The SDGs focus on sustainability.
It is no longer considered enough to improve people’s livelihoods regardless of the environmental cost. The SDGs encourage countries to find environmentally friendly methods of development, such as by powering factories with renewable energy rather than by exclusively exploiting fossil fuels, which contribute to climate change. Each development project has to account for its environmental impact: how it would affect life on land, ensure a clean water supply, and respond to climate change.
The SDGs are also economically sustainable in that they promote inclusive growth. An overall increase in a country’s wealth is a worthwhile goal, but the SDGs ask these questions: Who benefits, and is the average person in a country gaining from the growth, or are just a few wealthy people reaping all the rewards? The SDGs push for programs that specifically target marginalized social groups, which often include women, minorities, and disabled people. To be considered sustainable, development projects need to ensure equal opportunities for growth and eliminate discriminatory practices.
The SDGs are interconnected.
Rather than look at poverty in isolation, the SDGs focus on how improvements in one area can help others. For example, one way to improve gender equality is to install solar-powered street lights that stay on all night so that women feel safer walking home later in the evening, as is what happened in rural Lebanon. This small, environmentally friendly step has a ripple effect: Women who are able to extend their hours of activity outside the house past sunset have more opportunities to take night classes at university and improve their educational attainment. They can also work more flexible hours and avail themselves of new job opportunities. Programs that address inequalities end up helping everyone: the more citizens who are able to work, the larger an economy can grow.