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Why you should care about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals

by | Jan 13, 2022

You have heard about that the United Nations has set 17 goals towards sustainable development, known as the Sustainable Development Goals. Do you understand what are they? Why do we have them? And how can they help us frame our decisions in a way that positively transforms South Africa and our world?

Adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, the SDGs are a set of goals that amount to a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. They recognise that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.

The SDGs are as much about the restoration of the dignity of people around the world as they are about development and transformation, more so in South Africa with its history of deprivation and exclusion of the majority of its people.

Because the SDGs are ambitious, they amount to an urgent call for action by all countries – those in the Global North and the Global South – in a global partnership.

The Goals all centre around the fundamental idea of making life better for everyone, while respecting our planet and its resources. Most goals are set for 2030, making this a decade of action and delivery. Below is a short description of what each one is about, why they matter and what you can do to help achieve the targets.

SDG 1: End poverty

End poverty in all its forms everywhere

Target

Eradicate extreme poverty as well as ensure equal economic rights to all people.

Need to know:

  • 9% of the South African population live below the international poverty line, defined at less than $1.90 (R28) a day, compared to 9.2% of the global population who live in extreme poverty.

What you can do:

  • Buy from companies that pay people fairly and, where you have concerns, demand that companies pay decent wages and offer opportunities for all.
  • Support and invest in grassroots organisations and NGOs that are advocating for systems change, addressing the many ways that poverty manifests and helping to alleviate the burdens that comes with it.
  • Educate yourself on the systems and power relations that contribute to inequality and poverty. Engage with government policies that address poverty. Governments can help create an enabling environment for job creation and can also tackle poverty directly through social grants.

 

SDG 2: End hunger

End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

Target

Double agricultural production through sustainable and resilient agriculture practices and supporting development and agricultural research in developing countries.

Need to know

  • 11% of SA’s population (6.5 million people) suffered from hunger in 2019, according to Statistics South Africa.
  • South Africa’s food waste is equivalent to 34% of local food production, but because the country is a net exporter of food, the losses and waste are equivalent to 45% of the available food supply.

What you can do

  • Support food banks, food charities.
  • Cook more of your own food and waste less food.
  • Learn how we farm, fish and make our food.
  • Buy local, seasonal and fairly traded food.
  • Plant a community garden.

 

SDG 3: Deliver good health for all

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

Target

Reduce premature mortality by a third; strengthen prevention and treatment of substance abuse; end AIDS epidemic and other communicable diseases; improve reproductive health and family planning.

Need to know

  • South African infant mortality rate was at 28 per 1000 live births in 2019.
  • Low life expectancy in SA due to severe burden of disease and preventable deaths from underdeveloped healthcare.
  • The majority of South African patients access health services through the public sector District Health System. The private sector serves 16% of the population while the public sector serves 84%.

What you can do

  • Wash your hands and wear your mask when in public spaces.
  • Build movement and exercise into your weekly routine.
  • Stay safe on or near roads.
  • Prioritise mental health and well-being.
  • Place yourself on the organ and tissue donors’ registry in your country.
  • Donate your blood. Safe blood saves lives.
  • It’s good for the mind, body, and the environment.
  • Volunteer at a hospital. You can support its operations and increase the hospital’s human capacity and productivity.
  • Vaccinate yourself and your kids. Protecting your family from disease also aids public health.

 

SDG 4: Provide quality education for all

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

Target

Ensure free primary and secondary education and equal access to tertiary education for adults.

Need to know

  • South Africa has one of the most unequal school systems in the world, with many schools not providing quality education. Children in the top 200 schools achieve more distinctions in mathematics than children in the next 6,600 schools combined.

What you can do

  • Embrace continuous, life-long learning and unlearning and encourage others to do the same.
  • Help children stay in school by supporting organisations and initiatives that focus on supporting students, teachers, and families to curb school dropout rate.
  • Donate your used books.
  • Support teachers and your local school.
  • Support school feeding schemes through donations or volunteer hours.
  • Mentor young people.
  • Defend everyone’s right to an education.

 

SDG 5: Achieve gender equality for all

Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Target

Elimination of all forms of gender-based violence and increased access to reproductive health.

Need to know

  • In SA, gender inequality manifests in very high levels of gender-based violence: a woman is murdered every three hours in South Africa.
  • People in the LGBTQIA+ community still fear for their lives, every day, and are continuously subjected to unjust exclusion, discrimination, threats, and attacks.
  • South African women earn on average 30% less than men in the same jobs.
  • A majority of both men and women believe that homemaking and child-rearing should mainly be a woman’s responsibility.

What you can do

  • Stand up against chauvinist, racist and bigoted attitudes and behaviours.
  • Support organisations that defend the rights of women, queer folks, and marginalised populations, and advocate for a more equitable world.
  • Raise children to expect equality and respect diversity.
  • Challenge normative gender roles by sharing household chores and responsibilities between everyone in the household.
  • Advocate for accessible and destigmatised sexual and reproductive health services.
  • Include marginalised voices in decision-making, to subvert the patriarchal systems we exist in.
  • Celebrate and emphasise the importance of care work as an extremely important – yet undervalued – role in our society.

 

SDG 6: Ensure water and sanitation for all

Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation

Target

Achieve equitable access to water through reducing pollution of water systems and implementing integrated water resource management.

Need to know

  • South Africa’s freshwater-related ecosystems are deteriorating.
  • Only about 70% of South African households have access to acceptable sanitation.

What you can do

  • Be aware of saving water when brushing your teeth, washing and cleaning.
  • Report and fix leaks big and small.
  • Be conscious of the cost to your municipality to pump, treat, deliver, collect, treat again, and return water to the system.
  • Soften your home environment. Encourage water to filter into the soil to the groundwater under your house by removing paving stones on your property and plant a rock garden.
  • If you are able to, invest in a rain water storage tank for watering your garden.
  • Don’t flush any trash or toxic chemicals.

 

SDG 7: Supply clean energy for all

Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

Target

Supply sustainable energy to developing countries and support international cooperation of greener, renewable energy.

Need to know

  • About 95% of its South Africa’s electricity comes from coal, almost all of it from Eskom which has been in chronic decay for over a decade.
  • Increased energy efficiency, combined with a growing contribution from sustainable energy generation, can contribute to a more stable electricity grid.
  • Reduce dependence on fossil fuel by switching to renewable energy and lowering emissions.

What you can do

  • Save energy wherever you can and generate some of your own needs using solar power.
  • Use power efficient electrical devices.
  • Unplug electronic devices when they aren’t in use.
  • Buy from companies powered by renewable energy.

 

SDG 8: Create good jobs for all

Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

Target

Increase economic productivity through diversification, job creation and growth of small enterprises. Improve resource efficacy to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation.

Need to know

  • Economic and employment growth are the strongest enablers of rising prosperity, especially in South Africa where nearly 11.5 million adults are unemployed. Low rates of economic growth in South Africa have had a direct impact on its ability to expand and sustain social protection and to expand access to social services.
  • Low wages, especially for vulnerable workers and workers in the informal sector, mean that there are also many “working poor” in SA.

What you can do

  • Support local businesses. Studies show locally owned businesses employ more people per unit of sales and retain more employees over time.
  • Invest in Black and POC-owned businesses.
  • Stand up for everyone’s rights to work.
  • Avoid businesses with unethical employment practices.
  • Invest in and celebrate entrepreneurs from historically maginalised groups, such as women and queer folks.

 

SDG 9: Support sustainable infrastructure and innovation

Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation

Target

Increased role for industrial activities in the economy, envisaging a large increase in their share of GDP while also targeting the retrofitting and upgrading of industrial infrastructure to make it more sustainable.

Need to know

  • South Africa’s industrial sector has shrunk over the past few decades, with the fastest declines seen in the most labour-intensive sectors.
  • Infrastructure provides the basic physical systems and structures essential to the operation of a society or enterprise.
  • Industrialisation drives economic growth and generally creates jobs that pay better than most alternatives.
  • Innovation advances the technological capabilities of industrial sectors and prompts the development of new skills.

 What you can do

  • Buy locally manufactured goods whenever possible.
  • Support infrastructural development that both benefits people and protects the planet.
  • Welcome innovations that make the world a better place.
  • Stand up against unjust and extractive developments.

 

SDG 10: Fight inequality

For caption Reduce inequality within and among countries

Target

Improve inequalities on financial, social and environmental levels through ensuring equal opportunities, eliminating discriminatory laws, regulating of global financial markets and inclusion of lesser developed countries in decision making.

Need to know

  • South Africa is known as one of the most unequal countries in the world, reporting a per-capita expenditure Gini coefficient of 0,65 in 2015.
  • Even though the income gap between white and black people has closed since the end of apartheid, inequality within groups has increased, resulting in higher overall levels of inequality.

What you can do

  • Buy from companies that pay tax and treat people fairly.
  • Invest in Black and POC-owned businesses.
  • Support and invest in grassroots organisations and NGOs that are advocating for systems change, addressing the many ways that inequality manifests.
  • Stand up for your rights, and the rights of others.
  • Raise your voice against any type of discrimination.
  • Favour companies that are inclusive, beyond just tokenisation.

 

SDG 11: Make cities sustainable

Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable

Target

Provide safe and accessible housing and travel. Inclusive and sustainable urbanisation and protection of vulnerable communities from disasters.

Need to know

  • Nearly 80% of South African households in SA live in formal dwellings, but the remainder live in informal or traditional dwellings with few or no amenities.
  • Most South Africans live in areas defined as urban, but this includes the settlements established in the former homelands, where few people have employment.
  • Building cohesive, inclusive cities is a key to building more environmentally and culturally sustainable societies.

What you can do

  • Take part in participatory democracy by involving yourself in local decision-making processes and advocating for a more sustainable city.
  • Demand safe and good quality public transport.
  • Demand that your local government takes steps to prepare for natural disasters.
  • Protect local trees, wildlife, and natural area.
  • Support arts and culture initiatives that celebrate local cultures and preserve local histories through storytelling and dynamic archives.
  • Take care of public spaces and advocate for more equitable access to green and blue spaces.
  • Participate in community gardens.

 

SDG 12: Create a waste free world

Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

Target

Reduce waste through promoting sustainable practices for both producers and consumers. Ensure efficient use of natural resources and limit food waste.

Need to know

  • South Africa’s economy is over-reliant on consumption to drive economic growth, while our heavy industries are infamous polluters.
  • Recycling capabilities in South Africa are under-developed, and too few recyclable products are, in fact, recycled.

What you can do

  • Buy local, ethical, and sustainable products.
  • Consider how you care for your products and how to best discard after use.
  • Reuse, repair, recycle, borrow and reduce where possible.
  • Compost organic waste.
  • Buy cruelty-free, plastic-free toiletries and cosmetics.

 

SDG 13: Tackle the climate crisis

Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Target

Implement climate change policies and strengthen resilience to climate disasters as part of government strategies.

Need to know

  • SA tops Africa’s big carbon emitters, with 471.6 million metric tons of carbon (MtC) emitted in 2019, up from 390,5 MtC in 2016.
  • SA relies on coal to fire up 30,000 MW of electricity, which serves about 95% of its electricity needs and 80% of our total energy needs.

What you can do

  • Demand more renewable energy in your country.
  • Reduce your energy consumption, e.g., use energy efficient light bulbs.
  • Eat more plants and cut down on meat.
  • Walk and cycle rather than drive. Limit air travel.
  • Be aware of how we contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Reuse, recycle and upcycle.
  • Disdain single-use plastics.
  • Learn about climate change and climate solutions.
  • Educate yourself on the intersectionality of the climate crisis.
  • Support and invest in local, grassroots organisations that are addressing the social and environmental injustices of the climate crisis.

 

SDG 14: Protect the ocean

Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development

Target

Sustainable management of fisheries and aqua tourism and increased research into conservation and diversification of marine life.

Need to know

  • More than 30% of the world’s fisheries have been overfished and needs strict management to restore them.
  • In SA the fisheries industry is worth R6 billion and employs over 27 000 people, most of whom are small-scale fishers.
  • Of the 312 million kilograms of seafood consumed in SA each year, 50% is locally caught 70% is sardine and hake.

What you can do

  • Buy sustainable fish and seafood. Use WWF’S SASSI list and ABALOBI for sustainably sourced fish.
  • Buy seafood that’s in season so that populations have time to grow.
  • Don’t eat only one kind of seafood as that put more pressure on that species.
  • Reduce your plastic usage and eliminate the single-use plastics (litter ends up in seas).
  • Keep toxic materials, like motor oil and household cleaning chemicals, out of the water system: don’t pour them down the drain!
  • Advocate for the livelihoods of local, small-scale fishers who have been using fishing as a form of sustenance for decades.
  • Participate in beach clean-ups.
  • Limit discharge of medicine into nature.
  • Don’t buy items containing marine life products like tortoiseshell hair accessories, coral jewellery and shark tooth necklace.

 

SDG 15: Protect life on land

Protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. Love nature

Target

Achieve land degradation-neutral world through conservation of mountain ecosystems and protecting flora and fauna from poaching.

Need to know

  • Globally, 12 million hectares of forests are cleared annually – an area 1,3 times the size of KZN! Almost all this deforestation occurs in the moist forests and open woodlands of the tropics.
  • SA is home to nine biomes of which two are internationally recognised biodiversity hotspots: the Succulent Karoo and Cape Floral Kingdom.
  • 281 species, some ranges in SA, are classified as endangered or vulnerable, with 209 species critically endangered.

What you can do

  • Learn more about how and why some species are endangered.
  • Never buy products made from endangered wildlife.
  • Support companies that protect and restore nature.
  • Support reforestation. Speak up for threatened forests and natural places.
  • Reduce your consumption of meat.
  • Be a mindful gardener: plant indigenous, water-wise plants and remove alien vegetation.

 

SDG 16: End conflict and corruption

Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels

Target

Promote rule of law on both national and international levels, reduce flow of illicit arms and include developing countries in global governance.

Need to know

  • SA is 3rd on the global list of crime and is especially infamous for high levels of violent crime.
  • SA records over 20,000 murders a year, with a per capita murder rate that makes us one of the most violent countries in the world.
  • Levels of gender-based violence (not all of which is recorded by the police) are also exceptionally high.
  • Policing also has a very mixed record, with police involvement in hundreds of deaths a year.

What you can do

  • Stand up against corruption and abuse of power.
  • Support the institutions that support people and speak truth to power.
  • Promote law-abiding behaviour and stand up against laws and policies that unjustly favour specific groups of people.
  • Know your rights.
  • Report crimes and speak up.
  • Stand up for fairness and peace.

 

SDG17: Get everyone involved in the world’s to do list

Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development

Target

Enhance global macroeconomic stability and encourage global partnerships to share knowledge, technology and financial resources to uplift other nations

Need to know

  • Local and global partnerships and engagement build a better world, specifically in the fields of technology, finance, and trade.
  • 63% of low-income countries are in need of financial assistance to face pandemic-inflicted challenges.

What you can do

  • Support those who bring us together and those who are committed to justice-centred work.
  • Celebrate the progress we’ve already made.
  • Get involved and volunteer in your community.
  • Reflect on your own lifestyle and brainstorm ideas for how you can decrease your impact.
  • Work or volunteer in NGOs that work towards the SDGs.

Read more about the SDGs here.

Sources

UN Global Goals, Global Citizen, Quartz Africa, StatsSA, South Africa Human Rights Commission, Business ech, ENCA, Moving World, Getna, Food and Agriculture Organization, Environment SA, Conservation African, Twyg Tips, Trading Economics, World Bank, Futerra

Image credit: Masixole Feni from Ground Up archive used under the Creative Commons licence

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