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Analysis | Are the UN SDGs being taken seriously?

With the second anniversary of the launch of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals fast approaching, what have we achieved? The blunt answer - not enough.

With this type of open-ended wide ranging set of goals, one might brush this aside and say there is always more that could be done. But a new report published by the United Nations (UN) starkly warns that not even some of the most basic of targets will be met unless the pace of progress increases.

The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2017 finds that although progress had been made, it was often uneven with the benefits of development not equally shared.

“Implementation has begun, but the clock is ticking,” states UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres. “This report shows that the rate of progress in many areas is far slower than needed to meet the targets by 2030.”

Extreme poverty still remains an issue for around 767M people, around 303,000 women die during childbirth every year and in 2015, 85% of the urban population used safely managed drinking water compared to only 55% in rural areas.

While a quick glance at the goals may give the impression that they solely targeted at improving conditions in the third world and, are therefore out of a normal westerners remit, there is actually a roll for everyone.

Engineers are well-placed to tackle these issues. Setting a high bar for those in the western world will help to trickle down good practices and preserve the resources the world has access to.

And with 60% of people predicted to live in an urban environment by 2030, putting plans and provisions in place now to relieve pressure on fresh water supplies, sewage, the living environment, and public health is essential. Air quality is already pushing limits in many of the UK’s cities.

And of course infrastructure, creating good transport links are essential to connecting people to work, health care and education.

Yet according to a New Civil Engineer survey carried out earlier this year there is limited knowledge of the SDGs.

Some 85% of respondents said they were very or extremely interested in sustainable development, and nine out of 10 believed engineers had a pivotal role to play in achieving SDGs.

Yet only a third rated themselves as well informed on the topic.

Is it apathy? Cutting to the heart of the apathy issue, the UN has helpfully produced a “lazy person’s guide to saving the world”. From level one “sofa superstar” to level three “Neighbourhood nice guy” there are practical and small but potentially game changing ways everyone can partake. From stopping paper bank statements and air drying clothes to avoiding pre heating the oven and refilling water bottles, it says all will make a difference.

A push at the last minute will leave the goals in tatters. Action is needed now.

What are the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

E 2016 sdg poster all sizes without un emblem letter

There are 17 SDG’s, each with a series of targets. Find out more about them at



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