From acronyms, to awareness, to action: Getting the UN message across

No poverty, zero hunger, sustainable consumption, reducing inequalities - the UN's 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) have set an ambitious global agenda for 2030. It's also a huge task to get the message across.

"The intermediate goal is for at least two billion people to know about the sustainable development goals by the end of 2018," says Xavier Longan.

Nature and Environment | 02.03.2017

Longan is the European head of the United Nations' SDG Action Campaign. He's aware that knowledge of the UN's plan of action launched in 2015 is far from widespread. The ultimate goal of greater sustainability, peace and prosperity for all can only be achieved, however, if everyone helps to move forward the agenda.

"SDGs" stands for Sustainable Development Goals - not the catchiest of phrases.

But the logos used for the SDGs campaign are at least bright and cheerful: a circle in the form of a wheel, with colored spokes, and the squares in different colors bearing symbols to represent each of the individual goals.

Sustainable Development Goals

The colorful SDG logo aims to convey an upbeat vision

The German city of Bonn flies the logos on flags, and if you ask people in town what they know about the goals, at least some guess along the right lines: "Something to do with the environment," or "fighting poverty." 

Ina survey conducted in 13 countries in 2016, around a quarter of participants had heard about SDGs. In Kenya and Nigeria the figure was over 30 percent, and in India over 40 percent.

There are no comprehensive global surveys yet.

What is clear, however, is that hardly anyone has in-depth knowledge of all 17 goals and 169 sub-targets. A new global information campaign on SDGs is therefore being launched on March 1st. 

Difficult to convey

The Agenda 2030 is the new basis for all areas of the UN - and accordingly complex.

"The development goals are difficult to convey as an overall agenda - a huge range of goals all connected to and influencing each other," says Felix Zimmermann, coordinator of the OECD Development Communications Network in Paris.

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"What's easier to talk about is concrete content, e.g. about the war on poverty, education and jobs, which everybody can understand and relate to."

Bildergalerie Indien Wasserknappheit

Millions across the world lack access to clean water. Safe water and sanitation for all is one of the global goals

The SDG campaign therefore targets people by making the goals more visible and personal. A Facebook campaign for instance features personal stories about the importance of clean water, or why girls need to attend school.

Reaching youth with YouTube and the Smurfs

It's especially important to reach the younger generation.

In France, for example, cartoon figure Eric introduces pupils to sustainable goals. In Sweden a popular YouTube star is now youth ambassador for the SDGs. And UNICEF recently recruited the promotional support of the Smurfs, with videos providing a fun way for children to learn about the issues.

Xavier Longan is optimistic the message will be getting across. "After just over a year the SDGs are already better known than their predecessors were, the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals)."

One of the reasons, believes Longan, is that the SDGs were created in a transparent process and not behind closed doors. In addition to governments, NGOs and experts worldwide, more than 10 million people submitted their own input, including via online platforms.

Grassroots and innovation

The SDG Action Campaign is now working with local partners and NGOs to convey the goals, says Longan. It provides materials free of charge, including photos and virtual reality films. Additionally, an interactive SDG game app is being tested at a conference in Bonn.

By the end of 2018 the campaign aims to recruit 700,000 volunteer SDG activists worldwide, who will be actively supporting the global goals in their villages, colleges and clubs.

Teamfoto UN SDG Campaign

The team at the new Bonn headquarters of the UN SDG Action Campaign supports activists across the world

"Giving the goals greater exposure is just the first step. The main point is putting them into practice," says Felix Zimmermann from the OECD. And when it comes to realizing the universal agenda in practice, he adds, everyone is needed: governments, NGOs, companies and regular citizens.

How can globalization opponents be won over?

Many countries have already begun incorporating the UN agenda into domestic policy. Germany has amended its sustainability strategy, for example. At the same time, however, the challenges are growing.

Surveys of EU member states indicate falling confidence among citizens in governments and public institutions. Add to that growing skepticism towards globalization and nationalist movements in an increasing number of countries. 

"The problem is that people in the international institutions often talk only to their colleagues, i.e. we stay in our own bubble. That means losing sight of what people outside are actually thinking," says Zimmermann. "How do we win over opponents of globalization, for example? That's a question we still have no answer to."

Goal 1: A world without poverty

The first goal calls for the eradication of poverty "in all its forms everywhere". This is an extension of the old Millennium goal that set out to halve extreme poverty by 2015. Opinions are divided on the feasibility of the target.

Goal 2: A world without hunger

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, there are 800 million people in the world who don't have enough to eat. Sustainable agriculture, small-scale farming and rural development have all been cited as factors that could contribute to wiping out malnutrition by 2030.

Goal 3: Universal health care

Every five seconds, an infant dies. Worldwide 6.6 million children under five die every year. And almost 300,000 women die during pregnancy and childbirth. Child and maternal mortality could be prevented through simple measures. By 2030, everyone should have access to health care, affordable medicines and vaccines.

Goal 4: Education for all

Whether a girl or a boy, rich or poor – by 2030 every child should have access to a school education that gives them an opportunity to have a career in the future. Men and women should have equal educational opportunities regardless of their ethnic or social background and regardless of any disabilities.

Goal 5: Equality for women

Women should be able to equally participate in public and political life. Violence and forced marriage should be a thing of the past and all women should have access to contraceptives and family planning services - a controversial point in some religious circles.

Goal 6: Water as a human right

Almost 750 million people have no access to clean drinking water, and one billion people lack access to sanitation, according to UN estimates. By 2030, safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation should be available to everyone. Water resources should be sustainable and the ecosystem protected.

Goal 7: Global energy provision

By 2030, everyone should have access to electricity and other forms of energy, preferably from renewable sources. Global energy efficiency should be doubled and infrastructure constructed – particularly in the poorest countries. There are around 1.3 billion people that still live without access to electricity.

Goal 8: Fair working conditions for all

Fair and social working conditions worldwide and job opportunities for young people in a sustainable global economy. Goal eight of the Sustainable Development Goals applies both to industrialized and developing countries and also includes an end to child labor and compliance with the international labor standards of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Goal 9: Sustainable infrastructure

Better infrastructure to promote economic development – something everyone could benefit from. But industrialization should be socially and environmentally sustainable, create more and better jobs and encourage innovation. This would contribute to sustainable and social justice.

Goal 10: A fair share

One percent of the world’s population generates more than half of global economic growth, according to the UN. The gap between rich and poor is continuing to grow. International development policy should help the poorest half of the population living in the poorest countries in the world.

Goal 11: Livable cities

Human and environmentally-friendly living spaces with affordable housing should be a feature of every city in the world. These urban centers should also be more sustainable and green, particularly in developing countries, which should receive support to make them more resistant against climate-related natural disasters.

Goal 12: Sustainable production and consumption

Recycling, reuse of resources, mitigation of waste, particularly with regards to food production and by consumers: everyone has a responsibility for this. Resources should be used in a way that is both ecologically and socially sustainable and fossil fuel subsidies should be phased out.

Goal 13: Get climate change under control

A global agreement on measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change is a necessity. Developed nations should help poorer countries with technological and financial means to achieve this. At the same time they should work to massively reduce their own emissions.

Goal 14: Protection of the world’s oceans

The ecosystems that make up the world’s oceans are on the verge of collapse and swift action is needed. By 2020, measures should be taken to prevent overfishing, destruction of coastal areas and marine biodiversity. The aim by 2025 is to significantly reduce pollution caused by garbage and over-fertilization.

Goal 15: Stop environmental destruction

UN member states will be given five years to put a stop to extensive environmental degradation of watersheds, forests and biodiversity. By 2020, land, forests and water resources should be better protected and use of natural resources fundamentally changed.

Goal 16: Justice for all

Everyone should be equal before the law. National institutions and international bodies need to work together to do more to prevent violence, terror, corruption and organized crime. By 2030, everyone should have the right to a legal identity and a birth certificate.

Goal 17: Global partnerships

Developed countries should set aside 0.7 percent of their gross national income (GNI) to support developing countries, a target that was already part of the Millennium Development Goals. Currently in Germany only 0.39 percent of the GNI is set aside for development aid. Only five countries have reached 0.7 percent so far: Norway, Denmark, Luxembourg, Sweden and the UK.