UN Sustainable Development Goals: a guide to global change


The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all UN member states in 2015, is one of the most ambitious projects the world has ever embarked on. At its core are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a blueprint for a sustainable earth with peace and prosperity for all. The SDGs consist of 17 goals and 169 targets covering inequality, environment, health, conflict, industry, education and sustainable communities.

Reviewing countries’ SDG performance at the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development 2018

How is the UK performing?

In 2015, the UK took a leading role in the negotiation of the SDGs, and as the fifth largest economy in the world it is also expected to take a leading role in delivering the SDGs. In many areas the UK is succeeding. Awareness of the goals and therefore implementation has grown significantly over the past three years.

A report commissioned by the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD), a network for organisations working to advance sustainable development and the delivery of the SDGs in the UK, found out of 143 relevant targets, the UK is performing well on 24%. Universal health care, a strong economy, good education and a stable governmental system means the UK scores highly in areas such as health and wellbeing (SDG3), quality education (SDG4) and partnerships for the goals (SDG17). This summer, renewable energy surpassed for the first time energy created by fossil fuels in the UK, and in October, 98% of Scotland’s energy demand was met by wind power.

Wind power in Scotland, UK

From local to global

UKSSD director Emily Auckland claims the SDGs offer the opportunity “to create a new social contract between government and citizens, to address systemic problems in a coherent way, and to create a culture of collaboration and partnership with stakeholders in the UK”. SDGs must become a central concern of governments and a guiding force to private businesses, but this alone will not activate the 2030 Agenda. To achieve their aims the SDGs cannot remain limited to international political circles, enforced from the top down. The goals must become relevant at every level of society, from public laws to businesses, academia to grassroots movements and even to individuals.

All across the UK, organisations, charities, businesses and individuals are working on the SDGs. Raising awareness of the goals, through conversations, community groups and SDG trainings, is central to their success. Agenda 2030 will not come around by individual or local actions alone, but will not succeed if it is limited to international governmental policy. The SDGs must be enacted at every level of society.

Adapting the SDGs to unique local contexts will elevate them with personal meaning, creating a sense of local ownership. The SDGs can be used to guide local activism and social change, empowering communities and demonstrating they have the ability to bring tangible change to the world.

Discussing SDG implementation with SDG Flashcards

Three steps to success

Here are three ways you can contribute to the local and global success of SDGs:

  • Educate yourself and others: Think about how the SDGs are relevant to you or your community. Discuss them with your friends, family and work colleagues. There are many resources available online such as the UN’s “Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World” and Gaia Education’s SDG flashcards and handbook
  • Make conscious life choices: Are you buying responsibly sourced food or clothing? Maybe you could cycle, walk or take public transport, rather than drive? Look at your waste management and avoid single use plastics.
  • Become a change agent: Join a local advocacy group, take an interest in your community. Call out sexist or racist language and behaviour even if it’s not meant to harm. Help others who are less fortunate. Push for change: vote, make your voice heard, volunteer and take action.

Find out more about the SDG Trainings of Multipliers here.