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FACTBOX-What are the Sustainable Development Goals and why do they matter?

By Megan Rowling | 7 September 2015

BARCELONA, Sept 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – In late September, world leaders will meet at the United Nations in New York to adopt a new global plan of action for ending poverty, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

What are the SDGs?

A set of 17 goals and 169 targets aimed at resolving the social, economic and environmental problems troubling the world. Covering the next 15 years, the SDGs replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which expire this year.

Who decided the SDGs?

Governments came up with the idea at the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development in Brazil in 2012. A working group with representatives from 70 countries then drafted a proposed set of goals.

At the same time, the United Nations ran public consultations around the world and an online survey asking people about their priorities for the goals.

This summer governments negotiated a final version of the SDGs, due to be adopted by 193 countries at a Sept. 25-27 summit at the United Nations in New York.

What did the MDGs achieve?

The United Nations says the MDGs led to successes including:

  • a drop in the number of people living in extreme poverty by more than half, to 836 million in 2015
  • gender parity in primary schools in the majority of countries
  • a decline in the rate of children dying before their fifth birthday by more than half since 1990
  • a fall of 45 percent worldwide in the maternal mortality ratio
  • over 6.2 million malaria deaths averted and 37 million lives saved by tuberculosis prevention and treatment
  • access to improved drinking water sources for 2.6 billion people between 1990 and 2015.

So why do we need the SDGs?

  • Around 800 million people still live in extreme poverty and suffer from hunger, with fragile and conflict-torn states experiencing the highest poverty rates
  • Between 2008 and 2012, 144 million people were displaced from their homes by natural disasters, a number predicted to rise as the planet warms, bringing more extreme weather and rising seas
  • Water scarcity affects 40 percent of the global population and is projected to increase
  • Some 946 million people still practice open defecation
  • Gender inequality persists in spite of more representation for women in parliaments and more girls going to school.

If we meet the SDGs, how will the world improve?

The 17 goals aim to achieve these wider aims by 2030:

  • end poverty and hunger everywhere
  • combat inequalities within and between countries
  • build peaceful, just and inclusive societies
  • protect human rights and promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls
  • ensure lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources
  • create conditions for sustainable, inclusive and sustained economic growth, shared prosperity and decent work for all.

What’s new and different about the SDGs?

The United Nations says the SDGs go much further than the previous goals, because they address the root causes of poverty and pledge to leave no one behind, including vulnerable groups

They also emphasise the need to urgently tackle climate change and protect the environment through a shift to sustainable consumption and production.

The SDGs are intended to be universal, applying to all countries rather than just the developing world.

And they recognise the key role of the private sector in pursuing and financing sustainable development, in partnership with governments and civil society.

(Sources: United Nations Development Programme and other U.N. agencies. Further information:

(Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit


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