Explore the SDGs

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Explain what the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are.
  • Understand the principles behind the SDGs.
  • Identify the deadline for the SDGs.

What are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly put forth 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals, designed to call attention to and address the extreme poverty, growing inequality, and changing climate that affect communities throughout the world. 

The SDGs build upon the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)—a set of goals established in 2000 with a deadline of 2015.  Whereas the MDGs covered fewer causes and only applied to developing countries, the SDGs are more comprehensive and ambitious, and apply universally to all 193 countries who are members of the UN. 

Here’s a list of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and a brief description of each one: 

1. No Poverty
End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
2. Zero Hunger
End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.
3. Good Health and Well-Being
Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
4. Quality Education
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
5. Gender Equality
Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
6. Clean Water and Sanitation
Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
7. Affordable and Clean Energy
Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all.
8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
Promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth; full and productive employment; and decent work for all.
9. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation.
10. Reduced Inequalities
Reduce inequality within and among countries.
11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.
12. Responsible Consumption and Production
Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
13. Climate Action
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
14. Life Below Water
Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development.
15. Life On Land
Protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems; sustainably manage forests; combat desertification; halt and reverse land degradation; and halt biodiversity loss.
16. Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development; provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.
17. Partnerships for the Goals
Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.  This includes sharing knowledge, expertise, technology and financial resources, to support the achievement of the SDGs.

The Global Goals for Sustainable Development displayed in order from 1 to 17

What are the Principles Behind the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

The SDGs are designed to be universal, integrated, and inclusive.

  1. Universal: Eradicating extreme poverty and building a sustainable future are challenges all countries face.
  2. Integrated: The SDGs integrate all three dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social, and environmental) with an underlying consideration for people, planet, peace, prosperity, and partnership.
  3. Inclusive: The SDGs pledge to leave no one behind, meaning that no goal is met unless it’s met for everyone. That means putting the needs and interests of the furthest behind first.

In addition to the three qualities listed above, the SDGs embody five core principles:

A Unified and Unifying Plan of Action

The SDGs orient governments and individuals towards unified action. Our world is more innovative, connected, and fast-growing than ever before. It’s essential to have one north star in order to focus on what really matters and ensure no one is being left behind. The target “finish line” for the SDGs is 2030.

Holding Governments Accountable

The SDGs are a way to hold governments accountable, with each of the 193 UN member states agreeing to the framework. Citizens, including educators, youth, and even children, can play an important role in monitoring how goals are implemented and putting pressure on governments to ensure that the most marginalized groups are reached.

Bringing the World Together

The SDGs are built on the idea of partnership. Achieving them is impossible without the cooperation and participation of everyone. They were created by the people, for the people, through one of the widest participation processes in history. Civil society (people like you simply getting involved) played an important role in the design phase of the goals—over 500,000 people participated through debates and consultations.


The SDGs concern each and every one of us. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted by world leaders in September, 2015 at an historic UN Summit, demonstrates that for all our cultural, economic, and political differences, we all share certain universal ideals and rights. The Global Goals are an opportunity to change the world for the better, and they depend on action. Specifically, they depend on joint, sustained, and early action.

Accelerating the Sustainable Development Goals, Together

The idea of a collaborative approach to solving these global challenges is not new but it is now being approached differently. There are increased innovative cross-sector partnerships emerging across the globe to address the SDGs. The idea is to empower each other to achieve them, and to create more comprehensive collective impact—together.



Content developed in partnership with The World’s Largest Lesson

To dive into each of the SDGs more deeply and learn more about the actionable targets, check out the links listed in the Resources section.