Goal difference

Kyle Meadow

Arena Development

The 17 new Sustainable Development Goals were agreed at a UN summit in September, giving countries a challenging list of targets to meet by 2030

SDGs shutterstock_249439969

© Riccardo Mayer / shutterstock.com

The year 2015 has loomed large for the development community ever since the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were launched 15 years earlier. This year the goals – which tackled health, education, poverty, sustainability and gender equality – mature, so a new set of development goals were agreed at a UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York in September: the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to UN figures, 836 million people still live in extreme poverty, with about one in five people in developing regions living on less than $1.25 per day. One in nine people in the world are undernourished, with 66 million primary school aged children attending classes hungry. When it comes to accommodation, 828 million people still live in slums, a number that is continually rising. And almost two billion people worldwide have to drink water that is contaminated with human waste.

While the MDGs kept things simple, the SDGs cover almost every development angle you can think of. There were eight MDGs with each containing a few short targets, compared to 17 SDGs, which have up to 19 targets each – 169 in total. The SDGs form part of a UN programme called Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The new goals will kick in in 2016, replacing the MDGs.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the New York summit, which was attended by more than 150 world leaders. He declared: “The new agenda is a promise by leaders to all people everywhere. It is an agenda for people, to end poverty in all its forms – an agenda for the planet, our common home.”

He added: “It conveys the urgency of climate action. It is rooted in gender equality and respect for the rights of all.”

General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft admitted that the goals were ambitious, telling the assembled dignitaries: “We recognise the need to reduce inequalities and to protect our common home by changing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production. And we identify the overwhelming need to address the politics of division, corruption and irresponsibility that fuel conflict and hold back development.”

The UK’s International Development Secretary Justine Greening represented the UK at the summit. She said: “The world now has the chance to end extreme poverty in the next 15 years. We know what works. The last goals drove some of the most dramatic improvements in living standards the world has ever seen. Countless families have had their lives transformed. A child in the developing world is now much more likely to be in school and much less likely to die before their fifth birthday.”

Meltek Kilman Livtuvanu, Prime Minister of the small pacific nation of Vanuatu, said the success of the goals would hinge on each country’s capacity, financial resources and available technology. He called on all developed countries to meet official development assistance targets of 0.7 per cent of gross national income for developing countries, which includes the commitment to set aside at least 0.2 per cent for the poorest nations.

Below is a summary of the targets for each goal. For the full list of targets see: www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals


The top line poverty target is to bring extreme poverty to an end by 2030, with ‘extreme’ defined as living on less than $1.25 a day. But this is extended to an aspiration to halve the proportion of people living in poverty even in richer countries, according to national definitions of poverty. The targets include implementation of social protection measures to cushion poor and vulnerable people, as well as moving towards giving everyone an equal right to economic resources, basic services, financial services, and control over property and natural resources. Building resilience to climate-related, economic and social disasters for the most vulnerable is another aim. The targets are intended to be backed up by sound policy frameworks, based on pro-poor strategies and mobilisation of resources to help the least developed countries end poverty. The MDG that this replaces aimed to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty.


Hunger should be no more by 2030, if this goal is met, with everyone on the planet having access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round. Malnutrition is also specifically targeted, with internationally agreed targets to be put in place on stunting and wasting in under fives. Agricultural practices are to be improved to provide the required increase in quantities of food. The targets for hunger also contain two related ‘mini targets’: firstly, maintaining the genetic diversity of seeds and plants, with national and international seed and plant banks to be set up; and achieving internationally agreed targets on stunting in children under five by 2025. The first of these mini targets includes an aspiration to maintain the diversity of wild and domesticated animals by 2020. The MDG that this replaces aimed to eradicate extreme hunger, with one of the targets being to halve the number of people who go hungry.


The health target covers maternal, infant and under-five mortality rates; the AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria epidemics; health funding and access to healthcare; reproductive health; non-communicable diseases; and environmental concerns such as air, water and soil contamination. Some of the mortality targets are a continuation of the MDGs, such as the new maternal mortality ratio target, which aims to see less than 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births for every country by 2030. Another important target is the ending of preventable deaths of newborns and under-fives by 2030. Injuries are also included in the targets with the aspiration to halve the number of deaths from traffic accidents by 2020 and there are two targets aimed at reducing substance abuse including alcohol, narcotics and tobacco. There is also an intention to achieve universal health coverage by 2030, including financial risk protection and vaccines for all.


The education targets aim for universal primary and secondary education, as well as universal pre-school education, elimination of gender disparities and an increase in the amount of teachers. The MDGs set the goal of universal primary education to be achieved by 2015, but, inevitably, some countries have struggled to meet this. The new targets also address the skills shortage in adults, looking to furnish adults and teenage school leavers with “relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship”. There is also an emphasis on relevant and effective learning outcomes in an attempt to ensure that simply attending school is not enough.

Gender equality

The MDG on gender equality was primarily concerned with gender parity in education. The SDG targets all discrimination against girls and women. This includes domestic and sexual violence; early and forced marriage; unpaid care and domestic work; economic and participation; access to technology and access to reproductive healthcare. The eradication of female genital mutilation is also specifically mentioned. This is underpinned by a target for establishing sound policy support. The target on access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights is intended to work in tandem with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action.

Water management

The water goal looks not only at universal access to sufficient clean water, but also at pollution, sanitation, water efficiency and protection of water-based ecosystems. The aim is to improve water quality by 2030 through reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimising the release of hazardous chemicals and materials. International co-operation is sought to develop schemes such as water harvesting, desalination and wastewater treatment. There is also an aspiration to end open defecation. By 2020, water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes are hoped to be protected and restored.


The energy targets are among the most straightforward. Everyone is to get access to reliable and affordable energy by 2030 and renewable sources are to be substantially increased. By 2030, infrastructure is to be upgraded and technology expanded to enable the supply of modern and sustainable energy services for all in developing countries, in particular the least developed countries, small island developing states and land-locked developing countries. Energy efficiency is also to be improved.


The economy targets look to grow per capita income; achieve higher levels of economic productivity; promote development-orientated policies; eradicate forced labour; protect employment rights; and increase Aid for Trade. There is also an aspiration to “achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value” by 2030. A reduction of youth unemployment is also sought, as is expanded access to banking, insurance and other financial services.


High-quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure is an aspiration for 2030, including regional and trans-border infrastructure, so that it supports development. The growth of sustainable and inclusive industrialisation is also a target, including the development of small-scale industrial enterprises. Scientific research is to be used to upgrade technological capacities. Domestic technology and IT infrastructure also get a mention.


This goal deals primarily with economic parity. The bottom 40 per cent of income earners are to be targeted with the aim of growing their income faster than the national average. Inclusion is also a big theme, with the aim of empowering the “social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status”. Better regulation of financial markets is also an aim, along with fiscal and social protection policies. Developing countries should be more involved in “decision-making in global international economic and financial institutions in order to deliver more effective, credible, accountable and legitimate institutions”.

Safe cities

This target looks at safe, affordable housing, access to essential services and the eradication of slums. Safe transport systems are also prioritised, particularly public transport, which should be accessible for the elderly and those with disabilities. The safe cities targets even cover disasters, including water-related disasters, and include the aspiration to “significantly reduce the number of deaths” and economic losses caused by disasters. Accessible green and public spaces also get a mention. The sustainability element looks to improve air quality and encourage the use of local building materials in developing countries, which should also receive financial support to construct sustainable and resilient buildings.

Production and consumption

The emphasis here is on sustainable production and consumption, particularly the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources. There is also a ten-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production for all countries to implement. Other targets include halving food waste by 2030; safer management of chemicals; reducing waste generation; encouraging companies to include sustainability in their reporting practices and promoting sustainable public procurement practices. Inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption are encouraged to be dropped, and taxation restructured accordingly, taking into account the specific needs and conditions of developing countries. The targets are partly a continuation of the environmental sustainability MDG.

Climate change

This goal is intended to support the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is the primary international intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change (see page 12). As such, targets relate to strengthening resilience to climate-related hazards, integrating climate-change measures into national policies, improving education on the effects of climate change and promoting mechanisms for raising capacity for effective climate-change related planning. Implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is also mentioned.

Sustainable development

Marine resources and fisheries are the main focus of the sustainable development goal. Marine pollution is to be reduced significantly by 2025, marine and coastal ecosystems sustainably managed by 2020, ocean acidification addressed and overfishing more effectively regulated. Small island developing states, developing countries and artisanal fishermen are of particular concern and should be enabled to gain maximum economic benefit from sustainably managed oceans. By 2020, subsidies that encourage overfishing should be discontinued, while scientific knowledge is to be increased and utilised.


The biodiversity target looks at conservation, the impact of invasive alien species and ending poaching. Desertification is hoped to be combated by 2030, with degraded land restored to health and, by 2020, the extinction of threatened species should be halted. To help fund sustainable forest management “significant resources from all sources and at all levels” should be mobilised. The poaching target does not have a specific end date, but urges states to “take urgent action to end poaching and trafficking of protected species of flora and fauna and address both demand and supply of illegal wildlife products”. Governments are urged to “integrate ecosystem and biodiversity values into national and local planning, development processes, poverty reduction strategies and accounts”.


The society targets look at violence, exploitation, trafficking, corruption, bribery, the rule of law and arms smuggling. The rule of law should be promoted at national and international levels and countries should ensure equal access to justice for all. Corruption and bribery in all their forms should be substantially reduced, with greater accountability and transparency for institutions at all levels. By 2030 illicit financial and arms flows should be significantly reduced and all forms of organised crime combated. Torture of children is to be tackled, but there is no specific mention of torture of adults. National institutions that prevent violence, and combat terrorism and crime should be strengthened, particularly in developing countries. By 2030, everyone should have legal identity, including birth registration.

Global partnership

The final goal on global partnership is split into 19 sections, divided into sections on finance, technology, capacity building and systemic issues. The finance section looks at international support for developing countries, including the target of 0.7 per cent of official development assistance/GNI going to the least developed countries, which many developed countries have signed up to. The technology section covers the sharing of knowledge and international co-operation on access to technology, including the dissemination of environmentally sound technologies. The capacity-building category aims to enhance international support for capacity building in developing countries to support national plans to implement the SDGs. It includes trade considerations, including promoting a multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organization. Systemic issues include the collection and monitoring of data, policy implementation and a global partnership for sustainable development.

The Sustainable Development Goals

1 End poverty in all its forms everywhere

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

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

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

5 Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

6 Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

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

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

9 Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, and foster innovation

10 Reduce inequality within and among countries

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

12 Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

13 Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts (taking note of agreements made by the UNFCCC forum)

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

15 Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss

16 Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

17 Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development

Leaders’ reactions to the new goals

“We can rightly celebrate another milestone in multilateralism”

Pavel Belobrádek, Deputy Prime Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, Czech Republic

“We recognise the urgency to correct our excess, which exacerbated the depletion of the planet”

Prince Albert II, Monaco

“We cannot be assured of our own peace and security, whilst ignoring how others are living”

Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran

“We have a new road map, it is universal. No country can shirk its responsibility. But governments’ efforts alone would not be enough. Efforts are needed at all levels, across all sectors and by all stakeholders”

Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister of Sweden

“Implementing the new agenda would require fundamental changes in the way the private sector did business. We as consumers will also have to make more responsible decisions”

Arancha González, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre


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