U.N. Dreams Big: 17 Huge New Goals To Build A Better World

Sep 25, 2015
Originally published on September 26, 2015 1:45 pm

At the United Nations General Assembly this weekend in New York, U.N. member states are set to adopt the new Sustainable Development Goals. The goals are meant to guide development priorities around the globe over the next 15 years. Critics and supporters alike are declaring them to be highly ambitious — maybe even too ambitious.

The SDGs, as they've come to be called in humanitarian lingo, replace the Millennium Development Goals, which were adopted in 2000 and expire this year.

The MDGs dealt primarily with poverty, education and health in the poorest countries. The SDGs hit all of those topics but also tackle global inequality, environmental issues and access to technology.

Here's a rundown of the 17 goals and some of the key targets included in the 169 sub-goals. Here's where you'll find the complete list with all the sub-goals.

1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere.

This is one of the most ambitious goals. It includes a target of having no one living in extreme poverty — less than $1.25 a day — anywhere in the world by the year 2030.

2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.

This goal calls for a doubling of agricultural production by small-scale farmers.

3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

This SDG sets a target of getting global maternal mortality (the number of women who die each year during childbirth) down from the current rate of more than 200 per 100,000 live births to 70. Many African nations would need to dramatically improve conditions for pregnant mothers to reach this target. In South Sudan, for instance, more than 2,000 of every 100,000 pregnant mothers die each year as a result of giving birth.

4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

The expiring MDGs called for universal access to primary school. The SDGs say that students everywhere should have free access to education through high school.

5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

This goal aims to end discrimination and violence toward women and girls. It also calls for the elimination of child marriage and female genital mutilation.

6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

This goal calls for toilets and clean drinking water for everyone.

It also calls for protecting and restoring natural water resources over the next five years.

7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

This goal calls for universal access to electricity and more renewable energy.

8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

This item sets an ambitious annual economic growth target of 7 percent per year for the poorest nations.

9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.

This goal calls for increased technological assistance from developed countries to poorer nations to modernize roads, dams, electrical grids and other infrastructure.

10. Reduce inequality within and among countries.

This target tries to address the growing gap that's emerged globally between the "haves" and the "have-nots."

11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Say goodbye to slums. This goal envisions sustainable, livable urban centers with universal access to green spaces.

12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

This section sets bold targets for cutting in half food waste by the year 2030 and over the next five years overhauling industrial waste streams.

13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

This goal acknowledges climate change and then notes that the real work on this issue will come at the U.N. Conference on Climate Change later this year in Paris.

14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

This goal calls for sustainable management of marine fisheries by 2020 and elimination of marine pollution by 2025.

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.

This goal calls for the same protection of land that No. 14 demands for the sea.

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.

In other words: We should all live in harmony. The goal also calls for an end to violence and corruption.

17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.

This final goal calls for rich nations to give more assistance to poorer countries and to help less developed nations progress.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


This year, the U.N. is launching a new set of goals, ones that seem to resonate with Pope Francis's message of mercy. They include commitments to end poverty, hunger and AIDS around the world by the year 2030. Some people wonder if the goals are too ambitious. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Who says bureaucrats don't dream big anymore? The U.N. General Assembly is about to adopt a set of targets for the year 2030 that, if achieved, could transform life on earth. The so-called Sustainable Development Goals replace the Millennium Development Goals, which were adopted in the year 2000 and expire this year. The old goals were ambitious and the new ones even more so. There are 17 targets and 169 sub-goals including to end poverty in all its forms everywhere, combat climate change, cut marine pollution, slash maternal mortality rates by two thirds, provide free secondary school education to every child and expand the global middle class. Some critics say this plan is taking on too many things.

SCOTT WISOR: I think all we've gotten is a bloated list of goals that won't be reached and won't do much to guide development priorities in the coming years.

BEAUBIEN: Scott Wisor is with The Centre for the Study of Global Ethics at the University of Birmingham in England. He says that interest groups fought to shove every issue imaginable into these goals, and the end result fails to balance how some of the objectives are at odds with others. For instance, moving billions of people out of poverty is probably going to lead to a lot more pollution. And he says some of the targets are unachievable.

WISOR: Countries are supposed to grow at 7 percent per year, so this is historically extremely high growth.

BEAUBIEN: China, for instance, had growth of just over 7 percent for the last couple of years. Sustained economic growth of 7 percent is an economist's dream.

WISOR: And then it's supposed to occur across all developing countries. So Syria and South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burma are all supposed to grow like this. And if they fail to, then they've failed to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. So it's hard for me to see how that's a useful exercise in guiding development priorities.

BEAUBIEN: But Homi Kharas at the Brookings Institution praises these new goals and says the targets are reasonable.

HOMI KHARAS: Of course we want to be ambitious.

BEAUBIEN: After all, the whole idea here is to say we can make the world better.

KHARAS: If we were prepared to just live in a world where things go along in the same way as they've been going, then we wouldn't need these goals.

BEAUBIEN: The expiring Millennium Development Goals dealt primarily with poverty, education and health in the poorest countries. The new Sustainable Development Goals hit all of those topics but also cover gender inequities, environmental issues, access to water, electricity and communications technology. Even as the world faces droughts, wars, boat-loads of migrants and other problems, Kharas says he's optimistic that these new targets are achievable over the next 15 years.

KHARAS: Of course this is going to be a difficult period; that's actually why we need to have goals and cooperative and collective action. If it was a really great period for development, then every country could just go off and do whatever it wants to do and achieve a certain degree of success.

BEAUBIEN: Whether these goals succeed or fail won't just rest on whether governments and agencies establish certain policies. The world is a messy place. Another earthquake like the one in Nepal or a civil war like the one in Syria could become a major stumbling block for the Sustainable Development Goals. Kharas says that's why it's important to be ambitious from the get-go. Jason Beaubien, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.