Content warning: This article discusses the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals which include and mention topics such as climate change, inequality, economic crisis, war, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
It has been eight years since the 17 Sustainable Development goals were rolled out by the United Nations in 2015. Halfway through, it looks like we have dropped the ball so dramatically, the UN is worried we'll have trouble ever finding it again.
Everything is too low, except for summer temperatures
Each of the SDGs are meant to improve one aspect of the problems we face on this planet, such as poverty, inequality, and climate change. These have their own goals, helping us to improve the category overall, which we are failing.
According to the advance 2023 report by the UN, only 12% of about 140 goals are on track, while most have seen a concerning lack of progress since the SDG implementation. Simply put, almost every goal can be summarised with: "Currently, the 2030 target will be missed."
The first few years after the programme was implemented in 2015, statistics gathered by the UN were promising. While not all goals were on track, progress was tangible and visible.
However, since then, we have faced a global pandemic and all its side effects, which has had a negative impact on the progress made with the SDGs. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the global population’s mental and physical health, but also caused a massive shock to the global economy, with the World Bank seeing a historic increase in poverty in 2022.
Look both ways
Despite the negative outlook, the UN report remains optimistic:
“History has shown that the worst hardships can be overcome through human determination, solidarity, leadership, and resilience.”
History has also shown that the danger of extinction of animals and plants is increasing, at least 14 million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans every year, and that economic crises take the biggest toll on the poorest countries.
The brighter side of history has shown that good and meaningful action can be taken. A record number of dams have been removed in Europe last year, increasing biodiversity and river health. The UN is taking great strides towards legislation that drastically decreases the amount of plastic dumped in the ocean. And pre-pandemic, the World Bank reports, world poverty was in a slow, but steady decline.
In the grand scheme of things, it may not seem much, but these are all one of many actions taken by countries, organisations, and even people to improve life on our planet.
Big planet, big problems
The SDGs have proven that many countries are capable of improving and taking action, tackling many goals, even if they are projected to miss the target. Are the targets being missed due to a continuous influx of new problems? The pandemic, wars, and climate change all have affected the progress made. Are we too busy containing problems to solve them? This may warrant rephrasing: are we too busy trying to feed every hungry child, extinguishing every wildfire, and protesting every inequality? Are we too busy doing what we can to tackle the big picture?
Truth is, improving life on Earth in every way is an incredibly big and complicated task. The UN's comprehensive SDG plan includes over 140 goals, which we are struggling to achieve. So, who is failing? The UN, the government, the big corporations, you?
When it comes to failing the SDGs, are we dropping the ball or are we dropping the planet? It looks like we are juggling too much at once, and could use an extra pair of hands. It might be a good thing that we have about eight billion of those.