I’d recently taken a sustainable fashion course after learning about the worsening treatment of garment workers during the pandemic. It was during this course that I first heard about the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). After learning how the goals were linked to the fashion industry, I was astonished that I hadn’t heard of the SDGs sooner – these goals are paramount to protecting people and the planet. I was aware of the Paris Agreement but was completely ignorant of the SDG framework. I took the step to explore them further and to learn how fundamental they are to achieving a sustainable world. Here’s what I learnt and what you should be aware of it too.

It all started in 2015 when the United Nations Member States set out a target to meet 17 Sustainable Development Goals to guide global development by 2030. The goals are related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice.

Why are the SDGs important and how can they be achieved? All member states are committed to finding solutions to the problems that affect our world. The success of the agenda relies on the world’s governments to provide strategies and resources that can meet and fulfil the SDGs.

But are the world’s governments doing enough to meet the goals? It seems that they’re struggling. In the UK, the country’s government performance has been inadequate in important policy areas, such as combating hunger and food insecurity domestically. A recent report on Asia and the Pacific’s progress found that they’re unlikely to achieve the SDGs by 2030 without accelerated action, particularly on environmental sustainability. In Africa, if urgent action isn’t taken immediately, climate change could threaten food security and nutrition, and increase the risk of natural disasters. And of course, COVID-19 will have a detrimental effect on SDG progress with the world’s poorest and most vulnerable affected the most. The world needs to do more to enforce action.

At a recent side event of the UN General Assembly last month, Malala Yosafzai criticised member states on their lack of progress by bluntly asking, “When are you planning to do the work?”

“When will you commit the necessary funding to give every child 12 years of quality education? When will you prioritize peace and protect refugees? When will you pass policies to cut carbon emissions?” Yosafzai continued.

The actions by governments, businesses and citizens are crucial to the success of the goals. But at its core, the SDGs relies on science to achieve the UN’s ambitions. In a 2019 UN report, 15 scientists offer their perspective and their warnings are damning: inequality is on the rise, we’re nearing biodiversity and climate change crisis (or can argue we’re already there), and critical measures are needed to ensure a sustainable future for the 8.5 billion people expected to be on this planet in 2030.

The scientists provide these recommendations:

  • Instead of working separately on the 17 goals, action needs to be more collective as SDGs are highly interlinked;
  • Interventions in developed countries should be different from those in developing countries;
  • Developed countries need to change their production and consumption patterns, such as cutting down on fossil fuels and plastics;
  • Countries should provide universal access to basic services like health, education, and water;
  • Food and nutrition systems should be transformed to support good health while minimizing environmental impact;
  • The global energy system needs reshaping to facilitate a transition to net-zero CO2 emissions;
  • Governments should promote people-centred and pro-poor policies and investments for liveable cities.

There’s a lot of work that needs to be done over the next 10 years. But is there anything we can do as citizens to achieve and raise awareness of the goals? Here are some tips on how you can play a role no matter how small:

  • Explore and read about the 17 SDGs here. Remember, knowledge is power! 
  • The UN has put together a guide called ‘The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World’. As they say, there are easy ideas we can adopt into our routines. If we all contribute, it will make a huge difference.
  • Take this free FutureLearn course called the ‘Organising for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)’ delivered by Hanken School of Economics where they cover topics on how the SDGs relate to social development, environment and economic development. 
  • Take to social media to raise awareness on the SDGs and to share your learnings!

If we can all do our bit and take the time to understand the UN Sustainable Development Goals and raise awareness of the goals, we can add pressure on member states as citizens for them to deliver on their promise. Our future is at stake. If member states don’t deliver, they will pay the ultimate price by witnessing the deterioration of our planet and will face citizens they have betrayed – all because they couldn’t deliver on their promise.

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Rebecca Azad

By Rebecca Azad

Editorial Fellow