In September 2015, 193 Member States of the United Nations agreed to 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. On 1 January 2016 these goals officially came into force. The SDGs are build on the success of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that the United Nations set in 2000 with a 2015 deadline. Below — everything you need to know about the new agenda and, most importantly, how you can do your part to help humanity achieve Global Goals.

First things first, what exactly is meant by sustainable development?

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It has also been defined as economic development that is conducted without depletion of natural resources.

Who are the participants of the 2030 agenda?

193 Member States of the United Nations.

What are the areas of critical importance that the United Nations are working on?

People, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership.

What are the 17 goals?

sustainable development goals

#1 No poverty

End poverty in all its forms everywhere

  • By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day 1.2.

goal 1 no poverty

#2 Zero hunger

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

  • By 2030, end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round

#3 Good health & well-being

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

  • By 2030, reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births
  • By 2030, end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases

#4 Quality education

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

  • 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

goal 4 quality education

#5 Gender equality

Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

  • End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere
  • Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation
  • Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation

#6 Clean water & sanitation

Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

  • By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all
  • By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes

#7 Affordable & clean energy

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

  • By 2030, ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services

#8 Decent work & economic growth

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

  • Sustain per capita economic growth in accordance with national circumstances and, in particular, at least 7 per cent gross domestic product growth per annum in the least developed countries

#9 Industry, innovation & infrastructure

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

  • Develop quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure, including regional and transborder infrastructure, to support economic development and human well-being, with a focus on affordable and equitable access for all

#10 Reduced inequalities

Reduce inequality within and among countries

  • By 2030, progressively achieve and sustain income growth of the bottom 40 per cent of the population at a rate higher than the national average

#11 Sustainable cities & communities

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

  • By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums

#12 Responsible consumption & production

Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

  • Implement the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production, all countries taking action, with developed countries taking the lead, taking into account the development and capabilities of developing countries

food waste by region

“The situation the Earth is in today has been created by unmindful production and unmindful consumption. We consume to forget our worries and our anxieties. Tranquilising ourselves with over-consumption is not the way”. — Thich Nhat Hanh

#13 Climate action

Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

As Fast Company has stated, “Climate change is a global problem that requires global action – but its effects will fall disproportionately on poorer nations.” No efforts will yield any results if we close our eyes on climate change.

We are already seeing that climate change is impacting public health, food and water security, migration, peace and security. Investments in sustainable development will help address climate change by reducing emissions and building climate resilience. Action on climate change will drive sustainable development and viceversa. Climate change, left unchecked, will roll back the development gains we have made over the last decades and will make further gains impossible. (From the Press Kit for the Sustainable Development Summit 2015: Time for Global Action for People and Planet)

#14 Life below water

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

  • By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution

#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

  • By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements

#16 Peace, justice & 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

  • Significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere.
  • End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children.
  • Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all.

peace graph

#17 Partnerships for the goals

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

“To successfully implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we must swiftly move from commitments to action . To do that, we need strong, inclusive and integrated partnerships at all levels.”. — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Achieving 17 Global Goals go far beyond creative cooperation and the desire to make the world a better place. It will cost money and according to Fast Company “…the estimate is in the trillions, which neither governments nor traditional philanthropists can cover outright.”

The UN recognizes that “for the goals to be reached, everyone needs to do their part: governments, the private sector, civil society and people like you.” As stated in the Press Kit for the Sustainable Development Summit 2015 “This ambitious agenda will require the mobilization of significant resources — in the trillions of dollars. But these resources already exist. There are far more than enough savings in the world to finance the new agenda”.

The question is not how to find financial resources — they are already there, the question is how to wisely redistribute and make the most out of them.

Unleashing the potential of private sector

Along with the governments, private sector has a lot to offer to help us achieve the Global Goals. According to the impact investor survey there is currently USD 114 billion in impact investing assets. Impact investments are investments made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate social and environmental impact alongside a financial return. In other words, it is investments that create a positive change in the world, as opposed to investments solely made for the sake of the financial gain.

impact investing

To get a better picture of how impact investing works, let’s look at Ford Foundation — one of the major philanthropic funders.

  • 5% of its annual endowment is spent on charitable causes (the minimum required by law)
  • 95% is put in the investment market, “with the goal of earning financial returns that sustain the grant-making power of the endowment over time.” As Fast Company states, “…that 95% of the foundation’s money is sitting in stocks, private equity, real estate, and venture capital, not leveraged in the same socially responsible manner that the foundation insists on when making its grants.”

Recognizing the potential of that 95%, Darren Walker, the president of Ford Foundation, points out that “we won’t solve big problems without deploying some part of that 95%”.

If philanthropy’s past half century was about optimizing the 5 percent, its next half century will be about beginning to harness the 95 percent as well, carefully and creatively. Darren Walker

National Philanthropic Trust defines philanthropy as the practice of organized and systematic giving to improve the quality of human life through the promotion of welfare and social change. The good news is that more companies are embracing the idea of impact investing to create lasting impact around the world. According to a report by the Global Impact Investing Network in 2016 companies looking for financial returns that create positive change invested USD 22.1 billion into nearly 8,000 impact investments and plan to increase capital invested by 17% to USD 25.9 billion in 2017.


Your contribution

17 major goals and 169 targets does seem like an overwhelming amount of work. You may even think that compared to the resources that the United Nations, private sector, and charitable organizations have at their disposal, there’s very little that you can do. Let’s not be misled by those thoughts. There is actually A LOT that can be done by an average person. I did not know where to start too until I stumbled upon The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World designed by the United Nations.

You can start with being a “sofa superstar” by going paperless and turning off the lights. Next, you move on to become a “household hero” by letting your hair and clothes dry naturally, taking shorter showers and avoiding pre-heating the oven. Finally, you end up becoming a “neighborhood nice guy” by shopping only for sustainable seafood, donating what you don’t use, as well as biking, walking or taking public transportation.

Lazy Persons Guide to Saving the World

And here’s what young creative people from around the world are doing already.

Elif lives in Istambul and she’s an inventor. Like in many big cities, there is a lot of pollution in Istanbul. Some of it is caused by petrolium-based plastics. Elif wasn’t happy about the air quality in her city, so she invented an eco-friendly plastic made from banana skins.

Muzoon Almellehan is 16 years old. She and her family fled Syria in 2013 because of the ongoing civil war. Muzoon worked in Jordanian refugee camps to ensure that the girls of the camps were getting the education they deserve. During her stay in the refugee camp Muzoon saw a lot of young girls become brides before they tern 18. She is passionate about giving those girls a chance to prioritize education over an early marriage.

Watch this beautiful and inspiring video, written by sir Ken Robinson and presented by Emma Watson, and find out how a single person can make an impact. And remember that, as Jim Morrison put it, “There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.”




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