SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

The overall goal of SDG 7 is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. Energy is central to nearly every major challenge and opportunity the world faces today. Be it for jobs, security, climate change, food production or increasing incomes, access to energy for all is essential.

Working towards this goal is especially important as it interlinks with other Sustainable Development Goals on which SDG 7 can have a direct impact on improvement. Focusing on universal access to energy, increased energy efficiency and the increased use of renewable energy through new economic and job opportunities is crucial to creating more sustainable and inclusive communities and resilience to environmental issues like climate change.

Currently there are approximately 3 billion people who lack access to clean cooking solutions and are exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution. Additionally, slightly less than 1 billion people are functioning without electricity and 50% of them are found in Sub-Saharan Africa alone. Fortunately, progress has been made in the past decade regarding the use of renewable electricity from water, solar and wind power and the ratio of energy used per unit of GDP is also declining.

The global challenge however is far from being solved and there needs to be more access to clean fuel and technology and more progress needs to be made regarding integrating renewable energy into end-use applications in buildings, transport and industry. An important focus are regulatory frameworks and innovative business models that will contribute to transforming the world’s energy systems.

Access to electricity

The proportion of the global population with access to electricity increased steadily, from 79% in 2000 to 85% in 2012. Recent progress was driven largely by advancements in Southern Asia, South-Eastern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Despite these improvements, 1.1 billion people are still without this essential service. In particular, over 65% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa are living without electricity. Of those gaining access to electricity worldwide since 2010, the vast majority (80%) are urban dwellers.

Cooking fuels

From 2005 to 2014, the proportion of the global population with access to clean fuels and technologies for cooking, such as gas and electricity, increased from 54% to 58%. Advancements have been slow in some regions, such as Sub-Saharan Africa, where access remains very low.

Limited progress since 2010 falls substantially short of global population growth and is almost exclusively confined to urban areas. As a result, the absolute number of people relying on polluting fuels and technologies, such as solid fuels and kerosene, for cooking has actually increased, reaching an estimated 3 billion people.

What does this mean and what does this look like?

As can be seen on the graph above Oceania is a region where access to electricity and clean cooking fuels can still be improved. Among the countries with low rates is Papua New Guinea. It is an extremely geographically diverse part of the world with beautiful coral reefs and beaches, as well as rainforest and mountains and is one of the least densely populated countries in the world. 

The proportion of Papua New Guinea‘s population with access to electricity increased from 11% in 1996 to 54.43% in 2017, with stark differences between urban and rural areas. And only 12 % of the population relied primarily on clean fuels and technology.

Now, the country’s western extremity is located along the border to Indonesia as can be seen on the following image. And in Indonesia (in green), the figures are quite different.

Map indicating locations of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea
By Indonesia_Malaysia_Locator.svg: *India_Indonesia_Locator.svg: Myself derivative work: Gunkarta (talk) derivative work: Gunkarta (talk) – Indonesia_Malaysia_Locator.svg, CC BY-SA 2.5, Link

There the proportion of the population with access to electricity reached 98.14% in 2017 and 65% of the population relied primarily on clean fuels and technology.

Differences that can also be observed depending on who is telling the story and what the aim of this story is. When it comes to the SDGs, there is still much to be done, but when we look at Papua New Guinea as a country rich in culture and magical landscapes, we might forget its challenges and just take it for heaven on earth.

Both realities coexist, but if we really want to achieve Sustainable Development, we should find a way of combining both realities to ensure wellbeing for all.

SDGs in Papua New Guinea

Tourism in Papua New Guinea


SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

Water and sanitation are at the very core of sustainable development, critical to the survival of people and the planet. SDG6 not only addresses the issues relating to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, but also the quality and sustainability of water resources worldwide and the vital role that improved drinking water, sanitation and hygiene play in progress in other areas, including health, education and poverty reduction.

Clean, accessible water for all is an essential part of the world we want to live in and there is sufficient fresh water on the planet to achieve this. However, due to bad economics or poor infrastructure, millions of people including children die every year from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene.

Water scarcity, poor water quality and inadequate sanitation negatively impact food security, livelihood choices and educational opportunities for poor families across the world. At the current time, more than 2 billion people are living with the risk of reduced access to freshwater resources and by 2050, at least one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water.

Drought in specific afflicts some of the world’s poorest countries, worsening hunger and malnutrition. Fortunately, there has been great progress made in the past decade regarding drinking sources and sanitation, whereby over 90% of the world’s population now has access to improved sources of drinking water.

Water stress

Holistic management of the water cycle means taking into account the level of “water stress”, calculated as the ratio of total fresh water withdrawn by all major sectors to the total renewable freshwater resources in a particular country or region.

Currently, water stress affects more than 2 billion people around the globe, a figure that is projected to rise. Water stress affects countries on every continent, which hinders the sustainability of natural resources, as well as economic and social development.

While many regions are below the 25% threshold that marks the beginning stages of physical water stress, huge differences are found within and among countries. In 2011, 41 countries experienced water stress, an increase from 36 countries in 1998. Of these, 10 countries—on the Arabian Peninsula and in Central Asia and Northern Africa—withdrew more than 100% of their renewable freshwater resources.

Drinking water sources

In 2015, 6.6 billion people, or 91% of the global population, used an improved drinking water source compared to 82% in 2000. Despite that improvement, an estimated 663 million people in 2015 were still using unimproved sources or surface water.

While coverage was around 90% or more in all regions except sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania, widespread inequalities persist within and among countries. Moreover, not all improved water sources are safe. For instance, in 2012 it was estimated that at least 1.8 billion people were exposed to drinking water sources contaminated with faecal matter.

A key aspect of sustainable water management is the implementation of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), a follow-up to the 2002 Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. In 2012, 65% of the 130 countries that responded to an IWRM survey question reported that management plans were in place at the national level, though full implementation varies across regions.

What does this mean and what does this look like?

Water is a big issue in the Pacific region, for many reasons. On the one hand, because of the rise of the sea level. On the other hand, because of the scarcity of safe drinking water.

It is a curious contradiction, that islands surrounded and threatened by water are at the same time in desperate need of water. And there are many stories on the global web on how climate change is affecting this island nation.

However regarding clear statistics about the targets and related indicators of SDG 6 is not readily available. Hopefully we will start getting used to compiling information about the goals in order to have data which will help us make better decisions and generate a better future.

Kiribati adapting to climate change

Drinking water

And then there is hope for the future. For sure in the eyes of all of these people and their wishes for a better future.

SDG 5: Gender Equality

While the world has achieved progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment under the Millennium Development Goals (including equal access to primary education between girls and boys), women and girls continue to suffer discrimination and violence in every part of the world.

Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and therefore also half of its potential. But, today gender inequality persists everywhere and stagnates social progress. Women continue to be underrepresented at all levels of political leadership. Across the globe, women and girls perform a disproportionate share of unpaid domestic work. Inequalities faced by girls can begin right at birth and follow them all their lives. In some countries, girls are deprived of access to health care or proper nutrition, leading to a higher mortality rate.

Empowering women and girls to reach their full potential requires that they have equal opportunities to those of men and boys. This means eliminating all forms of discrimination and violence against them, including violence by intimate partners, sexual violence and harmful practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).

Unfortunately, at the current time, 1 in 5 women and girls between the ages of 15-49 have reported experiencing physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner within a 12-month period and 49 countries currently have no laws protecting women from domestic violence.

Progress is occurring regarding harmful practices such as child marriage and FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), which has declined by 30% in the past decade, but there is still much work to be done to completely eliminate such practices.

Ensuring that women have better access to paid employment, sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, and real decision-making power in public and private spheres will further ensure that development is equitable and sustainable.

Child marriage

The practice of child marriage has been declining slowly. Globally, the proportion of women aged 20 to 24 who reported that they were married before their eighteenth birthdays dropped from 32% around 1990 to 26% around 2015.

Child marriage is most common in Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, with rates of 44% and 37%, respectively. In fact, the 10 countries with the highest rates in the world are found in these two regions.

Marriage rates for girls under age 15 are also highest in these two regions, at 16% and 11%, respectively. But social norms can and do change: the marriage of girls under age 15 declined globally from 12% in 1990 to 7% today, although disparities persist across regions and even countries.

The fastest progress in reducing child marriage overall has been recorded in Northern Africa, where the share of child brides dropped by more than half over the last 25 years, from 29% to 13%.

Female genital mutilation

FGM is a human rights violation that affects girls and women worldwide, especially in countries where it is an entrenched social norm. At least 200 million have been cut in the 30 countries where the practice is concentrated and that have representative prevalence data.

Rates of FGM overall have declined by more than 25% over the last three decades. However, not all countries have made progress, and the pace of decline has been uneven. Today, in these 30 countries, more than one in three girls aged 15 to 19 have undergone the procedure versus one in two in the mid-1980s.

Different forms of violence, including physical, sexual, psychological and economic, as well as trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation affect millions of women and girls worldwide.

Available comparable data from 52 countries (including only one country from the developed regions) indicate that 21% of girls and women interviewed aged 15 to 49 years experienced physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner in the previous 12 months.

What does this mean and what does this look like?

Children continue to be at the core of another very important SDG. And in some ways, this should not surprise us since the Sustainable Development Goals are oriented towards the future and the wellbeing of today’s children is equivalent to a better future on all levels.

As was stated above, Sub-Saharan Africa and South have the highest rates of early marriage, but this practice also persists in other regions, such as Latin America and the Caribbean with a 25% incidence. Rates are 17% in the Middle East and North Africa, and 11% in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

But it can also be found in other countries since it is intimately related to the culture of one of the ethnic groups that live in many Western countries, the Roma.

The Roma people are being discriminated in many places and surely the tradition of child marriage does not help to shed a nice light on them. It is however important that we keep looking at any practice that does not serve us for the sake of sustainable development from an objective and often historical point of view.

Tolerance, respect and acceptance towards all people can be considered lame excuses when we are looking at practices that are harmful. They are however the necessary first steps towards real change, because encouraging to transform this type of customs from a place of rejection will not bring us closer.

In order to be part of the transformation needed in the world, it is important that we see each culture from an empowering viewpoint, know their history and their stories, and reach a place of understanding where change can occur.

Roma in the world

Bulgaria bridal fair

Emir Kusturica is a Serbian filmmaker with a particular way of telling stories, being one of the examples his 1988 fantasy crime drama about a Romani with magical powers “Time of the Gypsies”

SDG 4: Quality Education

Education plays an essential role in the journey to Sustainable Development. The Goal’s longer title pleads for inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.

It therefore focuses on the acquisition of foundational and higher-order skills at all stages of education and development; greater and more equitable access to quality education at all levels as well as technical and vocational education and training (TVET); and the knowledge, skills and values needed to function well, contribute to society and to develop innovative solutions to the world’s greatest problems.

In this 21st century over 265 million children are still out of school and 22% of them are of primary school age. Additionally, even the children who are attending schools are lacking basic skills in reading and math.

In the past decade, major progress has been made towards increasing access to education at all levels and increasing enrollment rates in schools particularly for women and girls. Basic literacy skills have improved tremendously, yet bolder efforts are needed to make even greater strides for achieving universal education goals. For example, the world has achieved equality in primary education between girls and boys, but few countries have achieved that target at all levels of education.

The reasons for lack of quality education are due to lack of adequately trained teachers, poor conditions of schools and equity issues related to opportunities provided to rural children.

Despite years of steady growth in enrollment rates, non-proficiency rates remain disturbingly high. Globally, an estimated 617 million children and adolescents of primary and lower secondary school age— more than 55% of the global total—lacked minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics in 2015. Non-proficiency rates are highest in Sub-Saharan Africa and Central and Southern Asia, where more than 80% of children of primary and lower secondary school age were not proficient in reading.

Children out of primary education

Despite progress, the world failed to meet the MDG of universal primary education by 2015. In 2013, the latest year for which data are available, 59 million children of primary school age and 65 million adolescents of lower secondary age were out of school. Most of them were girls.

Survey data from 63 low- and middle-income countries between 2008 and 2012 show that children of primary school age from the poorest 20% of households were more than four times as likely to be out of school as their richest peers. Children, especially girls, from households headed by someone with less than a primary education were more than four times as likely to be out of school as children from households headed by someone with a secondary or higher education.

Fundamental skills

Quality education should lead to the acquisition of fundamental skills, such as literacy and numeracy, and higher level skills.

The end of lower secondary school often coincides with the end of compulsory education. By this stage, students should be able to master subject-related knowledge and skills, possess personal and social skills and have a solid foundation for further learning throughout life.

Data from 38 countries in the developed regions show that, in the majority of these countries, at least 75% of young people achieved at least minimum proficiency in reading and/or mathematics; the same was true for only 5 of the 22 countries with data in developing regions.

Regarding the issue of Sustainable Development, this set of fundamental skills is surely needed, but a true Education for Sustainable Development, with the final aim of global citizenship, requires a deep understanding that what we do today can have implications on the lives of people and the planet in future. ESD is at the heart of this SDG and also of action programmes led by the UNESCO. An essential part is to include sustainable development issues in the curriculum and make sure that we acquire knowledge, skills, values and behaviours needed for sustainable development.

What does this mean and what does this look like?

In order to ensure that education creates the highest impact in the lives of all of us, it is vital that children finish at least their primary and secondary education. Again the worst scenarios can be found in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, but I would like to have a look at another region in this case.

I want to invite you to visit Western Asia, specifically the South Caucasus. There we find Armenia, a country which gained its independence from Russia in 1991, but which has its unique and long-standing history, being even the first country to adopt Christian religion.

There the number of children out of school has followed an interesting evolution. In 2017 the percentage of children out of primary education was 7.69%, with a low in the year 2007 of 2.92%. Regarding school enrollment in secondary education the percentage is 83.15%.

Efforts are under way to improve this situation and offer us curious images, of run-down buildings, children with universal T-shirt prints surrounded by poetic landscapes.

Inside an Armenian school

The song Imagine in Armenian

Colours of Armenia

SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being

Good health and well-being is surely something we all wish for in our lives, but it is also a global goal since this will inevitably be a sign of a prosperous world.

The aim is to improve reproductive and maternal and child health; end the epidemics of HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and neglected tropical diseases; reduce non-communicable and environmental diseases; achieve universal health coverage; and ensure universal access to safe, affordable and effective medicines and vaccines.

Without any doubt, a wide range of ambitious outcomes, towards which world leaders are committed by supporting research and development, increasing health financing, and strengthening the capacity of all countries to reduce and manage health risks.

Health risks are quite broad, including infectious and non-communicable diseases or road traffic deaths. Among the highest priorities on an global scale we still find maternal and child mortality rates.

Maternal mortality

Between the years 2000 and 2015, the global maternal mortality ratio, or number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, declined by 37 per cent, to an estimated ratio of 216 per 100,000 live births in 2015. The target established in the 2030 Agenda is 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Almost all maternal deaths occur in low-resource settings and can be prevented, being one important factor the assistance of skilled health-care personnel. Another essential factor is the access to appropriate sexual and reproductive health services, and thus preventing unintended pregnancy and reducing adolescent childbearing.

Childbearing in adolescence has steadily declined in almost all regions, but wide disparities persist: in 2015, the birth rate among adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 ranged from 7 births per 1,000 girls in Eastern Asia to 102 births per 1,000 girls in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Worldwide, in 2015, approximately 3 in 4 women of reproductive age (15 to 49 years of age) who were married or in union satisfied their need for family planning by using modern contraceptive methods; in Sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania, however, the share was less than half.

Child mortality

Under-five mortality rates fell rapidly from 2000 to 2015, declining by 44% globally. Nevertheless, an estimated 5.9 million children under the age of 5 died in 2015, with a global under-five mortality rate of 43 per 1,000 live births.

The neonatal mortality rate, that is, the likelihood of dying in the first 28 days of life, declined from 31 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2000 to 19 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2015. Over that period, progress in the rate of child survival among children aged 1 to 59 months outpaced advances in reducing neonatal mortality; as a result, neonatal deaths now represent a larger share (45 per cent) of all under-five deaths.

What does this mean and what does it look like?

Sub-Saharan Africa is again one of the most vulnerable regions in this case. Above I stated that the global maternal mortality ratio declined to an estimated ratio of 216 per 100,000 live births in 2015. The estimated number for the country we will get to know next was 1,150 in the year 2017. As for neonatal mortality (globally: 19 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2015), the estimation is 90.4.

The country with these tremendous figures is South Sudan.

The major complications that account for most of the maternal deaths are severe bleeding, infections, complications from delivery or unsafe abortion. The remainder are caused by or associated with infections such as malaria or related to chronic conditions like cardiac diseases or diabetes.

As for maternal and child mortality, there exists an additional risk in this country: the consequences of its civil war. South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 and is thus a very young country. However this independence was preceded and followed by civil war. According to UNICEF, 2.4 million children have been forced to flee their homes, more than 250,000 children could starve to death by July if they do not get the aid they need to survive, and over 19,000 children have been recruited into the conflict.

You will probably have no problem in finding heart-wrenching images on the global web regarding this situation. But I would like you to accompany me on the journey to discover this country and its people from the perspective of resilience.

One is related to the history of the tribes that have inhabited the area for thousands of years and their relationship with their cattle.

And then there is the story of Emmanuel Jal, a child soldier in the 1990s, who turned his past into the mission to spread peace as a recording artist.

You can either listen to his TED talk

Or to the song of his campaign “We want peace”.


SDG 2: Zero Hunger

Zero hunger is the short title for SDG 2, but it means a lot more. This goal includes aspects regarding food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture. The food and agriculture sectors offer key solutions to the sustainable development question and are central not only to eradicate hunger, but also poverty.

In order to be able to achieve the transformation needed, above all, we have to rethink how we grow, share and consume our food. If done right, agriculture, forestry and fisheries can provide nutritious food for all and generate decent incomes, while supporting people-centered rural development and protecting the environment. However, right now, the soils, freshwater, oceans, forests and biodiversity of our planet are being rapidly degraded and climate change is putting even more pressure on the resources we depend on.

A profound change of the global food and agriculture system is essential if we are to nourish the people who are hungry today and to prevent the expected undernourishment beyond 2030. Investments in agriculture are crucial to increase the capacity for agricultural productivity and sustainable food production systems are necessary to help alleviate the hazards of hunger.

The number of people going hungry has increased since 2014. An estimated 821 million people were undernourished in 2017. The prevalence of undernourishment has remained almost unchanged in the past three years at a level slightly below 11%. This reversal in progress sends a clear warning that more must be done and urgently if the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger is to be achieved by 2030.

Hunger in the world

The fight against hunger has seen some progress over the past 15 years. Globally, the proportion of undernourished people declined from 15% in 2000-2002 to 11% in 2014-2016. However, more than 790 million people still lack regular access to adequate food. If current trends continue, the zero hunger target will be largely missed by 2030.

The persistence of hunger is no longer a matter of food availability. Rather, in many countries that failed to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) hunger target, natural and human-induced disasters or political instability have resulted in food insecurity affecting large groups of the population.

Right now, estimates from the Food Insecurity Experience Scale—available for about 150 countries in 2014 and 2015—reveal that food insecurity is most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa. More than half of the adult population in that region faced moderate or severe levels of food insecurity, and one-quarter faced severe levels. Southern Asia had the second highest prevalence: around 25% of adults there experienced moderate or severe food insecurity, and 12% experienced severe levels.

Achieving this goal will require improving the productivity and incomes of small-scale farmers by promoting equal access to land, technology and markets, sustainable food production systems and resilient agricultural practices. It also requires increased investments through international cooperation to bolster the productive capacity of agriculture in developing countries.

Hunger and children

Children are the most severely affected by the lack of food since it leads to undernutrition and, consequently, to stunted growth. In 2014, an estimated 158.6 million children under age 5 were affected by stunting, defined as inadequate height for age. Chronic undernutrition also puts children at greater risk of dying from common infections, increases the frequency and severity of infections, and contributes to delayed recovery. It is also associated with impaired cognitive ability and reduced school and work performance.

Globally, the proportion of stunted children has fallen in all regions except Oceania. Southern Asia made the most progress between 2000 and 2014, but the region is still home to the largest number of stunted children in the world — 63.9 million. In Sub­Saharan Africa, population growth outpaced progress: the number of stunted children increased from an estimated 50.1 million in 2000 to 57.3 million in 2014. Together, Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for three quarters of children under 5 affected by stunting in 2014.

But, unfortunately and controversially, we can also find the flip side of this coin in the world: the proportion of children under age 5 who are overweight increased from 5% in 2000 to 6% in 2014. Overweight is a growing problem affecting nearly every region. Northern Africa has the highest prevalence of overweight children under 5 (16%), followed by the Caucasus and Central Asia (12%). Globally, 41 million children in this age group are overweight; almost half of them live in Asia and one quarter live in Africa.

What does this mean and what does this look like?

Searching for numbers and concrete examples regarding this SDG, I ended up in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is one of the countries in Southern Asia with still a very high rate of underweight children, 32.6% in 2014.

World Fish brought an aquaculture project to Bangladesh to enhance the incomes, diets and nutrition of smallholder families. Apart from getting to know the countryside in Bangladesh, in the videos it also becomes very clear how life and food are closely related. Even on the village market the amount of product each farmer sells leaves no doubt that each of them has been directly involved in the harvesting.

Fish in Bangladesh

Village market in Bangladesh

This surely is not the case in developed countries where food seems to “grow” in supermarket aisles. But we all do have something in common: food is essential for our wellbeing and our health, and there exist basic guidelines which are applicable to all of us and which we’d better follow. The reasons why we sometimes do not follow these guidelines however are very different, not only because of the country we live in, but also because of our habits and relationship to food.