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UN SDGs: An Introduction to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals


In this post, you’ll get a brief introduction into each of the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), why they matter, and what you can do to help.

From Greta Thunberg to the international press to talk around the water cooler at work, “sustainable development goals” are on everyone’s minds. And that’s great!

But, what are the sustainable development goals, actually?

And, what can you do to help?

In this post, we outline each of the United Nations‘ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to give you an idea of what they entail. Then, we’ll give you some key stats to prove why each SDG is important, followed by how you can take action on each goal.

Let’s get started!

Un SDG Logo 2

What Are the Sustainable Development Goals?

Back in 2015, all United Nations member states adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an ambitious plan of action to tackle a variety of global challenges, such as poverty, human rights, and climate change, by 2030.

In that agenda, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, were laid out, as well as 169 targets for a better world. Each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals address one major challenge facing the world, from hunger to inequality. Each goal on the list is interconnected with the others; to solve one, we have to solve them all.

Here’s a quick video introduction on the SDGs, or read on below to learn about each of them in detail!

Related Read: What is the United Nations? A Quick Intro, History, and List of Members

Here’s a chart with all the UN Sustainable Development Goals:

ALL UN SDG Goals Poster


Here are the 17 sustainable development goals in detail:

SDG #1: No Poverty

UN sustainable development goal 1

Sustainable Development Goal #1 is to end poverty in all its forms everywhere.

Why does it matter?

For people living in poverty, especially those in extreme poverty, they have few ways to access basic life necessities, such as healthcare, education, and food.

“Our wellbeing is linked to each other. Growing inequality is detrimental to economic growth and undermines social cohesion, increasing political and social tensions and, in some circumstances, driving instability and conflicts.”

Key facts & figures

  • 55% of the world has no access to social protection. (2018)
  • 10% of the world population—more than 700 million people—live in extreme poverty (less than $1.90 per day).
  • 46% of extremely poor people are children under 14 years old.

What can you do?

Be engaged in current policies and policymaking at local, national, and international levels, because every vote and every voice counts. Also, donate clothes, equipment, and other items you don’t use or need.

More resources on ending poverty:

SDG #2: Zero Hunger

UN sustainable development goal 2

Sustainable Development Goal #2 is to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.

Why does it matter?

Though the number of undernourished people has declined from past decades, there has been an increase in hunger since 2014, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. There, there were 195 million people in 2014 considered as undernourished, but by 2017, that number had jumped to 237 million.

Key facts & figures

  • Over 800 million people were undernourished worldwide in 2017.
  • Poor nutrition is responsible for a whopping 45% of deaths for children under 5 years old, which comes out to over 3 million children per year.
  • For every 3 women of reproductive age, 1 is anemic.

What can you do?

Support local farmers, because agriculture is the largest single employer in the world (40% of world’s population). Also, waste less food. It’s estimated that over one-third of all food produced in the world is wasted, yet there are almost a billion people undernourished.

More resources on fighting hunger:

SDG #3: Good Health and Well-Being

UN sustainable development goal 3

Sustainable Development Goal #3 is to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

Why does it matter?

We’ve made excellent progress in the past with almost eradicating some diseases, such as polio, but we need a final push to rid it for good. Unfortunately, there has been a recent stalling of progress related to tuberculosis and malaria. Major medical situations and emergencies force many people in poverty to have to make tough decisions, either getting medical help or keeping food on the table or children in school.

Key facts & figures

  • More than half of the world still has no access to necessary health supplies and services.
  • A relatively negligible $1 billion to cover immunizations could save 1 million lives of children.
  • In 2017, almost 37 million people around the world had HIV, including 1.8 million new people in that year alone.

What can you do?

Vaccinate yourself and those you are responsible for, as this goal begins with you. Encourage others to get vaccinated, as well, and dispel any myths you hear about the evils or dangers of vaccines. Raise awareness through your actions, and hold your government leaders accountable.

More resources on increasing health and wellbeing:

SDG #4: Quality Education

UN sustainable development goal 4

Sustainable Development Goal #4 is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Why does it matter?

Education is everything. With a proper education, children raised in poverty have a fighting chance to bring themselves out of it, even prosper. Anti-vaxxing would not be an issue, and we’d quickly improve on the fronts of gender equality, sustainability, and climate change, among others.

Key facts & figures

  • Well over 600 million children around the world don’t have basic math or literacy skills.
  • 262 million children remain out of school, and more than half of those are in sub-Saharan Africa.

What can you do?

Start in your own backyard. Be a mentor to children and teenagers in your own community and neighborhood, whether in reading, math, science, or other subjects. Ensure your government leaders give education the funding and priority which it deserves, and show support to companies which improve access to education and technology in developing countries.

More resources on providing quality education to all:

SDG #5: Gender Equality

UN sustainable development goal 5

Sustainable Development Goal #5 is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Why does it matter?

Women represent half the world’s population, but far less than that in terms of rights, healthcare, and education. Not only is gender equality the right thing, but its progress improves other areas, as well, such as the economy and education.

Key facts & figures

  • More than 200 million women in at least 30 countries have undergone female genital mutilation.
  • Women represented only 23.7% of those elected to national government parliaments around the world.
  • Almost half of women around the world are not free to make their own decisions on sex, birth control, and healthcare.

What can you do?

From your place of work to your local and national elections, stand up for women. Vote for leaders and policies which will improve women’s lives and rights, and do not put up with anything that can hurt the cause, such as misogynistic jokes. On a more global scale, connect with organizations improving the lives of women in developing regions, and support them with donations or by spreading the word.

More resources on bringing about gender equality:

SDG #6: Clean Water and Sanitation

UN sustainable development goal 6

Sustainable Development Goal #6 is to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Why does it matter?

According to the UN, for children under 5, water-related and sanitation-related diseases are a major cause of death. Half of the world’s population has at least one month in a year in which they deal with a severe water shortage. Helping to conserve water and manage water usage more efficiently and effectively can help preserve and maintain sensitive ecosystems and play an important role in fighting climate change.

Key facts & figures

  • 25% of healthcare facilities don’t have even basic water services.
  • In households without access to running water, women and girls are forced to collect it 80% of the time.
  • Almost 1,000 kids die every day due to water-related and sanitation-related diseases that would be easily prevented elsewhere.

What can you do?

Start by not wasting water. Take shorter showers, under 5 minutes if possible. Also, observe World Toilet Day and World Water Day, two UN holidays which are campaigns to shed light on water responsibility.

More resources on improving access to clean water and sanitation:

SDG #7: Affordable and Clean Energy

UN sustainable development goal 7

Sustainable Development Goal #7 is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

Why does it matter?

Energy is important in every aspect of life, from household chores to running a business. When energy isn’t clean and sustainable, it adds to our climate crisis rather than helping us avert it.

Key facts & figures

  • Nearly half of the world’s population, a full 3 billion people, rely on dirty energy (e.g., coal, animal waste) for essential activities.
  • Energy is the biggest climate change contributor, accounting for around 60% of GHG emissions.

What can you do?

Conserve energy whenever possible. Turn off all devices when not in use, and unplug them from wall outlets even when off. When purchasing devices or accessories, such as light bulbs or kitchen appliances, choose the most energy-efficient. Take public transportation or carpool rather than commuting alone in a car.

More resources on affordable and clean energy:

SDG #8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

UN sustainable development goal 8

Sustainable Development Goal #8 is to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

Why does it matter?

Everyone is impacted when more people have opportunities and employment, from new technologies to less violence.

Key facts & figures

  • For the 45 countries with gender data, 40 countries had men make over 12% more than women for similar roles and duties.
  • The world needs to create 470 million new jobs to accommodate new millennials and Gen Z in the workplace between 2016 and 2020.

What can you do?

Vote for laws and bills which promote innovation, growth, equality in the workplace, and youth employment, whether at the local or national levels. If you are in a place of leadership at a company, help to create sustainable, equal, innovative working conditions for your employees.

More resources on increasing decent work opportunities and economic growth:

SDG #9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure

UN sustainable development goal 9

Sustainable Development Goal #9 is to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.

Why does it matter?

For people and communities around the world, infrastructure investments such as roads, sanitation, and electricity are necessary for sustainable development. Also, in the least-developed countries, more than three-quarters of the population do not have access to internet, a great disadvantage in 2020 and beyond.

Key facts & figures

  • 3.8 billion people in the world do not have internet access; in the least developed countries, this is 80% of their population.
  • For high income countries, 98% of agricultural production goes through industrial processing, while only 30% does in low income countries.

What can you do?

Support companies, policies, and nonprofits who are helping to promote infrastructure investments and projects, particularly those in developing countries.

More resources on industry, innovation, and infrastructure:

SDG #10: Reduced Inequalities

UN sustainable development goal 10

Sustainable Development Goal #10 is to reduce inequality within and among countries.

Why does it matter?

For the most disadvantaged people in the world, it’s immensely difficult to lift themselves out of poverty. Economic growth alone can’t help everyone out of poverty if it isn’t inclusive.

Key facts & figures

  • From the 20% of the poorest population, children are 3 times more likely to die by age 5 than from the 20% of the richest population.
  • Around 30% of income inequality is because of household inequality.

What can you do?

Support policies that help the most marginalized and disadvantaged peoples around the world. Vote for bills which promote responsible migration for those crossing borders to better their lives and those of their loved ones.

More resources on reducing inequalities:

SDG #11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

UN sustainable development goal 11

Sustainable Development Goal #11 is to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Why does it matter?

All the cities on the planet we call home take up about 3% of the available land, but more than 50% of people live in cities, more than 60% of energy consumption is from cities, and more than 70% of carbon emissions come from cities.

Key facts & figures

  • By 2030, 5 billion people in the world will live in cities and urban centers.
  • In the next few decades, most (~95%) city expansion will happen in developing countries and regions.
  • Over 50% of the world’s population still breathes in air which is 2.5x higher than safe air pollution levels.

What can you do?

Take public transportation, bike, or walk to work. If you need to drive, carpool. For policies, help your city first by ensuring it becomes an example and a leader in sustainable initiatives.

More resources on creating sustainable cities and communities:

SDG #12: Responsible Consumption and Production

UN sustainable development goal 12

Sustainable Development Goal #12 is to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

Why does it matter?

Our future depends on sustainable production and consumption, from our children to the environment.

Key facts & figures

  • It’s estimated that around one-third of all food produced is wasted, due to expiration or the inability to sell.
  • We are still under 20% as far as using sustainable energy sources around the world.

What can you do?

Recycle everything you can, from paper and plastic to glass and metals. If your community doesn’t have a recycling program, fight for one. Take a reusable shopping bag to the market, and don’t use plastic cutlery. Buy clothing and other products from companies who prioritize sustainable production methods.

More resources on responsible consumption and production:

SDG #13: Climate Action

UN sustainable development goal 13

Sustainable Development Goal #13 is to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

Why does it matter?

Climate change affects everyone, but especially the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of the world population. If rising temperatures continue, every natural habitat and ecosystem will be affected negatively, and some irreversibly.

Key facts & figures

  • In the last 30 years, carbon dioxide emissions have increase by a whopping 50%
  • According to the UN, “From 1901 to 2010, the global average sea level rose by 19 cm as oceans expanded due to warming and ice melted. The Arctic’s sea ice extent has shrunk in every successive decade since 1979, with 1.07 million km² of ice loss every decade.”

What can you do?

Fight for the climate by showing up at protests and correcting others when you see them post misinformation on social media. Vote for policies in your city and national government that protect the environment.

More resources on taking climate action:

SDG #14: Life Below Water

UN sustainable development goal 14

Sustainable Development Goal #14 is to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

Why does it matter?

Almost half the world’s population depend on the biodiversity of water systems for their livelihoods.

Key facts & figures

  • There are around 200K identified species of life in the oceans, but perhaps in the millions truly.
  • Since the Industrial Revolution, water acidity has risen by over 25%
  • 97% of the world’s water is in the ocean.

What can you do?

If you eat fish or seafood, make sure it comes from sustainable sources, so we don’t deplete specific populations of marine life. Don’t litter, and always recycle, as a lot of waste ends up in our water systems.

More resources on bettering life below water:

SDG #15: Life on Land

UN sustainable development goal 15

Sustainable Development Goal #15 is to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

Why does it matter?

Forests and tree cover are two of the most important resources we have, particularly in our fight against climate change. Due to logging and other forms of deforestation, we lose 13 million hectares of forest each year, the size of Greece.

Key facts & figures

  • More than 80% of land-based animals, plants, and insects live in forests.
  • Almost three-quarters of all the world’s poor are affected by the degradation of land.

What can you do?

Plant a tree, and fight for decreased deforestation. Also, maintain a diet with an increased amount of sustainably sourced items.

More resources on improving life on land:

SDG #16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions

UN sustainable development goal 16

Sustainable Development Goal #16 is to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Why does it matter?

It’s 2020, why must people still flee their homes, running from war or persecution? It’s no small amount, either: 70 million people fled in 2018 alone.

Key facts & figures

  • At any given time 31% of prisoners remain so without sentencing.
  • Over 1 billion children are affected by violence against them around the world.
  • 15 million girls between the ages of 15 and 19 have experienced forced sex during their lives.

What can you do?

Hold your elected officials accountable when it comes to peaceful, just societies around the world (and at home). Promote inclusion and equality for everyone from any background.

More resources on encouraging peace, justice, and strong institutions:

SDG #17: Partnerships

UN sustainable development goal 17

Sustainable Development Goal #17 is to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development.

Why does it matter?

We can each do our part to tackle the various sustainable development goals above, but for it to really work globally, partnerships between governments, society, and companies must be created, as well.

Key facts & figures

  • The amount of official development assistance decreased from 2016 to 2017.
  • More than three-quarters of imports from the poorest countries arrive without duties in the richest countries.

What can you do?

Each country must do their part, and as a citizen of one, you should lobby your government to take on or increase its financial responsibility to promote sustainable development around the world.

More resources on revitalizing global partnerships for sustainable growth:

The coming years will be a vital period to save the planet and to achieve sustainable, inclusive human development.

António Guterres, Secretary-General, United Nations
United Nations SDG Logo 1

Knocking Out the SDGs: What to Do Next?

One of the best ways to solve any of the sustainable development goals is to share ideas with your peers.

Not only is it fast and easy for you, but your idea shared will ensure it gets the visibility, feedback, and support it needs to transform into an actual sustainable development solution.


There’s no better place for students, young professionals, and entrepreneurs to share ideas than on Goodwall, a professional network made especially for the needs and interests of Gen Z and millennials.

So, if you haven’t yet, sign up to Goodwall (iOS and Android), learn how to pitch your idea to others, and then share your solution with over 1 million members so we can start addressing these global challenges together!

* All UN republishing guidelines (PDF in new window) were followed to the best of our ability, and all images on this page have been provided by the United Nations through their communications materials and media section. As per their instructions, a copy of the republishing guidelines have been saved onto our servers for sharing with this post.

All UN SDG Color Wheel

Well, that’s our post on the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and we hope you found it useful, informative, and easy-to-read! Got any feedback or questions about the SDGs? Let’s chat about it below in the comment area, and thanks for reading!

Christian Eilers
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Christian Eilers
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