise further. However, cities also pose major challenges, such as their enormous environmental footprint.

As a result, SDG 11 intends to reduce the adverse impact of cities on the environment, particularly in terms of waste management and air quality.

Progress

The progress is deteriorating and is far from the 2030 target. Significant investment is needed in waste management infrastructure and air quality monitoring, particularly in middle- to low-income countries.

Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

SDG 12 aims to ensure sustainable production and consumption patterns to sustain the livelihoods of current and future generations. However, current consumption rates exceed the capacity of ecosystems to provide resources, necessitating significant changes in production and consumption to remain within ecological limits.

SDG 12 intends to reduce food waste, promote sustainable practices, and encourage sustainable public procurement practices.

Progress

The goal is being met slowly, with some progress in sustainable education and renewable energy. However, there is still a growing reliance on natural resources, leading to climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.

Goal 13: Climate Action

SDG 13 aims to urgently address climate change and its impacts. Climate change significantly threatens sustainable development, affecting vulnerable populations and ecosystems worldwide.

The warming of the earth's atmosphere has led to extreme weather events, rising sea levels, melting glaciers, and the displacement of millions of people. Despite increased global carbon dioxide emissions, the global community has yet to fully commit to reversing the climate crisis.

Research development to fast-track the progress

The U.K. Research and Innovation has invested £30 million in a four-and-a-half-year project led by the University of Oxford to study the effectiveness and viability of multiple nature-based methods of capturing and sequestering greenhouse gases.

The project aims to assist the UK in achieving its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

Progress

The target of limiting global warming to 1.5°C is not on track. Current commitments are insufficient and are projected to result in almost a 14% increase in emissions by 2030.

Goal 14: Life Below Water

SDG 14 protects and promotes the sustainable use of seas, oceans, and marine resources. Oceans and seas cover 70% of the planet, provide food, energy, and water, and help mitigate climate change by absorbing a quarter of annual CO2 emissions.

However, human activities are harming this vital ecosystem, endangering both marine life and the livelihoods of billions of people. To address this, SDG 14 calls for the reduction of marine pollution and minimizing ocean acidification by 2025.

Progress

The progress towards increasing the proportion of fish stocks within biologically sustainable levels is declining and far from the 2030 target. However, there is a slow improvement in the coverage of protected areas for marine key biodiversity areas.

Goal 15: Life on Land

SDG 15 aims to protect and restore terrestrial ecosystems, combat desertification, sustainably manage forests, and halt biodiversity loss. Biodiversity and forests are essential to human prosperity, providing clean water and air, food security, absorbing CO2 emissions, and offering a basis for environmental development.

However, human actions have caused significant changes to terrestrial ecosystems, endangering approximately 40,000 species and destroying 10 million hectares of forest annually.

SDG 15 aims to address these issues by advocating for urgent measures to restore habitat loss and combat the poaching and trafficking of endangered plants and animals.

Technological development to fast-track the progress

PAWS is an AI program that helps with wildlife protection efforts by using machine learning to analyze historical poaching data and geography information to predict poacher behavior and create poaching risk maps.

In initial testing, rangers following PAWS-recommended patrol routes could remove twice the number of snares compared to before the AI program's implementation.

Progress

The goal of conserving life on land is slowly being met globally, with some positive developments in protecting key biodiversity areas and establishing targets for ecosystem and biodiversity values.

However, human activities continue to threaten different species, and there is deteriorating progress in preventing the extinction of threatened species.

Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Conflict, weak institutions, insecurity, and limited access to justice threaten sustainable development. As a result, SDG 16 promotes access to justice and inclusive institutions at all levels to create peaceful and inclusive societies.

SDG 16 ensures that people feel safe, regardless of ethnicity or beliefs. To accomplish this, it is essential to strengthen the rule of law, restrict the illegal flow of weapons, promote human rights, fight corruption, and ensure inclusive involvement at all times.

Progress

The goal is not being met, and progress is far from the 2030 target. There are still high levels of conflict, displacement, and attacks against journalists, human rights activists, and trade unionists.

Goal 17: Partnerships

SDG 17 emphasizes the need for a global partnership and cooperation between civil society, governments, and the private sector to ensure that no one is left behind. These partnerships require a comprehensive funding framework beyond official development assistance and significant mobilization of domestic resources.

The goal also advocates for international collaboration in science, innovation, and technology and an equitable multilateral trading system, macroeconomic stability, and policy coherence to support sustainable development.

Progress

Progress has been slow in meeting the funding, and investment targets for the SDGs, with official development assistance falling short and private investment flows not well aligned. As a result, urgent international cooperation is needed to scale up and achieve lasting solutions.

Research and Action Plans to Fast-Track the Progress of Sustainable Development Goals

The SDGs are not expected to be met by 2030 as stakeholders need a shared understanding to operationalize them effectively, and many countries have low recognition of the SDGs despite interest in them.

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine suggests possible steps governments, NGOs, universities, and the private sector can take to operationalize the SDGs.

The report suggests priority research areas and action steps, including education and capacity building, localization of the SDGs, food systems reform, urbanization, decarbonization, science, technology, and innovation for the SDGs, science and peace, and financing to achieve the SDGs.

The SDGs are highly ambitious, but achieving them on time requires global partnerships and interdisciplinary cooperation to be a priority for the international community and national governments.

References and Further Reading

BC Materials (2023). B.C. materials transforms excavated earth into building materials. [Online]. Available at: https://bcmaterials.org/concept (Accessed on March 18 2023)

Dr Celine Herweijer (2019). How technology can fast-track the global goals. [Online]. World Economic Forum. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/09/technology-global-goals-sustainable-development-sdgs/ (Accessed on March 18 2023)

Ellerbeck. S. (2022). How much progress is being made on the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Goals? [Online]. World Economic Forum. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/09/un-sustainable-development-goals-progress-report/ (Accessed on March 18 2023)

National Academies Press (2022). Operationalizing sustainable development to benefit people and the planet. [Online]. Available at: https://nap.nationalacademies.org/catalog/26654/operationalizing-sustainable-development-to-benefit-people-and-the-planet (Accessed on March 18 2023)

Nova Innovation (2023). Tidal powered cars driving Scotland to net zero. [Online]. Available at: https://www.novainnovation.com/news/news_/i/tidal-powered-cars-driving-scotland-to-net-zero/ (Accessed on March 18 2023)

Ohio University (2021). How technology Is providing solutions for clean water. [Online]. Civil Engineering Department Ohio University. Available at: https://onlinemasters.ohio.edu/blog/how-technology-is-providing-solutions-for-clean-water/ (Accessed on March 18 2023)

Quidgest (2023). VIRVI – Digital twin health vigilance and control data. [Online]. Available at: https://virvi.quidgest.com/?lang=en (Accessed on March 18 2023)

Statistics Division U.N. (2022). Sustainable Development Goals Progress Chart 2022. [Online]. Department of Economic and Socials Affairs United Nations. Available at: https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2022/progress-chart/ (Accessed on March 18 2023)

UKRI (2021). U.K. invests over £30m in large-scale greenhouse gas removal. [Online]. U.K. Research and Innovation. Available at: https://www.ukri.org/news/uk-invests-over-30m-in-large-scale-greenhouse-gas-removal/ (Accessed on March 18 2023)

United Nations. (2022). The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022. [Online]. Available at: https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2022/The-Sustainable-Development-Goals-Report-2022.pdf (Accessed on March 18 2023)

United Nations. (2023). Sustainable Development Goals - 17 Goals to Transform Our World. [Online]. Available at: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/ (Accessed on March 18 2023)

Wong. M. (2020). Harnessing Satellite Imagery and A.I. to Help Fight Poverty in Africa. [Online]. Stanford University. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/09/un-sustainable-development-goals-progress-report/ (Accessed on March 18 2023)

Zewe, A. (2020). Preventing poaching. A.I. software that predicts poaching hotspots now being deployed to wildlife parks. [Online]. Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Available at: https://seas.harvard.edu/news/2020/06/preventing-poaching (Accessed on March 18 2023)

Zewe. A (2022). From seawater to drinking water, with the push of a button. [Online]. MIT News. Available at: https://news.mit.edu/2022/portable-desalination-drinking-water-0428 (Accessed on March 18 2023)

Zhao, W., Yin, C., Hua, T., Meadows, M. E., Li, Y., Liu, Y., ... & Fu, B. (2022). Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in the post-pandemic era. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 9(1), 1-7. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-022-01283-5

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Owais Ali

Written by

Owais Ali

NEBOSH certified Mechanical Engineer with 3 years of experience as a technical writer and editor. Owais is interested in occupational health and safety, computer hardware, industrial and mobile robotics. During his academic career, Owais worked on several research projects regarding mobile robots, notably the Autonomous Fire Fighting Mobile Robot. The designed mobile robot could navigate, detect and extinguish fire autonomously. Arduino Uno was used as the microcontroller to control the flame sensors' input and output of the flame extinguisher. Apart from his professional life, Owais is an avid book reader and a huge computer technology enthusiast and likes to keep himself updated regarding developments in the computer industry.

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