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Sustainable Development Goals: How Much Progress Have We Made So Far Towards Achieving Them?

A map of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals [Image] – UN SDG

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals was inaugurated in 2015 to end poverty and set the world on a path of peace, prosperity, and opportunity for all on a healthy planet. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals provide the framework that UN member states have committed to fulfilling. Unlike previous development agendas that focus on economic growth, the SDGs are a universal framework that includes many potentially divergent policy goals in the economic, social, and environmental spheres, with some goals seen as mutually supportive. Although much effort has been made towards achieving the goals proposed in Agenda 2030, that are still insufficient, according to UN reports, and the COVID-19 pandemic has further slowed down the work of governments.

At the outset, it is important to define some key elements. The Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by all 193 UN member states, are currently the most prominent example, setting quantitative targets for sustainable development to be achieved by 2030. They have expanded the definition of sustainability to include economic, social, and environmental factors and are firmly rooted in the concept of sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". To achieve this goal, 3 dimensions must be reconciled: economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental protection. The UN, therefore, emphasises that the term "sustainable" includes economic and social dynamics. Another way in which the UN summarizes the contents of the SDGs is the 5 Ps: people, to eliminate poverty and guarantee dignity; prosperity, seen both as economic comfort and as harmony with nature; peace; partnership, as a collaboration between states and enterprises that allows the goals to be achieved; and the planet, which also needs to be protected.

The adoption of the 2030 Agenda was a historic event in many ways. First of all, it was clearly stated that the current development model is not sustainable, not only in environmental terms, but also in economic and social terms. In this way - and this is the highly innovative nature of the Agenda - the idea that sustainability is merely an environmental issue has definitively been overcome and an integrated vision of the various dimensions of development has been affirmed. Furthermore, this Agenda has been accepted by all UN members since, in our highly interconnected world, the goals and targets are universal and concern the whole mankind. This means that each country must commit itself to defining its own sustainable development strategy to achieve the SDGs, taking into account the results achieved by public institutions and UN partners. The implementation of the Agenda requires strong participation of all components of society, from companies to the public sector, from civil society to philanthropic institutions, from universities and research centres to information and cultural creators.

Despite the steps taken, the road to achieving the 17 SDGs remains arduous. The annual UN report 'Assessing Progress Towards the 2030 Agenda Goals' found that the COVID-19 pandemic is having a major negative impact in many areas of action, significantly undermining the progress made so far. Although COVID-19 can affect every subject and community, its impact is not identical. On the contrary, it has exposed and exacerbated the inequalities and injustices that already exist, noting that the poor and most vulnerable are the most affected: children, the elderly, people with disabilities, migrants, and refugees. Women are also suffering more from the effects of the pandemic.

The current situation seems bleak, with many criticisms. Social inequality has widened dramatically, millions of people are at risk of slipping into extreme poverty, moving countries away from the goal of "zero hunger." Progress, already insufficient to meet health and well-being goals, has been undone by the pandemic, and in many cases, this goal has regressed, due to health system dysfunction and the marginalisation of treatments for mental illness, AIDS/HIV, or cancer. Moreover, the impact of the pandemic on schooling is a "generational disaster", not only because of the lack of direct socialisation, a factor that allows children to grow inclusively, but also because of the removal of a series of "obstacles" that allows even disadvantaged children to escape from their condition. In fact, with the closure of schools, the risk of child exploitation, early marriage, and child trafficking has increased for children living in poor and disadvantaged areas. Finally, it is important to stress that climate change is progressing faster than expected due to prevailing unsustainable consumption and production patterns.

In conclusion, it is important to stress that the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda are the result of a complex negotiation process between UN member states. Taking into account all recent evidence, the constant pursuit of these universal goals must focus governments on growth, but also on inclusion, equity and sustainability, and urge them to make every effort to counteract the negative trend triggered by the pandemic. The principles on which the SDGs were defined are key to making the best possible fresh start once the emergency is over. The possibility of marking a serious turnaround will depend on the collective response of all countries in the world, which 18 months after the outbreak of the pandemic have shown that they can take decisive action because they know how to promote resilient practices. COVID-19 was seen by many as an opportunity to overcome the difficulties in reaching Sustainable Development Goals. However, there are still many obstacles to overcome to make the world a truly sustainable place for future generations.



·THE 17 GOALS | Sustainable Development. (2020). United Nations - Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

·D. (2020). Take Action for the Sustainable Development Goals. United Nations Sustainable Development.

·Sustainable Development Goals. (2020). United Nations Development Programme.

·THE GLOBAL GOALS. (2020). The Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

·Sustainable Development Goals | (2020). Food and Agricolture Organization for United Nations.

·United Nations. (2020, June 29). United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). United Nations Western Europe.

·17 Sustainable Development Goals. (2021). Confederation of Switzerland.

Image resources

·A map of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals [Image] – UN SDG,


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Federica Panico

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