November 19, 2017

The UN Sustainable Development Goals – what they are, why they exist

Posted by Laura Guertin

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a Joseph Priestley Society lecture at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia. Titled “Chemistry Enabling Life: Clean Air, Clean Water, Clean Energy,” a panel with Elizabeth Uhlhorn (Global Products Sustainability Leader, Dow Chemical Company) and Ana Persic (Science Specialist, UNESCO) discussed the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets. An audio recording of the panel will soon be archived on the CHF website.

The big takeaway for me from this panel was the need to communicate the SDGs, ensuring that more people realize they exist, that the goals are an agenda for developed and developing countries that are universal, integrated, interconnected, inclusive, and science-based. Despite the story of the SDGs beginning on September 25, 2015, and continuing for 15 years, work still needs to be done by all nations committed to ending poverty, protecting the planet, and ensuring prosperity for all.

To begin, what is sustainable development? The United Nations has an explanation.

The seventeen goals address the broad categories of ending poverty, fighting inequalities and injustice, and tackling climate change. If you want to overview the SDGs to your students, this next video lists the goals as presented by international celebrities as part of the ‘We The People’ for The Global Goals campaign. There are also TED Talks on this subject, such as the one by Michael Green.

Progress towards each goal can be explored through this interactive SDG chart. The UN has developed a list of actions that individuals can take to support the SDGs. This is a good list to share with students to encourage their involvement outside of class. For classroom instruction and activities, please visit the SERC Site Guide for sustainability. One specific example to explore includes the Action to Enhance Sustainability from the InTeGrate site.

For years, I have used the discipline literacy principles (blog post and listing of geoscience literacies on the NAGT website) as a foundation for the goals and objectives of my courses. Recently, I have been folding the SDGs into my courses, as they help students see not just why the material they are studying matters on a global scale, but how there are actions each individual can take to work towards this global effort. I have witnessed my non-science majors being able to make more of a connection between their learning and their lives when I use the SDGs as a focus for instruction and engagement. I hope to see, learn, and engage more with the SDGs and to see our students involved with everything from implementation to measurable outcomes.