5 things you need to know about the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

UN Development Programme
4 min readDec 3, 2018


The 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was adopted in 2015 by all countries of the United Nations. It is often called a radical plan for humanity and a new way of ‘doing’ development. But what do we mean by that? Here are five things you need to know about our greatest chance to improve life for current and future generations.

1) The 2030 Agenda applies to all countries and actors …

Previous development plans have mainly focused on progress in developing nations. But today’s reality is different. A majority of the world’s poor live in middle income countries, inequalities within countries are on the rise, and the effects of climate change and environmental degradation are felt by people and communities across the globe.

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That is why the 2030 Agenda is universal, applying to all countries and actors. It requires all nations to take climate action, reduce unemployment, strengthen gender equality and promote peaceful societies, to name a few, if the world is to eradicate poverty and shift into a more sustainable development.

2) … and the SDGs are interlinked

Traditional development efforts have often focused on one issue at a time, i.e. first hunger, then clean energy, then inclusive institutions, for example. The SDGs recognize that development must balance economic, social and environmental sustainability — and that interventions in one area will affect outcomes in others. For example, actions to support women and girls’ empowerment may also catalyze local economies, enable safer childbirth, and build more inclusive communities.

The indivisible nature of the SDGs means that we cannot ‘cherry-pick’ topics, we must look at the Agenda as an integrated package.

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3) Leaving No One Behind

Development gains have often been measured in terms of improved average income, decreased average child mortality and lowered poverty rates. While those are important advances, the 2030 Agenda is clear: we need to do more. Averages can conceal that millions of people stay in poverty, or that more people become poor, as well as structural discrimination that exclude people from development progress.

The 2030 Agenda takes a radical stance through its pledge to Leave No One Behind. The SDGs are designed to bring the world to several life-changing ‘zeros’, including zero poverty, hunger, preventable child deaths, AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, discrimination against women and girls and human trafficking. In practical terms, this means targeting development efforts and investments at those furthest behind first, including the 736 million (10 percent of the world population) who live in extreme poverty.

4) Development must be smart — if it’s not risk-informed, it’s not sustainable

40% of the world’s population was affected by disasters between 2002 and 2012, resulting in 1.2 million fatalities and an economic cost of US$1.7 trillion. Countries have seen development gains and years of hard work erased. That is why the 2030 Agenda stresses that development planning must be risk-informed.

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Risk reduction and resilience building does not only refer to environmental disasters but also to degradation, pandemics, financial shocks, conflict and war. By preventing, mitigating and preparing, countries and communities will save money, resources and most importantly — lives. For example, economies must be able to quickly bounce back from financial downturns, agriculture must withstand drought, hospitals must be able to cope with sudden disease outbreaks and public institutions must be open and inclusive to support peaceful societies. This takes laws, policies and cooperation across sectors and actors. Development must be smart. If it isn’t risk-informed, it isn’t sustainable.

5) Everyone is needed!

The 2030 Agenda needs the bright minds and relentless dedication from all of society — Governments and the UN cannot do it alone. Harnessing the knowhow, expertise, technology and financial resources from businesses, academia, civil society and individuals, is necessary to reach the ambitious targets in every context.

The SDGs were created through the largest ever participatory process undertaken by the UN. 10 million people from all walks of life expressed their views on- and offline in the consultation process to help shape the 2030 Agenda. The multi-stakeholder approach defines the core of the 2030 Agenda and SDGs: we are all in this together.

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Read more about how UNDP is helping countries to make the SDGs a reality.

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Text by Catharina Klingspor, Knowledge and Advocacy Analyst, UNDP. @CatharinaKling