17 Sustainable Development Goals – Will we get there? You decide…

Jan 2017

How do the targets of the new 2015 Sustainable Development Goals compare with progress thus far? Does the past success indicate whether we could meet the SDG targets in 15 years? What are the newly identified challenges which lie ahead? Here are some UN facts* and some thoughts to mull over:

SDG 1. End Poverty in All its Forms Everywhere

Challenge: 836 million people still live in extreme poverty (under $1.25 a day)…

Progress: Globally, the number of people living in extreme poverty has declined by more than half, falling from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015 with most progress has occurred since 2000.

SDG 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

Challenge: One in nine people in the world today (795 million) are undernourished

Progress: The proportion of undernourished people in the developing regions has fallen by almost half since 1990, from 23.3 per cent in 1990–1992 to 12.9 per cent in 2014–2016.

SDG 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

Challenge: Four out of every five deaths of children under age five occur in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia.

Progress: In sub-Saharan Africa, the annual rate of reduction of under-five mortality was over five times faster during 2005–2013 than it was during 1990–1995.

Reducing population growth: Reducing infant mortality will contribute to reducing overall population growth and help women to rise out of poverty.

Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning

Challenge: Enrolment in primary education in developing countries has reached 91 per cent but 57 million children remain out of school

Progress: Global out-of-school children of primary school age fell from 100 million in 2000 to 57 million in 2015

Education for sustainability: It is an opportune time to incorporate sustainable thinking in education, encouraging the future generation to think outside the box.

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Challenge: In sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania and Western Asia, girls still face barriers to entering both primary and secondary school. Women in Northern Africa hold less than one in five paid jobs in the non-agricultural sector.

Progress: Globally women now make up 41 per cent of paid workers outside the agricultural sector, an increase from 35 per cent in 1990.

Essential: Empowering women is fundamental to achieving the 17 SDGs across the board.

Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all

Challenge: Water scarcity affects more than 40 per cent of the global population and is projected to rise, while at least 1.8 billion people globally use a source of drinking water that is fecally contaminated.

Progress: Of the 2.6 billion people who have gained access to improved drinking water since 1990, 1.9 billion gained access to piped drinking water on premises (this represents 58 per cent of the total population).

Sustainable management: To provide clean water and reduce scarcity we need to better protect, manage and conserve our water sources.

Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all (New UN target)

Challenge: One in five people still lacks access to modern electricity.

Progress: An estimated 1.2 billion people – 16% of the global population – did not have access to electricity according to WEO-2016, 15 million fewer than reported in the previous year (Source: WEO).

Renewable energy: Off‐grid renewable technologies provide a sustainable and cost‐effective alternative to traditional sources of electricity (Source: Wikipedia)

Goal 8: Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all (New UN target)

Challenge: 470 million jobs are needed globally for new entrants to the labour market between 2016 and 2030.

A rising problem: Global unemployment increased from 170 million in 2007 to nearly 202 million in 2012, of which about 75 million are young women and men.

The green circular economy:  The renewables sector could generate 20 million jobs by 2030.

Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation (New UN target)

Challenge: In developing countries, barely 30 per cent of agricultural production undergoes industrial processing. While in high-income countries 98 per cent is processed.

Sustainable food management: Great opportunities for developing countries in agribusiness, and a chance to implement sustainable thinking to tackle the impacts of climate change e.g. drought, and implement sustainable food production systems.

Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries

Challenge: A significant majority of households in developing countries—more than 75 per cent of the population—are living today in societies where income is more unequally distributed than it was in the 1990s.

A rising problem: On average—and taking into account population size—income inequality increased by 11 per cent in developing countries between 1990 and 2010. The average income of the richest 10% of the population is about nine times that of the poorest 10% across the OECD, up from seven times 25 years ago (Source: OECD).

The local economy: Income inequality results from economic control and ownership in the hands of the few. To remedy this we need to support local and community businesses, fair trade, a minimum wage, universal income and work toward a decrease in the pay divide.

Goal 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable (New UN target)

Challenge: Half of humanity – 3.5 billion people – lives in cities today.

A rising problem: By 2030, almost 60 per cent of the world’s population will live in urban areas. 95 per cent of urban expansion in the next decades will take place in developing world. 828 million people live in slums today and the number keeps rising.

Sustainable cities – and arteries: Sustainable urbanisation is essential to cope with the increasing numbers moving to city.  However, linking the country to cities – creating a sustainable urban web – could easy pressure on urban systems and bring businesses to the countryside.

Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns (New UN target)

Challenge: Should the global population reach 9.6 billion by 2050, the equivalent of almost three planets could be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles.

A rising problem: Our consumption is growing despite efficiency measures e.g. energy use in OECD countries will continue to grow another 35 per cent by 2020. A 32 per cent increase in vehicle ownership is expected by 2020.

A new measure of success: This if any is placing pressure on our resources, making jobs harder to find, increasing income inequality, contributing to conflict and displacement of people, etc. We need a new measure of economic success in a new age of resource scarcity, which encourages frugality over opulence (although this counters human desire for abundance).

Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Challenge: Given current concentrations and on-going emissions of greenhouse gases, it is likely that by the end of this century, the increase in global temperature will exceed 1.5°C compared to 1850 to 1900 for all but one scenario.

Progress: Growth of greenhouse gas emissions will slow “substantially” by 2030 as a result of a range of new policies, laws and promises by governments (Source: UNFCCC).

Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources

Challenge: As much as 40 per cent of the world oceans are heavily affected by human activities, including pollution, depleted fisheries, and loss of coastal habitats

Progress: Marine protected areas in many regions have increased substantially since 1990, reducing human impact on these parts of the oceans.

Vast but vulnerable: No longer are the oceans a seemingly endless, infinite resource. We are beginning to feel that their ability to buffer human degradation are weakening – pollution, overfishing, climate change, coastal damage, biodiversity loss…But right now we have the opportunity to turn the tide; the tipping point has not quite been reached. The oceans provide ecosystem services to humanity which can not be truly priced – we will probably only understand once it is lost!

Goal 15: Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss

Challenge: Thirteen million hectares of forests are being lost every year while the persistent degradation of drylands has led to the desertification of 3.6 billion hectares.

Progress: In Latin America and the Caribbean, coverage of terrestrial protected areas rose from 8.8 per cent to 23.4 per cent between 1990 and 2014.

People and forests: We can only protect our forests if we ensure that those people, communities and countries who depend on its exploitation (e.g. for palm oil, mining, agriculture, land development, etc) have alternative sources of income or can develop forests sustainably.

Goal 16: Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies

Challenge: Corruption, bribery, theft and tax evasion cost some US $1.26 trillion for developing countries per year; this amount of money could be used to lift those who are living on less than $1.25 a day above $1.25 for at least six years.

An unchanging problem: What more could have been achieved if the money went to those who needed it most…?

Goal 17: Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

Challenge: There is a trend of a falling share of aid going to the neediest sub-Saharan African countries (Source: OECD).

Progress: Official development assistance stood at $135.2 billion in 2014, the highest level ever recorded. In 2014, Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom continued to exceed the United Nations official development assistance target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income.

Trust, honesty and generosity: Three invaluable and incalculable human resources upon which a global partnership for sustainable development depends.


The challenge ahead seems overwhelming but past progress in several areas have been significant: poverty reduction, better opportunities for women, reduced infant mortality, increased numbers of children in primary education, lowering numbers of malnourished people…

New goals that now pose the most challenging are: climate change mitigation and adaptation, growing intra- and inter-nationally inequality, unsustainable consumption and production systems, growing job shortages, land and natural resource degradation and finally political corruption and inertia.

Ultimately the fulcrum for change must be sustainability – focusing on ensuring that the basic needs of all people are met to ensure that all have a decent life quality – of which maintaining the health of our environment is fundamental. Without sustainability, the planet can not support the up to 9-11 billion people that will be living on it by 2100, at the level of wealth seen in developed countries.

*Unless otherwise stated, facts have been taken from the UN website on the 17 SDGs.