Taking Stock of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals

Taking Stock of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals
U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed at a press conference on the Financing for Sustainable Development Report at U.N. headquarters, in New York, April 4, 2019 (DPA photo by Luiz Rampelotto via AP Images).

Four years ago, to great fanfare, U.N. member states endorsed a sweeping blueprint for human progress known as the Sustainable Development Goals. Intended to guide global development efforts through 2030, the 17 SDGs, as they are known, are ambitious in the extreme. They range from eliminating extreme poverty—everywhere—to ensuring human health at all ages. Collectively, the goals are backed by a whopping 169 targets, each with various indicators. In September, world leaders will gather in New York for a quadrennial SDG summit to answer the question former mayor Ed Koch used to ask his constituents: “So, how am I doing?”

A preview comes this week, when the United Nations hosts its annual High Level Political Forum on the 2030 Agenda—as the SDGs are also known, in typical U.N parlance. For the third consecutive year, senior ministers from U.N. member states will voluntarily detail their progress, or lack thereof, in meeting a select subset of the 17 goals. The first such gathering, in 2017, focused on global efforts to end poverty in all its forms (SDG No. 1); end hunger and achieve food security for all (No. 2); ensure healthy lives and life-long well-being (No. 3); achieve gender equality for all women and girls (No. 5); build resilient infrastructure, promote industrialization and foster innovation (No. 9); and conserve and sustainably use the oceans (No. 14).

Not to be outdone, last year’s forum evaluated global efforts to ensure universal access to clean water and sanitation (SDG No. 6); provide modern and affordable energy to all (No. 7); make cities inclusive, safe, and resilient (No. 11); ensure sustainable consumption and production (No. 12); and protect terrestrial ecosystems by halting biodiversity loss and combatting deforestation and desertification (No. 15).

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