- UN Agenda to protect people and the environment
- The clock is ticking: targets must be reached by 2030
- Paris Climate Treaty supports the UN’s SDG goals
"We are the first generation that can put an end to poverty and we are the last generation that can put an end to climate change.” The words of the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban-Ki Moon, may sound dramatic but they are based in hard reality: 836 million people on the planet live in extreme poverty, a third of all our food is wasted, and the effects of climate change are being felt in many places. So in 2015, the UN decided it was high time to take action: it developed 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to protect the environment and ensure the future of humanity (see chart).
Nine percent of the world's economic output must flow into their implementation every year.
Time is running out: implementation by 2030
The goals are at the heart of the ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ which 193 UN member states have signed up to. The states have 15 years (from 2015) to put their plans into practice. By 2030, the Agenda states, everyone should have enough to eat and enjoy high-quality education, while consumption and production should be more sustainable and the environment should be protected. In order to achieve the SDG goals, nine percent of the world's economic output must flow into their implementation every year. This will only succeed if states, cities and individual citizens work together - this is last of the 17 goals.
The UN aims to cover all three dimensions of sustainability – social, environmental and economic – through the SDGs. And as the German Development Ministry puts it, they are "inextricably interwoven". The three dimensions are accompanied by five core messages, the so-called ‘five Ps’: People, Planet, Prosperity, Partnership and Peace. The UN measures prosperity not just by per capita income, but also human dignity, peace, a healthy environment and global cooperation. It wants to galvanise entire economies to act more sustainably.
SDGs are not the only measure
The 2030 Agenda is not the first time the world community has acted as one to save the planet. The SDG goals are based on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - eight development goals adopted by the UN together with the World Bank, the IMF and the OECD in 2000. They are very similar in content to the SDGs (which now supersede them) but not so differentiated. The UN chose the timing of the 2030 Agenda carefully: it was announced just as The Paris Climate Treaty came into force. The common goal of the 185 participating countries is keep global warming below two degrees Celsius.
So, there is an international community effort to protect the planet, but the movement still faces a huge mountain of challenges - and not all states are pulling in the same direction. The U.S. President Donald Trump announced in 2017 that he would withdraw from the Paris Climate Treaty and, despite a strong opposition coalition, that remains official policy. The future of our planet as we know it still hangs in the balance, but the UN is convinced that we still have at least one chance.
The common goal of the 185 participating countries is keep global warming below two degrees Celsius.