Evaluate the effectiveness of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)


Globally, countries have been urged to collaborate and end economic, political, and social issues that impede holistic growth. Issues such as poverty and increasing climate change cut across the board; thus, one country cannot find solutions without involving other nations. Initially, governments focused on individual development characterized by widening inequalities, social exclusion, and extensive environmental degradation; each country lacked social responsibility, ensuring fairness and equality in shared resources. The United Nations began to push efforts towards collaboration with member countries since poverty, and other social problems could be resolved entirely when all countries put efforts towards environment conservation. Although adopting sustainable development goals has led to changes and actions towards poverty eradication and environmental protection within the United Nations member states and in the international global arena, several challenges are evident, necessitating a need for strategic policies to ensure the goals are achieved within the set timelines.

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History of the SDGs

Sustainable development goals have been a topic of discussion in the 20th and 21st centuries, focusing on mitigating climate change through human activities. Notably, societal progress is based on stakeholders’ efforts comprising individuals, civil society, nations, and non-governmental organizations; each stakeholder has a role in attaining sustainable development (“Transforming Our World”). Significantly, sustainable development was adopted as a shared global concept during the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro when Agenda 21 was adopted. Agenda 21 had a comprehensive plan for building a global partnership to improve the quality of life and protect the environment. Afterward, in 2000, the member states at the Millennium Summit adopted the Millennium Declaration particularizing the eight-millennium development goals aimed at ending extreme poverty by 2015.

During the 2002 World Summit in South Africa, the United Nations member states deliberated on an implementation plan for sustainable development focusing on multilateral partnerships. The Johannesburg Declaration reiterated the global commitment to eradicate poverty and improve the environment (“Transforming Our World”). As the impact of environmental degradation continued to cause adverse weather conditions and events, countries sought a way to mitigate the effects and promote sustainable development, culminating in the proposition of three hundred proposed goals from different stakeholders after years of deliberation and prioritization. The list was amended to 17 sustainable development goals adopted during the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in 2015, acting as the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

Are the SDGs on Track to being achieved?

The 17 sustainable development goals have seen increased multilateral partnerships between countries but significant challenges; for example, the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic has derailed and reduced progress. The tracking indicators for the development goals reveal progress in some nations while others are off-track in attaining the goals. Overall, the reports on sustainable development goals show that the world is not on track to achieve the plans for various reasons, including political and social issues. An analysis of individual goals indicates a lack of progress in achieving the desired effect by 2030, as illustrated below from the United Nations statistics report.  

  • Goal 1; end poverty in all its forms everywhere: Since SDGs adoption, stakeholders like non-governmental organizations and civil society movements have called on governments to eliminate societal inequalities. However, not much has been done to reform structural inequalities, and the coronavirus pandemic revealed the current issues despite affecting income and employment. Most governments were forced to institute lockdown restrictions resulting in a rise in extreme poverty in 2020; the statistics indicate that an additional 199-124 million people were pushed into poverty. As a result, by 2030, the projected poverty will stand at 7% (Swain 342).
  • Goal 2; end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture: most developing countries still experience hunger. The pandemic has exacerbated world hunger and worsened child malnutrition. Data indicate that 2.37 billion people are without food or cannot regularly eat a healthy balanced diet (Swain 342).
  • Goal 3; ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages. A decade of progress occurred when reproductive, maternal, and child health improved. Also, life expectancy had improved before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. However, the pandemic has reversed some of these gains and increased the strain on healthcare workers and resources.
  • Goal 4; ensure inclusive and equitable education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Since 2010 there has been increased participation in organized pre-primary learning, from 65% in 2010 to 73% in 2019 (Swain 344). However, the pandemic has wiped out years of educational gains as most countries had not invested in basic school infrastructure to build back better after opening public institutions.
  • Goal 5; achieve gender equity and empower all women and girls. Worldwide violence against women still persists, with statistics indicating that 1 to 3 women have been subjected to physical or sexual abuse at least once in their lifetime from age 15 years. Also, women’s representation in national parliaments and local governments is still lacking; 25. 6 % of women in national parliaments and 36.3% of women in local governments. Moreover, the pandemic has increased the burden of unpaid domestic and care work worldwide.
  • Goal 6; ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. Statistics indicate that billions of people lack access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene. 2.3 billion people live in water-stressed regions, and a total of 19 countries are not on track to sustainably manage water resources by 2030 (Swain 346).
  • Goal 7; ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all. By 2019, 1/3 of the world’s population used dangerous and inefficient cooking systems. Also, 759 million people lack access to electricity, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. There needs to be accelerated action on renewable energy in the heating and transport sectors.
  • Goal 8; promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, total and reproductive employment, and decent work for all. Despite the impact of the pandemic, the global GDP per capita has increased during the recovery period. However, individuals in informal employment are significantly impacted by crises due to a lack of protection policies.
  • Goal 9; build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation. Currently, the manufacture of medium to high-tech has increased from 2019’s data. However, 300 out of 520 million rural dwellers lack good roads.
  • Goal 10; reduce inequality within and among countries. Most countries are off-track since the proportion of refugees’ global population has doubled since 2010. Additionally, the remittance costs are low, and difficult to meet the 3% target.
  • Goal 11; make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. Half of the 156 countries that have developed national urban policies have reached the implementation phase (Swain 348). Furthermore, ½ of the world’s population has convenient public transport access.
  • Goal 12; ensure sustained consumption and production patterns. As of 2019, each individual generated 7.3 kilograms of e-waste, but 1.7 kilograms was recycled; hence, electronic waste still bourgeons and is not disposed of responsibly (Swain 348). Additionally, fossil fuel subsidies threaten the achievement of the 2030 agenda.
  • Goal 13; take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact. The statistics show that countries are off track in meeting the target of 1.5 degrees Celsius, as stated in the Paris Agreement resulting in persistent climate crises. However, 125 of 154 developing countries have formulated and implemented national climate adaptation plans.
  • Goal 14; conserve and sustainably use oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development. So far, half of the countries worldwide have adopted initiatives to support small-scale fishers. However, the sustainability of oceans is still under threat due to plastic pollution, acidification, and eutrophication.
  • Goal 15; Protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss (Swain 352). Progress has been made towards sustainable forest management, although the world has lost 100 hectares of forest in two decades, from 2000 to 2010. Notably, countries have adopted legislation for preventing or controlling invasive alien species.
  • Goal 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. Only 82 countries have independent national human rights institutions complying with international standards. Also, bribery is higher in low-income countries (37.6%) than in high-income countries (7.2%).
  • Goal 17; Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development. The pandemic impacted foreign direct investment, with a drop of 40% from 2019 to 2020. Data shows that 6% of low and lower-middle-income countries need additional financing for data and statistics.

Implications of Whether the Goals can be Achieved or not and Recommendation to the United Nations

The sustainable development goals aim to improve the quality of life and protect the environment; therefore, achieving the 17 goals will promote biodiversity, manage climate change, and attain basic human needs (Leal-Filho et al. 3). In contrast, if the goals remain unachieved, governments will find it challenging to address human needs due to depletion and degradation of resources. Furthermore, managing climate change will be challenging since it requires collective action and partnerships.

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The United Nations should jettison inexplicit goals which promote weak implementation. There should be defined indicators and benchmarks that stipulate milestones in the implementation process (Hák et al. 565). Also, the UN should have formal agreements with the government to ensure commitment toward implementing the goals. Maintaining multilateral partnerships is complex hence the need for legal agreements and policies or strategies to coordinate collective action. Defining the goals will eliminate trade-offs stemming from conflicting goals.


Works Cited

Hák, Tomáš, Svatava Janoušková, and Bedřich Moldan. “Sustainable Development Goals: A need for relevant indicators.” Ecological indicators vol. 60, 2016, pp. 565-573.

Leal-Filho, Walter, et al. “Heading towards an unsustainable world: some of the implications of not achieving the SDGs.” Discover Sustainability vol. 1, no. 1, 2020, pp. 1-11.

Swain, Ranjula Bali. “A critical analysis of the sustainable development goals.” Handbook of sustainability science and research. Springer, Cham, 2018, pp. 341-355.

“Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda For Sustainable Development | Department Of Economic And Social Affairs”. Sdgs.Un.Org, 2022, https://sdgs.un.org/2030agenda.

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