The Key to Our Future: the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Cook and culture

Written by cookandculture | Edited by Aditi Khandewal & Audrey Madison

March 30, 2021

In 2015, the United Nations created the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and at the root of this agenda, came the 17 sustainable development goals.  According to the United Nations, the sustainable development goals are “an urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing – in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.” So what are the 17 goals?

17 UN Sustainable Development Goals: 
national flags of the United Nations members
Goal 1: No Poverty
End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
Goal 2: Zero Hunger
End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being
Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
Goal 4: Quality Education:
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
Goal 5: Gender Equality
Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation:
Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
Ensure access to affordable, reliable, and sustainable modern energy for all.
many windmills in a field of purple flowers
Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
Goal 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.
Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities
Reduce inequality within and among countries.
Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
red house floating on muddy water in Cambodia
Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
Goal 13: Climate Action
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
Goal 14: Life Below Water
Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development.
Goal 15: Life on Land
Protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
Goal 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals
Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.

Why are the Goals Important?

cherry tomatoes in a basket reflecting food security

Now more than ever, it is important to understand how the interdependence between each sustainable development goal. Together, they truly are the key to global sustainability and what’s more, our future. The sustainable development goals provide a “global blueprint for dignity, peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and in the future” (United Nations). Moreover, a lack of progress on one goal hinders progress on another. For example, climate action, goal 13, cannot be achieved without progress in goal 12, responsible consumption and production. Health and well-being, goal 3, cannot be achieved without eliminating poverty and global hunger, goals 1 and 2, respectively.

“The 17 goals represent an indivisible tapestry of thinking and action that applies in every community everywhere in the world. They are universal, and also indivisible. Though they are presented as individual goals, they actually represent a total, completely intertwined lattice of action that is relevant for human beings everywhere” (David Nabarro, 2019).

How are These Goals the Key to Sustainability and our Future?

small boy holding a sign as a climate change activist

It’s no secret that the world is dramatically changing due to exploitative human behavior. Increased use of fossil fuels, irresponsible consumption and production, and degradation of natural areas are a few of the ways that humans are impacting the planet. If we do not change our actions, we could cause irreversible damage to the planet. This would disrupt the global food chain, cause sea level rise affecting those living on the coasts, create a clean drinking water crisis, and more. The 17 sustainable development goals combat problems on a global scale. If we achieve these goals, we will be set up for a sustainable future.

Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals

an agronomist advising a farmer in a cornfield

In 2020, pressures worldwide increased with the impact of COVID-19 globally. Progress on many of the goals was halted and unfortunately, many problems worsened due to the global pandemic. Here is a status update on each of the goals:

Goal 1: Zero Poverty
Before the pandemic, the world was off track to reach zero poverty by 2030. An estimated 6% of people would still be in poverty by the end of 2030. However, during the pandemic, these numbers rose tremendously, with the virus pushing 71 million more people into poverty in 2020 alone.
Goal 2: Zero Hunger
Before COVID-19, food insecurity was already on the rise. “The economic slowdown and the disruption of food value chains caused by the pandemic are exacerbating hunger and food insecurity. In addition, the upsurge in desert locusts remains alarming in East Africa and Yemen, where 35 million persons already experience acute food insecurity” (Sustainable Development Goals).

young cabbage growing in a field

Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being
While progress has been made in many areas, immunizations, child health, and maternal health are a few of the areas that need acceleration to meet the 2030 goal. The pandemic has interrupted childhood immunization programs in around 70 countries.
Goal 4: Quality Education
Because of the worldwide shut down of schools, progress on goal four was halted dramatically. Remote learning remains out of reach for at least 500 million students worldwide.
Goal 5: Gender Equality
Many large milestones have been met for this goal, including more women in leadership roles and fewer girls forced into an early marriage. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, lockdowns are increasing domestic violence against women and girls, with cases increasing by 30% in some countries.
Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
Even though there has been progress on this goal, it is not enough to reach the 2030 intended success. By 2030, water scarcity could displace 700 million people.
Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
Sustainable energy for all is still a wide and far reach. As of 2018, 789 million people still lacked electricity.  
Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
COVID-19 has greatly impacted this goal as the world suffered its worst economic recession since the Great Depression.
Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
Before the pandemic, manufacturing growth was declining. Due to the pandemic, the aviation industry has suffered the steepest decline in history, dropping air passenger numbers 50% in 2020.
Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities
Due to COVID-19, the most vulnerable groups are being hit the hardest by the pandemic, including older persons, persons with disabilities, children, women, migrants, and refugees.
Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
Due to COVID-19, the most vulnerable groups are being hit the hardest by the pandemic, including: older persons, persons with disabilities, children, women, and migrants and refugees.
Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
The world continues to use natural resources unsustainably, however, the pandemic offers an opportunity to develop recovery plans “that will reverse current trends and change consumption and production patterns towards a sustainable future” (Sustainable Development Goals).
Goal 13: Climate Action
While COVID-19 may have resulted in a 6% drop in greenhouse gas emissions for 2020, we were still short of 7.6% annual reduction in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius.
Goal 14: Life Below Water
Ocean acidification continues to threaten marine life and ecosystems. However, a drastic reduction in human activity due to COVID-19 may give the oceans time to rejuvenate.
Goal 15: Life on Land
“Efforts were gaining traction and having positive effects that could help to reverse those outcomes, such as increased progress towards sustainable forest management; gains in protected area coverage for terrestrial, freshwater and mountain areas; and progress in implementing programmes, legislation and accounting principles to protect biodiversity and ecosystems” (United Nations).
Goal 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
Conflict, insecurity, weak institutions and limited access to justice remain a great threat to sustainable development” (Sustainable Development Goals). Due to COVID-19, millions of people have been deprived of their security, human rights and access to justice.
Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals
Aid to the least developed countries rose 2.6% from 2018 to 2019. However, due to the global pandemic, global foreign investment is expected to decline 40% in 2020.

How to Implement the Goals Into Your Life

If you are anything like me, you are definitely thinking, “what can I do to help?” Luckily, there are so many ways that you can implement the sustainable development goals into your life. Check out just a few ways that you can help by exploring the tabs below, broken down by goal:
Zero poverty. Lend money to people or upcoming businesses. Help get people on their feet one person at a time. 
Zero Hunger. To help achieve this goal, you can donate food to local food pantries and communities, reduce your own personal food waste, volunteer, and donate money to organizations supporting zero hunger. Check out “The Untold Story of Food Deserts” on our page to learn more about how to get involved.

pantry items like beans, lentils, and legumes in glass jars

You can promote good health and well-being by volunteering at a clinic or organizations that work towards health and well-being. Some include the Red Cross, American Health Association, and the World Health Organization

“Quality education starts with you – as a student, as a parent or as a teacher, we all get a say in how we educate the next generations and what tools we give them to build our future” (Good Deeds). Teach a class at a local community center, read books at your local library, and support organizations that promote education.

Look up organizations that promote women and girls. Volunteer, donate, and participate in their events. Some examples include Association for Women’s rights and development, Girls on the Run, and the Global Fund for Women.

There are many ways you can help achieve clean water for all. Harvest your rainwater, educate on clean water importance, and promote new water conservation technologies.

Ensuring universal access to affordable electricity by 2030 means investing in clean energy sources such as solar, wind, and thermal,” says Goal Seven. One way you can help achieve this goal is by looking into alternative energy sources for your home and community. Alternatively, support organizations working to advance clean energy and cut back on the electricity you use.
One of the ways to create sustainable economic growth is to create jobs that do not harm the environment. Support and promote green jobs, startups that aim to protect the environment, and small local businesses. Try purchasing food and produce that comes as close to your home as possible. For more information on local food, check out our page on “The Sustainability of Eating Local”.

an open sign at the front door of a small local business

Support sustainable industry, infrastructure, and innovation by voting with your dollar! Support local businesses to help local economies recover. Pay attention to the ways you can support sustainable development in your community. Volunteer, donate, and get involved in policy initiatives.

Reduced inequalities. To help fight inequality in countries throughout the world, donate, volunteer with and support organizations such as the World Bank Group (WBG), Financial Stability Board (FSB), and United Nations.

 In order to help achieve sustainable cities and communities, you can encourage healthy diets, manage your food waste, and promote urban agriculture.
An easy tip to help out in goal twelve is to understand where your products are coming from and what they are made out of. Opt for products that are eco-friendly and those that do not harm the environment. Learn about the importance of responsible consumption from our article, “How Plastic Pollution Has Entered Our Food and Tips to Stop it” which gives you tips on reducing the use of single-use plastics. 

eco-friendly reusable bags, utensils, jars, and cups

One of the best things you can do to help climate change is to look at your carbon footprint. See what areas of your lifestyle you can change to improve your carbon footprint using this ecological footprint calculator.  
To help achieve healthy life below water, opt for sustainable seafood choices, minimize the use of single-use plastics, fish responsibly, and practice safe boating. Read our blog on “The Secret to Sustainable Seafood” for more ways to improve life below water. 
To improve life on land, make an effort to restore biodiversity. You could plant native flowers, fruits, and vegetables in your yard, take shorter showers, support the save the bees movement, know the source of your clothing, and respect local habitats. Further, prevent palm oil deforestation with the tips on our article, “Five Tips For How You Can Help Stop Palm Oil Deforestation”.
In order to foster peace, justice, and strong institutions, volunteer and help those who need it.
You can help create partnerships for the goals by sharing this article with a friend. Alternatively, start a conversation about the sustainable development goals with a friend. Finally, support the United Nations in their effort for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Overall, the sustainable development goals NEED to be met to ensure a long-lasting and prosperous future for all. While COVID-19 has halted progress on most goals, all hope is not lost. There are many ways you can help in achieving the 2030 goals.

Which ways will you help?

Let us know in what ways you helped by tagging us on social media @CookandCulture!


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