Sustainable Development Goals - your questions answered

14 January 2015

Renewable energy helping farmers affected by climate change in Kenya to make a sustainable living.

Sinteyo is part of a women’s cooperative group in Isiolo, Kenya using a greenhouse and a solar-powered water pump to grow tomatoes to grow tomatoes to make a sustainable living.

What are the Sustainable Development Goals?

The Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs) are a new set of international development goals that replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015.

Resources for secondary schools about the SDGs

The SDGs outline a blueprint for development priorities until 2030. They include 17 goals with 169 targets covering a broad range of sustainable development issues, from ending poverty and hunger to improving health and education, reducing inequality, improving access to sustainable energy, and combating climate change.

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Why do the SDGs matter?

The SDGs are important because they will determine the future direction of development work over the next 15 years.

The Millennium Development Goals, agreed in 2000, helped halve the number of people living in extreme poverty around the world. Yet there were concerns that those writing the MDGs had failed to include the voices of the very people they were seeking to help. This hampered the extent to which the Goals were effectively used and implemented.

With the SDGs, however, the international community has made an effort to devise development goals that are based around the views and needs of those who should benefit most from them.

The SDGs were agreed in September 2015 in New York. Pope Francis delivered the opening address when world leaders gathered for the UN General Assembly. Pope Francis was the fourth Pope to have been invited to address the UNGA. The summit came just months before governments met in Paris to agree a new global deal to tackle climate change. Now it's time for governments to commit to action.

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What has Pope Francis said about sustainability and sustainable development?

The Pope has consistently spoken about his concern for the world’s poorest people who suffer most from the ruthless pursuit of wealth, which treats God’s creation as a possession rather than a gift for us to care for and use for the benefit of all. In his encyclical Laudato Si' - Care of our common home - Pope Francis urges society to move away from the myth of perennial progress at the expense of the Earth’s resources, and calls on us to recognise that development which fails to respect the Earth is a false economy.

Explore further: download or order our Laudato Si' study guide

Far from telling us how we must live, he calls for an open dialogue in society about how best to tackle the global issues we face, namely poverty and climate change. Our Holy Father calls for a bottom-up approach that puts care for the very poorest at the centre of the way we live our lives.

In an historic move, Pope Francis deliberately timed the publication of his encyclical with the key political processes taking place in 2015, namely the agreement of the new Sustainable Development Goals and an international deal to reduce carbon emissions in Paris in December.

Watch our Laudato Si' animation

What was the outcome of the Millennium Development Goals?

The Millennium Development Goals galvanised incredible support from the international community for some of the most pressing global challenges, but the eight goals saw mixed progress, with some goals being met globally and some still off track.

Results have been mixed in different countries, with some groups seeing marked progress, while other communities staying the same, or even relapsing into worse poverty over the last 15 years.

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MDG Goal One was to eradicate extreme poverty. The percentage of people living in extreme poverty has reduced from 47% in 1990 to 14% in 2015. Furthermore, the global number of extremely poor people has declined from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015.

MDG Goal Two focused on achieving universal primary education. Globally, the number of children out of school has reduced from 100 million in 1990 to 57 million in 2015. Sub-Saharan Africa has seen the greatest progress, with enrolment rates leaping from 52% in 1990 to 80% today. It isn’t just how many children are in school that matters, however, it’s the quality of education that counts.

MDG Goal Three promotes gender equality. While some progress has been made, vast disparities remain between the sexes in terms of access to education, land rights and political participation.

Download the UN report on the MDGs

How is CAFOD involved in sustainability and development?

In 2011 we conducted research with our partners into the Millennium Development Goals as part of our 100 Voices project. Our partners told us the Millennium Development Goals had been important for shaping a shared set of global priorities and supporting national level advocacy, but were weak on sustainability and sometimes ignored their domestic contexts.

Read our policy materials on the SDGs and MDGs

The new Global Goals offer us the opportunity to shape the development agenda to ensure a fairer and more just world. We want to make sure that development over the next 15 years is built on the principles of solidarity, equity, environmental stewardship and participation.

The principle of participation, as outlined in Catholic Social Teaching, is particularly important for our work on these Global Goals. People living in poverty want to have a say in their own future and to be ‘artisans of their own destiny’, as the Papal Encyclical Populorum Progressio says.

At CAFOD we have worked to make sure the voices and perspectives of those living in poverty are not forgotten in the new development goals, and that people living in poverty are included when it comes to putting the goals into practice and monitoring their progress.

So we co-founded the Beyond 2015 initiative – a global campaign involving more than 1,500 organisations from more than 130 countries, all working together to try and ensure the new set of development goals includes and responds to the voices of those directly affected by poverty and injustice.

The Beyond 2015 campaign brings together organisations from developed, developing and emerging economies working together to ensure the next set of development goals are not simply devised by developed countries and then passed down to developing countries to implement.

How can I support sustainability?

Climate change is the single biggest threat that exists today to eradicating poverty, and its impacts are threatening years of hard-won gains in development work. CAFOD is calling for a shift away from polluting fossil fuels to sustainable energy for everyone. The energy sector is the biggest contributor to climate change, but still fails to meet the needs of billions of people around the world who live in energy poverty.

Energy has often been called the 'missing MDG', and an energy SDG has now been agreed. SDG 7 promotes "access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all" and the shift to more sustainable ways of producing and using energy globally. You can campaign with us to make this happen.

Join our Power to be campaign for renewable energy

Action on climate change forms a significant part of the new development goals, through a standalone goal on climate change, with action on climate being incorporated into other relevant goals, such as poverty, transport and energy. 

At home, church or school, you can live more sustainably. Discover some simple ways to cut your carbon footprint or find out about how your community could work towards a livesimply award.

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