What are the sustainable development goals and why should we care about them?
There are not many to-do-lists that start with the goal of eradicating global poverty and creating a better, more prosperous and more equitable future for all by 2030.
Yet, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), our global road map to this vision - which it is frankly pretty hard to argue against - are suffering from a lack of public recognition and understanding just at the point we really need everyone to get behind them.
These are the ‘peoples’ goals’, yet they remain a little out of the limelight. Their ‘brand recognition’ is not strong yet their bold vision is one that resonates with so many.
"Reaching the furthest behind first to leave no one behind"
Worse, the global COVID crisis has seen us backsliding on virtually every one of the 17 SDG areas – over 70 million people are estimated to have been pushed back into extreme poverty as a result of the pandemic (SDG1 No Poverty).
Of course there has been most impact in the area of SDG3 (Good Health and WellBeing) - not only is there unequal access to COVID vaccines, ventilators or even basic health care, we are also seeing impacts in other areas such as rising HIV infections in areas where there have now been generations of work to eliminate transmission. There is also an estimated 100% increase in cases of malaria and stalled childhood vaccination programmes.
The SDGs can provide an important check-in on how we are doing and a detailed path out from this critical moment. Many global citizens are concerned about how they act; the SDGs can provide the answer if we support their adoption by the general public, and private, public and NGO sectors.
At SDG Changemakers, we are passionate about being part of the global community working to turn these goals into a reality even, or rather especially at this moment where the goals and their fundamental mission is under such pressure.
The SDG To-Do-List is everyone’s guide to meaningful action, small and large. Together we can both recognise and stop the reversal of progress and plot our route to getting back on track for everyone’s sake.
But let’s start at the very beginning…
What are the sustainable development goals?
In September 2015, all member states of the United Nations agreed the 17 Sustainable Development Goals setting a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet.
This ‘charter for the world’ built on decades of work by the UN, and specifically the Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015). The declaration set its sights on 2030 as a realistic but urgent target.
The SDGs cover 17 areas which have 169 targets to be delivered both internationally and in all member states. They are designed to work together to build the whole mosaic for a sustainable future and to create a shared mapping of impact and progress.
As the UN outlines, “they [the SDGs] 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.”
“As we embark on this great collective journey, we pledge that no one will be left behind.”
So where are we now on the path to Agenda 2030 and in the midst of a global pandemic? And WHY SHOULD WE CARE about the Sustainable Development Goals?
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic: SDG tracking as our window on the world
The UN’s annual report on the SDGs for 2020 (https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2020/) makes for sobering reading. It provides us with a very clear outline of the impact of COVID beyond the headlines; it can also be the base for a renewed guide to where we can all direct efforts to support the world to ‘build back better’ and to get back on the SDG track.
Even by the end of 2020, it was clear that COVID-19 was causing the first increase in global poverty in decades. Before COVID, we were off track, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where 37% of the population live in extreme poverty and where the SDGs must succeed at scale for the global targets to be met.
SDG 1: NO POVERTY is tracked in real-time by the World Poverty Clock https://worldpoverty.io/map and its map of the world based on these ‘KPIS’ shows a great swathe of sub-Saharan Africa is not on track to achieve the SDG targets and in fact is seeing poverty RISING.
The SDGs track each of the 17 areas with similar precision and we can see the impact of COVID across all – with rising gender inequality (SDG5) including lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services, rising rates of Gender Based Violence, school closures impacting disproportionately on girls, and women forming around 70% of the frontline force against COVID globally.
Of course, the impact is also especially clear in SDG 3 on Good Health and Well Being.
“Vaccine equity is the challenge of our time. And We Are Failing” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, April 2021
At the time of writing (June 2021):
23.1% of the world’s population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 42 million doses now administered every day.
Yet only 0.9% of people in the world’s low-income countered have received at least one dose.
SDG tracking allows us to see the real map of vaccine inequity and to provide the clearest tracking of the detail of this impact across the 17 related areas.
So how can we use them now to ‘build back better’?
The SDGS and the next normal: getting back on track and accelerating
"Everything we do during and after this crisis [COVID-19] must be with a strong focus on building more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change, and the many other global challenges we face. " António Guterres Secretary-General, United Nation
The SDGs offer us a way of tracking and providing evidence of what is working and what is not.
They also allow us a window into the most effective ways of working together to achieve these goals, for example
targeting investment in renewable energy into Lower Developed Countries
expanding accessible access to finance to smaller-scale agricultural workers globally
Supporting climate mitigation and global conservation programmes – even during 2020, the decline in greenhouse gas emissions at 6% is still off-track from the 7.6% annual reduction required.
supporting the expansion of basic sanitation for the 3 billion people and the 65% of primary schools globally who lack even basic hand-washing facilities,
supporting campaigns to return and keep girls in school
supporting efforts to combat the rise of Gender Based Violence
And of course investing in strengthening health systems (physical and human resources, global south vaccine production and distribution) .
The key sectors that have really adopted the SDGs include investment and corporate social responsibility – as SDG Co-Director Claire Benson will outline in her companion blog later this week.
This will require global cooperation at scale and with precise goals shared and agreed across all sectors – that was the original vision of the UN’s foundation and its inspiration for the SDGs.
My favourite SDG is 17: Partnerships for the Goals. Now is the time for SDG 17 and its 16 companions to step into the limelight and for all of us to recognise them for the inspirational stars they are.
Where can you find out more?
The UN has a regularly-updated section on the SDGs www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/news/
You can also keep up to date at the SDG Knowledge Hub https://sdg.iisd.org/
And of course, follow us at SDG Changemakers www.sdgchangemakers.today !
 Our World In Data https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations?country= Accessed June 28 2021