The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) were adopted in 2015 to address the immediate needs of social, economic, and environmental challenges across the world. These goals were ideated in the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development in Brazil and replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs were a set of 8 goals adopted by 189 nations and signed by 147 heads of state and governments during the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000. The MDGs were supposed to be conquered by 2015 and their success rate was such that the world’s extreme poverty rate was cut down to half.
With the agenda of majorly advancing toward sustainable development by 2030, the UN SDGs comprise 17 goals requiring prompt action from developed and developing nations. For a sustainable world, ending poverty and other shortcomings must go alongside strategic improvements in healthcare, education, equality, and economic growth while addressing climate change, rising sea levels, and global warming.
The SDGs are not legally binding, but to achieve a sustainable future by 2030 governments are expected to take this up voluntarily and develop a framework to accomplish the 17 goals.
The 17 Goals
1. No Poverty
This goal focuses on ending poverty and attaining a sustainably managed environment for socio-economic development. The 2022 global poverty line stands at $2.15 and as per the ‘Poverty and shared prosperity report 2022’, published by the World Bank, it was estimated that 7% of the world’s population, i.e., approximately 574 million people will struggle in extreme poverty by 2030. While the goal of eradicating poverty seems unattainable, immediate cooperation by global collations is required to minimize its impact.
2. Zero Hunger
The year 2022 has been characterized as one of unprecedented hunger. Obstacles like the pandemic, extreme climatic changes, economic shocks, and growing inequalities have all derailed the world from achieving zero hunger by 2030. The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that as many as 828 million people go to bed hungry every night and a total of 49 million people in 49 countries are on the edge of famine. If there is any lag in the joint efforts of organizations the world over its consequences would be the obstruction of growth and loss of lives.
3. Good Health and Well-being
The target of this goal is to substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water, and soil pollution and contamination. As of mid-2022, Covid19 had impacted more than 500 million people worldwide, disrupted essential healthcare, and triggered anxiety and depression throughout. Even before the pandemic, universal health coverage had witnessed alarming trends, and post that, progress made previously had also come to a halt. Urgent and immediate action is needed to bring the world back on track for achieving this goal.
4. Quality Education
It is estimated that 147 million children missed more than half of their in-person classroom training, owing to the pandemic. This could translate to a loss of a combined total of $17 trillion in lifetime earnings in present value. The three pillars of quality education, that Governments and corporates around the world over need to focus on, are the availability of qualified teachers, utilization of earning resources, and professional development.
5. Gender Equality
As per UNICEF, 1 in 4 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are neither employed nor in education or training – compared to 1 in 10 boys. Violence against women, child marriage, and female genital mutilation are some piercing factors that need to be addressed.
6. Clean Water and Sanitation
This goal goes beyond drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene to address the quality and sustainability of water resources, upon which survival depends. As per the Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022, 8,29,000 people die each year from diseases attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene. Every step taken in restoring water-related ecosystems and their biodiversity can help ensure sustainable and equitable distribution of water and contribute to saving lives.
7. Affordable and Clean Energy
Clean energy is energy that is sourced from renewable sources with zero emissions and no pollution. Since 1990, global carbon emissions have increased by 46%, and energy alone accounts for around 60% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Millions of people lack access to electricity and the slow progress toward clean cooking solutions means that the health of 2.4 billion people is at risk. Although the accomplishment of the goal of affordable and clean energy is far behind its required target, mitigating risks that arise from it will require massive efforts and capital contributions, especially in developing countries.
8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
While the employment rates have been on the rise post the pandemic, they still haven’t reached the pre-pandemic levels. And with the global recession on the way, global economic growth is soon expected to witness a setback. Sustained and inclusive economic growth is what global institutions should be focusing on now. Joint efforts from all over the world may help minimize the massive disruption that economies could face.
9. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
Modernizing existing technologies or creating new ones can help reduce environmental risks, build resilience and raise efficiency. The pandemic was one such incident that showcased companies that invested in updated innovation and were better placed than those who didn’t.
10. Reduced Inequalities
While income inequalities were seen to be closing in, the pandemic reversed all such positive effects, and countries with relatively low incomes are now falling behind. With the aim of ensuring equal opportunities and reducing inequity by eliminating discriminatory practices, the achievement of this goal has a long way to go.
11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
Making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable is what this goal focuses on. Although the world’s cities occupy just 3% of the Earth’s surface, it accounts for 60-80% of energy consumption and 75% of carbon emissions. The achievement of this goal involves strengthening the resilience of cities through high-quality infrastructure and accomplishing universal access to basic services.
12. Sustainable Consumption and Production
Climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution are the 3 crises this goal seeks to address. Recovering from the pandemic in a sustainable manner would require cooperation from governments, corporations, and citizens alike. Everyone would have to work together to improve resource efficiency, reduce pollution, and shape a circular economy.
13. Climate Action
Climate change is causing troublesome events like heat waves, droughts, floods, and infrastructure damage, and interrupting the provision of basic services like water, sanitation, education, energy, and transportation. For institutions wanting to take action for combatting climate change, there are 3 broad categories of action: cut emissions, adapt to climate impacts and finance required adjustments.
14. Life below Water
The conservation of the ocean, seas, and other marine resources have now become vital for human well-being and social and economic development. However, oceans and coastal areas are extremely vulnerable to environmental degradation, overfishing, climate change, and pollution. Steps need to be taken to achieve a sustainable blue economy and improve ocean health.
15. Life on Land
This goal targets to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, reduce deforestation, tackle desertification, and stop land degradation and biodiversity loss. Only if this goal is met, shall the benefits of land-based ecosystems be enjoyed by our future generations.
16. Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
Given the high cost of war, this goal aims to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels. Protecting human rights, establishing equitable legislation, and ending armed conflicts are essential prerequisites for sustainable development.
17. Partnerships for the Goals
This goal aims to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development. For sustainable, large-scale solutions, international cooperation is required. This will help countries benefit from each other’s economies of scale, generate low waste, treat pollution, and mitigate climate change.
Companies that use UN SDGs
Most of the world’s best-known brands are supporting sustainable development goals and these include:
1. Coca-Cola Integrated Annual Report 2021 – This report displayed its sustainability goals in line with the UN SDGs. For instance, it stated its packaging and waste management are in alignment with UN SDGs 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, and 17.
2. Huawei Sustainability Report 2021 – Huawei tabulated all its disclosures and aligned each of them with the UN SDGs. For example, it wrote about driving equity and quality education and explained how that is in alignment with UN SDGs 3, 4, 8, 13, 14, and 15.
3. Nike Impact Report 2021 – Nike, like Huawei, also tabulated all its disclosures and mapped them with the UN SDGs. In doing so, it highlighted how its energy consumption conforms to UN SDG 7, 8, 12, and 13.
4. Lego Sustainability Progress 2021 – Lego aligned their priorities to 2 UN SDGs, i.e., 4 and 12, and tracked most of their activities with respect to quality education and responsible consumption and production.
5. The Walt Disney CSR Report 2020 – This report illustrated how its CSR activities support the SDGs. For instance, to comply with SDG 4, they provided leading STEM education non-profit ‘First’ a $1.5 million grant to expand access to their robotics programs for underrepresented youth.
However, it is not just the large corporations, many small companies have also pledged to do what they can to reinforce the UN SDGs. Regardless, as per the MSCI All Country World Index, only 0.2% of the companies are strongly aligned with the goals, while 193 countries are on board.
Given the increasing importance of the UN SDGs, it is recommended that your company also adopt this framework and impactfully display its positive contributions towards sustainable development.
This may seem like a daunting task but, Report Yak, which is a specialized corporate reporting agency can help you seamlessly communicate your strategies with your stakeholders. We conceptualize, write compelling content, and design corporate reports including annual reports, integrated reports, quarterly reports, impact reports, sustainability reports, etc. Check out our work and feel free to reach out with any queries.