What are the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals?

By Madeline Petrow on Apr 23, 2020

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) are a comprehensive set of global goals to end poverty, protect our planet, and improve living conditions of the global population. The UNSDGs were signed in 2015 by all United Nations Member states.  Like many non-profit organisations and governments, we use the SDGs as a framework to assess and track our impact, while each project we support is assessed also against these goals. For context, here is a brief overview of each of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.


SDG1: No Poverty

"End poverty in all its forms everywhere"

The first UN Sustainable Development Goal focuses on the eradication of global poverty in all its forms.  Poverty is linked to hunger, malnutrition, limited access to education, and social discrimination. This goal focuses on ensuring equal rights to economic resources for the poor and the vulnerable, and the development of basic social protections.  Programmes that promote inclusive economic development, such as job creation or microfinance opportunities contribute to this goal. Here are some of the projects we support that are working towards SDG1: No Poverty.


SDG2: Zero Hunger

"End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture"

Today, the agricultural industry employs nearly 40% of the global population, yet poor nutrition is linked to nearly 45% of deaths in children under the age of 5. This Sustainable Development Goal focuses on ensuring sustainable, safe and sufficient food supplies across the globe.  Projects that promote soil health, genetic diversity of seeds, agricultural infrastructure and skills development support this goal.

SDG3: Good Health and Well-Being

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

According to the UN, a child born into poverty is twice as likely to die before the age of five than a child from a wealthier family.  Universal access to healthcare services can tackle many of the world’s most pressing issues including disease control, children’s health and maternity care.

SDG4: Quality Education

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

Education is the foundation to sustainable economic development. Improving access to education helps lift new generations out of poverty, and can create new financial opportunities.  Goal 4 promotes education in all its forms, with a specific focus on equitable childhood education for both boys and girls. Projects that support this goal include childhood education, literacy and community education initiatives.

SDG5: Gender Equality

Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

The UN estimates that women only own 13% of global agricultural land, and female representation in national parliaments is just 23.7%.  Gender equality is a fundamental human right, which includes equal access to education, healthcare, economic opportunity, representation in political systems and institutions. The promotion of gender equality and equal decision-making rights is central to an equitable society.

SDG6: Clean Water and Sanitation

Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

Today, over two billion people are living without secure access to freshwater.  Climate change has increased drought in certain regions further reducing access to clean drinking water, and disrupting agriculture and food supplies. To improve access to safe drinking water, this goal promotes sustainable freshwater management, use and improved sanitation facilities.

SDG7: Affordable and Clean Energy

Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

Today, energy consumption is one of the key contributors to climate change accounting for nearly 60% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Still, nearly 13% of the global population lacks access to modern electricity and over 3 billion people rely on dirty fuel sources such as charcoal, coal, wood and animal waste for energy. Projects developing clean, renewable energy sources and reducing human dependency on dirty fuels help promote universal access to safe and clean energy for all.

SDG8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

Over 60% of the global workforce is employed in informal employment. In order to promote safe, sustainable economic development, there must be equitable access to quality jobs.  By providing sources of stable income to both men and women, this goal promotes inclusive economic growth.

SDG9: Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure.

Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation

To promote sustainable economic development it is necessary to invest in infrastructure such as clean energy, transport, irrigation and communication technologies. Innovation in green systems, and infrastructure development is key to unlocking sustainable economic opportunities for developing markets.  You can learn about some of the projects that we support creating clean energy infrastructure here.

SDG10: Reduced Inequalities

Reduce inequality within and among countries

From income inequity to gender discrimination, this goal aims to tackle inequalities at all levels.  To promote inclusive development, the UN aims to fight poverty and economic exclusion, while empowering women and disadvantaged communities.

SDG11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Over half of the human population lives in cities.  By 2030, an estimated 5 billion people will reside in cities facing challenges such as air pollution, affordable housing, economic opportunity and inefficient infrastructures.  Projects that support sustainable job growth and resilient systems contribute to this Development Goal.

SDG12: Responsible Consumption & Production

Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

Historically, production and consumption patterns in society have followed the linear model of “take, make, and throw away”. Instead, this goal promotes the alternative circular economy in which resources are used and recycled indefinitely. By promoting responsible consumption and a circular model of production, the planet can reduce its dependency on water, food, and energy.

SDG13: Climate Action

Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

The climate crisis is currently one of the greatest threats facing our planet.  Society is already experiencing the effects of changing weather patterns with increasing instances of climate-related disasters including draught, flood, fires, and erratic weather.  The negative impacts of climate change will disproportionately affect the world’s most poor and vulnerable, putting both human populations and wildlife at risk.  You can learn about some of the projects that directly tackle climate change here.

SDG14: Life Below Water

Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

The world’s oceans directly impact and regulate our climate systems, clean rainwater, and food chains.  Rising sea temperatures put marine biodiversity at risk, and plastic pollution is already directly threatening sea and marine life. This goal ensures the responsible production of our oceans, and goal to keep healthy marine biodiversity.

SDG15: 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

This Sustainable Development goal aims to protect the health of life on land. This includes protecting biodiversity and natural habitat, as well as ensuring sustainable consumption of natural resources such as the responsible maintenance of fertile soil, forestland, and other natural ecosystems. Here are projects that we support that promote the sustainable use of land’s natural resources.

SDG16: 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

Strong institutions and investments in justice systems can assist in the universal goal to promote global peace. Violence, conflict and corruption must be held accountable by fair and transparent systems in order to peacefully develop.

SDG17: Partnerships for the Goals

Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

Nations must come together to set and agree on Development Goals moving forward.  Global partnerships aid in holding nations accountable for set targets to achieve the overall outcomes of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

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