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Creating a Better World: The United Nations and Sustainable Development Goals

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Bill Miller
June 24, 2016

In September 2015, 193 world leaders convened at United Nations Headquarters in New York City and committed to achieve 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs). Following an extensive multi-year deliberation, member states identified the SDGs and 169 targets designed to end poverty and hunger, improve health and education and advance environmental and economic development. The SDGs are:

  1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
  2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.
  3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
  4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
  5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
  6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
  7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
  8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
  9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.
  10. Reduce inequality within and among countries.
  11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
  12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
  13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
  14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
  15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
  16. 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. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.  

concept-1302882_640The SDGs were developed with strong U.S. leadership and using an intensive consultative process, including consultations in 50 U.S. cities that involved elected officials, business leaders and faith-based and civil society leaders. More than 73,000 Americans engaged online with the U.N. and depicted the world they envisioned in 2030.

The goals indicate longstanding, bipartisan foreign policy and development priorities that Republican and Democratic administrations and Congress have championed, including gender equality, hunger and poverty alleviation, transparency and governance, access to safe drinking water and improved education.

These SDGs built on accomplishments made on eight millennium development goals that ranged from eradicating extreme hunger and poverty to achieving universal primary education, from promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment to developing a global partnership for development. At the same time, the SDGs represent a greater comprehension of the linkages among poverty, governance, health, gender, climate and education. They recognize these problems do not exist in isolated silos but are intertwined.

The SDGs involve more key players in the process and go beyond foreign aid alone. They stress the importance of private sector trade and investment to accelerate critical contributions in development, health and economic and social opportunity. Critical to their overall success will be a combination of embracing the rule of law, reducing corruption and strengthening transparency and accountability. As such, the SDGs are not part of a legally binding treat, but provide a blueprint for economic and social development.

With 17 goals and 169 targets, there are a wide range of issues for any group or individual to help achieve. Not everyone will enthusiastically support all of the goals or believe they are important. But, whether one is a public administrator at the local, regional, national or international level, or has any other affiliation or no affiliation, he or she should discuss them critically and identify those with which to become involved to propel the world in a positive direction.

After all, what is more important than to help create a better world?


Author: Longtime ASPA member Bill Miller is an accredited international journalist covering the United Nations. He is producer and moderator of Global Connections Television (www.globalconnectionstelevision.com). He can be reached at [email protected].

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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