Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)- Indicators, Elements, Sustainable Development UPSC Study Notes

By Ritesh|Updated : September 23rd, 2022

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 Global Goals that are interlinked and are designed to serve as a blueprint for a future that is sustainable and accessible to all. These SDGs were developed by the United Nations General Assembly in the year 2014 and were targeted to be set to be achieved by the year 2030. Sustainable Development Goals were included in the General Assembly's resolution named Agenda 2030. The aim of Sustainable Development Goals 2030 is "Transforming the World." This initiative's primary objective is to promote a healthy and progressive future for all the people on the planet.

The core elements of sustainable development goals are economic growth, environmental sustainability, and social sustainability. Aspiring UPSC candidates should keep all things related to the UN as their priority. Being one of the most-inquired topics in the Prelims and Mains, it is vital that the aspirants are well-versed with the topic and its factoids. The aspirants can download the Sustainable Development Goals UPSC notes to be able to get an in-depth knowledge of the concept. This article shall cover all important details of the topic- SDG indicators, SDG report 2021, and its core elements- among other things.

Table of Content

Full Form Of SDGs

The full form of SDGs is Sustainable Development Goals. These SDGs have been put in place in the hopes of achieving a future that is accessible and sustainable for everyone. There are a total of 17 SDGs set up by the United Nations.

What are Sustainable Development Goals?

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were defined by the Brundtland Commission's report Our Common Future (1987) as development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It is the most-acknowledged definition of the concept. Sustainable development calls for concentrated efforts toward building an inclusive, resilient, and wise future for the planet and its people. The United Nations General Assembly established this set of 17 interlinked goals to be achieved globally in 2012.

What Are 17 Sustainable Development Goals?

There are certain goals for sustainable development that presents an impeccable layout for developing the countries and focusing on the welfare of the local population. There are a total of 17 Sustainable Development Goals:

  1. Ending poverty everywhere in all its forms
  2. Ending world hunger by achieving food security, improving nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture
  3. Ensuring healthy lives and well-being for everyone at all stages
  4. Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting opportunities for lifelong learning
  5. Achieving gender equality and empowering women at all stages of life
  6. Ensuring water availability, sustainable management, and adequate sanitation for all
  7. Ensuring access to affordable, sustainable, reliable, and modern energy for all
  8. Promoting economic growth that is sustainable and inclusive with an assurance of productive employment and decent work for all
  9. Building resilient infrastructure, promoting sustainable and inclusive industrialization that fosters innovation
  10. Reducing inequalities within and among countries
  11. Making human settlements and cities inclusive, safe, and sustainable
  12. Ensuring a sustainable pattern of consumption and production
  13. Taking quick actions to combat climate change
  14. Conserving the oceans, seas, and marine resources and using them mindfully
  15. Protecting, promoting, and restoring the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, along with managing forests sustainably, combating desertification, halting biodiversity loss, and reversing land degradation
  16. Promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for everyone, and building effective, accountable, inclusive institutions at all levels
  17. Strengthening the implementation and revitalizing of the global partnership for sustainable development

Sustainable Development Goals

Ways To Accomplish Global Initiatives

There is growing environmental interdependence, and the division of North and South is striking. In the North, 20% population is consuming 80% of resources, while the population in the South is still struggling to make ends meet. The global initiatives have been taken at two major levels the Regional and Community levels to accomplish sustainable development goals.

  • Regional Initiatives- These initiatives are taken to focus on and mitigate the trans-border concerns which cannot be solved at an individual level by the countries such as, shared rivers, pollution etc. Certain organizations cater to a particular purpose, such as the EU [European Union], ASEAN, and SAARC.
  • Community Initiatives- The initiatives that are taken by the NGOs interlinking global and local needs. The organizations such as IUCN, WWF, TRAFFIC, and Greenpeace have helped establish sustainable development goals.

Core Elements of Sustainable Development

There are 3 core elements to sustainable development goals. These are economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental protection. These elements have been discussed briefly below:

Economic Growth: This element envisages a sustainable pattern of economic growth, that helps to achieve sustainable livelihood and harmonious living with technology that is important and appropriate for achieving sustainable development goals.

  • Focusing on economic growth that generates wealth for all, without impacting the environment negatively.
  • Equal distribution of economic resources for well-rounded growth of all.
  • Eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions.

Environmental Sustainability: This element envisages the mindful and sustainable use of natural resources at our dispense.

  • Prevention of mindless and inexhaustible use of natural resources and ensuring their protection and rational use.
  • Several aspects of environmental conservation are to be followed through. Steps like investing in renewable energy, judicious use of water, supporting sustainable mobility, innovative and sustainable construction, and architecture, etc - all contribute to achieving environmental sustainability.

Social Sustainability: This element envisages a social sphere where this is equality and equity for all in all aspects of life. It is also a key element in deciding future sustainability and accomplishing sustainable development goals.

  • Social sustainability can foster a sense of gender equality that shall guarantee the development of people, communities, and cultures to help achieve a better and reasonable quality of life, healthcare, and education across the Globe.

Indicators Of Sustainable Development

The three dimensions/core elements of sustainable development goals were discussed above. However, indicators and targets are further classified under each SDG. There are 17 SDGs with varying targets to achieve and indicators used to measure the success of the initiatives undertaken by the countries participating in the activity.

Sustainable Development Goals In India

India is a UN member and is involved in the SDG initiative kickstarted by the UN General Assembly. The NITI Aayog, too, released the Baseline Report of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) India Index, which studies the progress made by the country comprehensively. Below is the track record of India in the implementation of these 17 Sustainable Development Goals;

  • Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) was launched in the country to provide meaningful employment to unskilled labourers and simultaneously improve their standard of living.
  • National Food Security Act was implemented for the provision of food grains to all at a subsidized rate.
  • The flagship program Swachh Bharat Abhiyan undertaken by the Government of India was launched to make India open-defecation-free.
  • Renewable energy generation targets have been decided at 175 GW. This is to be achieved by 2022 by using renewable energy sources like solar energy, wind energy, and others to reduce the dependence on non-renewable sources like fossil fuels.
  • Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY) schemes were launched to improve the country's infrastructural aspects.
  • After having signed the Paris agreement, India has expressed its strong intent to fight against climate change.

Sustainable Development For UPSC

Owing to its factual findings and relevance, the Sustainable Development Goals hold great significance in both the UPSC Prelims and UPSC Mains under the current affairs section of the UPSC Exam. Candidates can refer to the latest magazines and blogs to stay up-to-date about the happenings of the world. You can also refer to the Sustainable Development UPSC Notes. This article has been written keeping in line with the UPSC Exam Pattern and UPSC Syllabus.

Sustainable Development UPSC Notes PDF

SDGs are an important topic that is full of factual findings. This topic requires thorough revision as all UN-related organizations and schemes are important from the perspective of the IAS exam. Stay on top of your revision game with our collection of concisely written UPSC study material. You can also download the Sustainable Development Goals UPSC Notes PDF

The aspirants preparing for the UPSC exam must prepare well for this topic to be able to solve the questions related to it with ease. Download the SDG UPSC notes and prepare well for the exam.

Sustainable Development UPSC Questions

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are UN-suggested and set goals. The United Nations is a great topic of interest for the UPSC board which is why the aspirants must commit knowledge about it to their memory well. Practise SDGs UPSC questions and develop their understanding with these questions given below:

Question: Sustainable Development Goals and targets are to be achieved by:

  1. 2020
  2. 2025
  3. 2030
  4. 2050

Answer: C

Question: Which among the following targets are sustainable development goals?

  1. Zero poverty
  2. Quality education
  3. Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Other Diseases
  4. Decent work and economic growth

Answer: C

Question: The 12th Five-year plan aims at:

  1. Greening 5 million ha under Green India Mission.
  2. Integrated Ecotourism District Plans covering 10% of all potential Protected Areas (PAs) by 2017.
  3. Cleaning all the critically polluted rivers by 2020 and 80% by 2017.
  4. All of the above

Answer: D

There are numerous global concerns that put a question mark on the accomplishment of sustainable development goals [SDGs]. There are multiple barriers to this concept, which have been discussed below.

  • There is a pattern of inequitable growth in national economies (North-South Divide)
  • Technological progress has come at the cost of the loss of Biodiversity. The mindless use of natural resources has resulted in a severe impact on the biodiversity of the planet. Despite all the efforts being made over 20 years, the loss of the world's biodiversity continues.
  • The question and problem of Climate Change are as real and terrible as they can get. It is a global problem, and hence, requires global solutions and global action. Developing countries face particular challenges that should be addressed.
  • Climate change and sustainable development are two mutually linked forces. The careful and rational tackling of climate change shall promote sustainable development and encouraging sustainable development shall help reverse climate change.

Global Initiatives on Sustainable Development Goals

There have been multiple steps taken in the direction of an equitable and sustainable future for all its citizens. A few have been discussed below;

  • The Stockholm Conference (1972) was the first step toward making environmental concerns a global concern. This conference led to the Stockholm Declaration which contained an Action Plan and principles. This plan contained some recommendations for an environmental policy.
  • United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) was set up in 1972 that catalyzed the development and coordination of an environmental focus on the programs of other similar organizations.
  • The Earth Summit (1992) turned out to be the direct consequence of the Brundtland Commission's Report. This summit was held in Rio de Janeiro. This culminated in the following Conferences;
    • The Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
    • The Convention on Biological Diversity
    • The Statement on Forest Principles
    • The Rio Declaration
    • Agenda 21
  • Kyoto Protocol (1997) extended the UNFCCC of 1992 into an international treaty that promised commitment from the state parties towards the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and human-made CO₂ emissions.
  • Rio +10 (2002) was a meeting that convened to discuss organizations practising sustainable development to mark the 10th anniversary of the first Earth Summit that took place in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. This gave way to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) which was held in Johannesburg.
  • Ramsar Convention (1971) also called the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of Ramsar sites. The convention happened in the city of Ramsar, Iran after which it was named.
  • The World Heritage Convention (1972) was a summit to identify and conserve the world's cultural and natural heritage sites. It concisely listed the heritage sites of universal value, be it culturally, naturally, or both, and needed to be preserved.
  • The convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES, 1973) is a multilateral treaty that aims to extend protection for endangered species of plants and animals that have the threats of international trade looming over them.

Some other conventions and organizations contribute to sustainable development goals and aim to present a layout of a sustainable future for all. Get in touch with the list of the organizations as presented here.

  • International Whaling Commission,1946
  • Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), 1979
  • Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, 1985
  • Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, 1987
  • Basel Convention, 1989
  • Convention on Biological Diversity,1992
  • Global Tiger Forum,1993
  • United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification,1994
  • Rotterdam Convention,1998
  • Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants,2001
  • Minamata Convention,2013
  • Climate change mitigation strategies: Carbon sequestration, Carbon sink, Carbon Credit, Carbon trading, Carbon offsetting, Carbon Tax, Geo-engineering.
  • United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
  • UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD)
  • United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)
  • Climate Finance Architecture: Green Climate Fund (GCF), Adaptation Fund (AF) and Global Environment Facility (GEF)
  • Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) and REDD+
  • Paris Agreement 2015
  • The Clean Development Mechanism is a way to reduce greenhouse gas (GHGs ) emissions through efficient and sound technologies.
  • Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (GACSA)
  • Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE)

Millennium Development Goals

The Millennium Development Goals are 8 time-bound targets that were set by the United Nations in the September of 2000. These targets were to be achieved by the end of 15 years. These targets under the Millennium Development Goal have been listed below;

  1. Eradication of extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieving universal primary education
  3. Promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women
  4. Reduction of child mortality
  5. Improvement in maternal health stats
  6. Combatting HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  7. Ensured environmental sustainability
  8. Development of a global partnership for the development

A final report was handed over to the UN in 2015 that stated the positive impact of the setting up of the Millennium Development goal. There was some significant growth in the aspect of maternal mortality rate.

Sustainable Development Goal Challenges

There are certain challenges in establishing sustainable development goals at the larger level. The major challenges sometimes act as a roadblock in realizing sustainable development goals.

  • The persistence of inequality in some countries poses a challenge in realization of the sustainable development goals. 
  • The unemployment of the youth.
  • Global warming and the surge in the rise of CO2 concentrations.
  • The rise in ocean acidification.

Tracking Progress Of SDGs

The SDGs have been in place for a while. There have been numerous initiatives that have since been undertaken by governments and organizations all across the world. In 2019, there were 5 progress reports submitted that noted the development that happened across the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set up by the UN. Three of these reports came from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), one from the European Union (EU), and one from the Bertelsmann Foundation. The Basel Institute of Commons and Economics reviewed these five reports and presented their synopsis of them based on the achievement of SDGs completed.

SDG Topic


Sustainable Development Goals Average Rank




Energy, Climate, Water












Economic Growth









Gender Equality












Decent Work






Clean Energy



Life on Land



Life below Water



Social Inclusion



Sustainable Development Goals Report 2021

The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2021 greatly depicted the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that was felt by all, though in varying gravitas and impact.

  • COVID-19 was seen to further the financial gap among the masses. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that there would be a two-year delay in the SDG implementation investment, owing to the economic setbacks faced by all.
  • The pandemic has seen an acceleration in the roll-out of digital services and technologies making universal access to broadband connectivity and digital infrastructure absolute priorities. These shall aid in increasing access to services and tools.
  • Notable impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic on key SDG indicators:
    • SDG 1 (No Poverty): This pandemic has pushed an estimated 120 million people into extreme poverty over its span.
    • SDG 2 (Zero Hunger): It has also impacted accessibility to food and increased food insecurity.
    • SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being): The global COVID-19 death toll had surpassed 3 million deaths globally(as of April 2021)
    • SDG 4 (Quality Education), SDG 5 (Gender Equality), SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), and SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure) have also been negatively impacted.
    • There were some temporary gains observed in SDGs 12–15 around sustainable production and consumption, climate action, and biodiversity protection. That progress, too, has been rapidly offset once restrictions were lifted
  • COVID-19 has brought to the forefront the limited capacity of Low-Income Developing Countries (LIDCs) to tap into the market of financing. LIDCs have been unable to do what the High-Income countries did, borrowing, because of their lower market creditworthiness.

India's Rank In SDG Report 2021

India ranked at 120th position in the SDG Report, 2021 with an overall score of 61.9. India dropped by three places in 2021 when compared to the Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020, where India ranked 117th. India has only been able to achieve SDG 13 (Climate Action). It is set on its track to maintain this SDG achievement. Though there are major challenges left to deal with:

  • India has been on track to achieve SDG 6 (Clean water & sanitization) with its Swach Bharat Abhiyan.
  • SDG 4 (Quality Education) and SDG 15 (Life on Land) have, however, deteriorated
  • SDG 1 (No Poverty); SDG 3 (Good Health & Well Being) SDG 7 (Affordable & Clean Energy); SDG 8 (Decent Work & Economic Growth); SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure); SDG 14 (Life Below Water) have seen some substantial improvement in them though there is a long way to go.
Other Important UPSC Notes
Social AuditMission Indradhanush
Basel Convention 1989Liquidity Trap
Mauryan AdministrationInternational Court of Justice
Iran Nuclear DealFundamental Duties
Indian DiasporaJudicial Review
Comptroller and Auditor General of IndiaEmployees State Insurance
Mauryan EmpireCollegium System


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FAQs on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

  • The sustainable development goals present a layout of a sustainable future for the generations, it has a set of 17 global initiatives to be undertaken to accomplish this mission. The agenda of the 2030 sustainable development goal is "Transform the World". The candidates preparing for IAS exam must download Sustainable Development UPSC notes for comprehensive preparation.

  • There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals that have a different range of targets. The measure of success can be measured through the initiatives undertaken to achieve sustainable development goals.

  • A bold new global agenda to end poverty by 2030 and pursue a sustainable future was unanimously adopted today by the 193 Member States of the United Nations at the start of a three-day Summit on Sustainable Development.

  • The Government of India has launched numerous schemes and policies to accomplish the SDGs. The list of initiatives have been listed here:

    1. MNREGA was launched to provide job opportunities to skilled labourers.
    2. National Food Security Act- Food grains are made available at subsidized rates
    3. Swacch Bharat Abhiyan promoted cleanliness and led India toward open-defecation-free.
    4. Energy generation will be targeted by using renewable energy sources.
    5. Atal Mission For Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation has been launched to improve the infrastructural forefront.
  • Yes, the Sustainable Development topic is essential for the aspirants preparing for the prelims and mains exam. The candidates must download the sustainable development UPSC PDf and get on the way of comprehensive preparation of the UPSC syllabus.

  • Numerous initiatives have been taken at the global level to accomplish the goals of Sustainable Development. These steps taken at a larger level will assist us in meeting our goals at a larger scale.

    1. Stockholm Declaration amending the environmental policies.
    2. Kyoto Protocol focuses on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.
    3. Ramsar Convention focuses on the sustainable use of Ramsar sites.
    4. World Heritage Convention focuses on conserving heritage and cultural sites.
  • The global edition of the SDG Index and Dashboards has been released annually since 2016 by SDSN and the Bertelsmann Stiftung.

  • NITI Aayog, Marking an upgrade in its performance on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), India improved its score to 66 on NITI Aayog's SDG India Index in 2020-21, reported the latest edition of the Economic Survey released on Monday. This was up from 60 in 2019-20 and 57 in 2018-19.

  • At the heart of the 2030 Agenda are five critical dimensions: people, prosperity, planet, partnership, and peace. These are known as the 5Ps of sustainable development.

  • There are certain challenges that pose a barrier to the accomplishment of sustainable development goals. The unemployment of youth, the persistence of inequality, global warming, and ocean acidification are some of the major concerns that act as a roadblock to accomplishing sustainable development goals.

  • In the 2022 Global Index of SDGs, the country ranked 121 out of 163 countries. It ranked 117 in 2020 and 120 in 2021.

  • As a signatory to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, India is committed to participating in the international review of the progress of Sustainable development Goals (SDGs) on a regular basis.

  • NITI Aayog has constructed the SDG India Index spanning 13 out of 17 SDGs (leaving out Goals 12, 13, 14, and 17). The sustainable development goals present a blueprint leading to accountable and sustainable development.

  • Finland has the highest SDG index in the world. It was followed by three Nordic countries– Denmark, Sweden and Norway. The sustainable development goals present a complete blueprint for establishing an accountable and sustainable future.

  • The full form of SDG is Sustainable Development Goals. There is a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals that are to be accomplished to develop sustainable and accountable development.

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