The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

By Katie Robinson
Engineering Analyst Intern
Sustainable Investment Group (SIG)

The world today has found itself in the throes of new advancements, ideas and technologies that have proved unprecedented in the history of man, raising the question of how mankind can feasibly and sustainably support our newfound ways of life while ensuring a similar or improved quality of life for future generations.

The theory and practice of ensuring current and future generations’ quality of life lies in the term sustainable development, otherwise defined as a form of development that suits the needs of those presently living without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Its achievement hinges on the harmonization of three key elements: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection.

What is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development?

Top leaders, scientists, business professionals and many other people from all walks of life have weighed in on the issue, leading to the production of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The United Nations describes this agenda as “a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity” that aims to strengthen global peace and freedoms through the resolution of poverty and through securing the environments we inhabit. The Agenda aims to realize the human rights of all and to balance those key elements of which sustainable development is comprised. The five critical areas addressed in this 15-year plan include “people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership,” meaning the Agenda serves to improve and stabilize those key items. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development serves to enhance and replace the Millennium Development Goals originally developed by the United Nations in 2000, which addressed fewer issues and focused only on developing countries.

17 icon images for Sustainable Development Goals

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The Agenda includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030:

  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 industrialization 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
  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 revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development

How will these goals be achieved and monitored?

The Agenda spells out 169 specific targets and hundreds of indicators that provide further detail for the goals the Agenda aims to achieve and markers against which progress can be benchmarked. These outline overarching themes and more specific goals for each stakeholder to work towards. Each stakeholder and the governing body of the United Nations is expected to maintain a form of recording and analyzing progress; one such method is through use of the Social Progress Index, which can measure quality of life without economic influence, allowing for direct comparison to economic measures such as GDP.  This index measures the access to and quality of basic human needs, foundations of wellbeing and opportunity for individual countries. The results of this index show that the economic presence of a country does not directly inhibit or stimulate its social progress, and that priorities can be allotted so that social progress may grow independently of a country’s economy.

How will the Agenda be financed?

The United Nations recognizes that these can be lofty goals without providing the necessary tools for success. In order to properly support all stakeholders in the Sustainable Development Goals (governments, civil societies, members of the private sector, etc.), the Addis Ababa Action Agenda was created to outline a financial support system and plan of action. This Agenda serves to “to address the challenge of financing and creating an enabling environment at all levels for sustainable development in the spirit of global partnership and solidarity” and addresses such items as public resources, international trade and debt sustainability. However, it is ultimately the responsibility of each stakeholder to finance the steps necessary to achieve the ideals and goals outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Though the Agenda and its goals are likely the costliest global endeavor ever undertaken, these resources already exist in savings and businesses across the world and need only be allocated correctly from each financial sector (private and public as well as domestic and international sources). These funds could be donated in the name of charity from the private sector or private citizens, allocated from tax collections in the country, budgeted into a spending schedule for any nation – there exist multiple options for funding. As time passes, the United Nations and other governing bodies continue to return to the issue of financing the work needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The United Nations most recently convened for the Secretary-General’s High-Level Meeting on Financing for Sustainable Development, in which the Secretary-General provides a strategy for financing the Agenda as demands for funds and accelerated progress grow.

How does the Agenda address climate change?

A core subject of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is climate change and its implications. Climate change currently impacts “public health, food and water security, migration, peace and security” around the world. The Agenda provides methods and plans for investment in sustainable practices that will address or even mitigate climate change and its root causes, such as greenhouse gas emissions and climate resilience. Many of the goals listed in the Agenda, such as numbers 13 and 15 (13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts and 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), address climate change and the issues that stem from it. Climate change, left unchecked, could make further development impossible and negate the positive developmental changes that have been implemented in the previous few decades.

What progress has been made and what does the future look like for the Sustainable Development Goals?

The United Nations releases an annual Sustainable Development Goals Report which “highlights the progress and remaining gaps for all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).” The consensus reached for the 2018 report has shown that the rate at which progress has been achieved is not nearly rapid enough to meet the targets of the 2030 Agenda, indicating that without “immediate and accelerated action,” the SDGs lined out in the Agenda will not be met. The United Nations’ Secretary-General insists that the SDGs may only be achieved through emphatic involvement and concentration of efforts and resources on behalf of current stakeholders, new stakeholders and even private citizens. The future of the earth and humanity are dependent on everyday choices, and those with the means to positively contribute to the future are encouraged to do so before the tipping point is passed.

The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is comprehensive and ambitious to the point of being a wholly different form of development cooperation program. The Agenda “must become a new social contract” that holds leaders and citizens alike accountable in order to achieve efficacy.

What kind of volunteer opportunities exist and how may I get involved?

Hundreds of cities, nations, organizations and companies have pledged their dedication to achieving the goals outlined in the Agenda. However, not each of these places prioritizes each goal; the city of Atlanta, for example, has selected seven of the seventeen goals which its governing body feels are most relevant and critical for the city. These include goals numbers one through four, nine, eleven and thirteen which address poverty, hunger, human health, education, industry, sustainable communities and climate action. Even on the smaller scale of a city, however, there is demand for the involvement of communities, organizations, clubs and other members of the public community. A good example of those types of community groups are the hundreds of Regional Centers of Expertise (RCEs). Seven of these international organizations are located in the United States, and one of those is located in Atlanta. These groups have been acknowledged by the United Nations University as a regional sustainability networks capable of implementing community support for the Agenda through education and training. The RCE Greater Atlanta, whose focus is in Education for Sustainable Development, allows for citizen involvement through their adult and youth groups. Organizations such as this exist globally, allowing for smaller, private groups to involve themselves in attaining the 17 goals the Agenda lays out.

Though less readily funded than corporations and international organizations, private citizens may still leave an impact and influence the world for the better. Below are some of the many ways a person may involve and educate themselves and others.

  • Reach out to your local Regional Center of Expertise (RCE). The United States chapters are located in:
    1. Georgetown County, SC
    2. Grand Rapids, MI
    3. Greater Atlanta, GA
    4. Greater Burlington, VT
    5. Greater Portland, OR
    6. North Texas, TX
    7. Shenandoah Valley, VA
  • Participate in local sustainability workshops, classes, and philanthropy events. The following are quickly approaching in the Atlanta area:
  • Atlanta Studies Symposium: “Atlanta in the Anthropocene: The Making of a Resilient, Resourceful City”, April 9th, Georgia Tech, Academy of Medicine, Register
  • Southeast (U.S.) Regional Student Research Symposium, 3:00PM May 10th – 4:00PM May 11th, Atlanta Metropolitan State College, Register by April 10th

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