Sustainable Development Goals: Environmental goals and actions

This note follows on from the April note ‘Actuaries and sustainability[1]. It explores the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in more detail and is the first of three notes covering the 17 United Nations SDGs.

While the SDGs are strongly interrelated, we have broadly grouped them under the three pillars environment, society and economy[2], with a separate note for each grouping.

This first article looks at five SDGs under the heading of Environment.

Clean water and sanitation (SDG #6)

Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Water scarcity affects more than 40% of people. This is expected to rise with global warming increasing drought and desertification. In 2015 2.3 billion people lacked basic sanitation and 4.5 billion lacked safely managed sanitation services.

There are a number of targets related to this goal. By 2030: have access to safe and affordable drinking water for all; have access to adequate sanitation and hygiene for all, with special attention to the needs of women and girls; improve water quality, reducing pollution, the process in which we release of hazardous chemicals and materials and halving the proportion of untreated wastewater; increase water use efficiency.

Work continues to improve water and sanitation. In Nepal, the Drinkpani Initiative[3] which young people collect, store, transfer and share information on drinking water supply and quality. The Central Asia Youth for Water network is engaging young people in water management issues[4].

People can contribute by keeping waterways, rivers, and oceans clean and using water responsibly.

Affordable and clean energy (SDG #7)

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

One in ten people still lack electricity, mostly in rural areas of the developing world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa. Energy accounts for 73% of human-caused greenhouse gases. Improved energy efficiency could enable 40% of the emission reduction needed to reach climate goals[5].

The 2030 targets for sustainable energy include access to affordable, reliable energy; increased proportion of renewable energy sources; doubled rate of improvement in energy efficiency; expanded and upgraded energy services in developing countries5.

The 24/7 Carbon-free Energy Compact is a global effort to accelerate decarbonisation of the world’s energy systems. There are at least 117 signatories, including countries, cities, and corporations[6] working to meet their electricity needs with carbon-free resources.

Ways for people to assist include switching off electronic equipment when not in use, preferably at the wall so it is not ‘on standby’; using rechargeable rather than single-use batteries; using fans in preference to air conditioning; using solar power, and LED lights[7].

Responsible consumption and production (SDG #12)

Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

We currently consume far beyond the natural resources our planet can provide. 121kg per person per year of food was wasted in 2020 in households, food services and retail services. “E-waste” from discarded electrical equipment measured 7.3kg per capita in 2019, out of which only 1.7kg was managed in an environmentally sound way[8].

Goal 12 aims to shape a new circular economy through sustainable management of natural resources and reducing waste, including halving per capita food waste by 2030. Companies are encouraged to report on sustainability information.

Businesses are increasingly adopting sustainable practices, with around 70% of companies monitored publishing sustainability reports in 2022, triple the rate since 2016. Mandatory implementation of International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) reporting is being discussed in Australia[9]. Renewable energy capacity has increased rapidly in countries, as shown in the graph[10] below, and now represents over a third of these countries’ total electricity generation capacity.

Individuals can support this goal by buying second-hand, choosing reusable products, avoiding packaging, and buying from companies that have sustainable practices.

Life below water (SDG #14)

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

Oceans are threatened by plastic pollution, overfishing, ocean warming, acidification, and eutrophication. 17 million metric tons of plastic entered the ocean in 2021, and the number is projected to double or triple by 2040[11].

SDG goals relating include regulating harvesting, conserving coastal areas, reducing marine pollution, minimising ocean acidification, and increasing scientific knowledge. One study[12] found that of the four targets that expired in 2020, no countries had achieved all four targets by 2022, while only two countries had achieved three out of the four targets.

UNEP’s Clean Seas Campaign is a global coalition devoted to ending marine plastic pollution. 69 countries including Australia have joined, and commitments by signatory countries now cover more than 76% of the world’s coastlines[13]. The second UN Ocean Conference[14] held in 2022 saw governments, NGOs and other entities make hundreds of conservation commitments to expand marine protected areas, end destructive fishing practices, and fund conservation efforts.

Individuals can help by reducing plastic use, properly disposing of waste, and supporting sustainable seafood choices such as local certified ocean-friendly fish. Ocean acidification is linked to carbon emissions, so actions to reduce carbon emissions will also have a positive impact on ocean health.

Life on land (SDG #15)

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

Human activities have profoundly altered terrestrial ecosystems: around 40,000 species are documented to be at risk of extinction over the coming decades, 10 million hectares of forest are being destroyed each year, and more than half of key biodiversity areas remain unprotected.

SDG15 aims to conserve terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, prevent extinction of threatened species, and combat desertification. Targets also include the integration of biodiversity in government planning.

Globally, the percentage of key biodiversity areas under protection increased from over one quarter in 2000 to nearly one-half in 2021, as shown in the graph below. Countries are increasingly incorporating biodiversity values into national accounting and reporting, with 37% of assessed countries on track to achieve national targets under the Achi Biodiversity Target 2[17]. 133 countries have also ratified the Nagoya Protocol,[18] which provides a legal framework for fair and equitable use of genetic resources.

Individuals can help by using products from sustainable sources and avoiding products that contribute to deforestation such as palm oil. We can also support conservation organisations, reduce the use of paper, avoid pesticides, and help clean up local parks and forests.

If you are interested in learning more, the United Nations webpage lists detailed facts and targets for each goal. The next article in this ‘Actuaries and sustainability’ series will consider SDGs relating to social issues.


[1] Actuaries and sustainability – Actuaries Digital – Actuaries and sustainability | Actuaries Digital; Stephanie Wong and Jim O’Donnell; 3 April 2023


[3] About (

[4] Central Asia Youth for Water Network (

[5] Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy | Sustainable Development Goals | United Nations Development Programme (

[6] Republic of Vanuatu takes bold step towards sustainable future by joining 24/7 Carbon-Free Energy Compact | Sustainable Energy for All (

[7] How to achieve Sustainable Development Goals – The Global Goals

[8] UN (2022) The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022

[9] Australian Institute of Company Directors (Mar 2023) Treasury’s mandatory climate reporting consultation: AICD submission

[10] UN (2022) The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022

[11] United Nations   Goal 14

[12] Andriamahefazafy, M. et al (August 2022) Sustainable development goal 14: To what degree have we achieved the 2020 targets for our oceans?

[13] UNEP Clean Seas

[14] UNDP (2022) UN Ocean Conference 2022

[17] Achi Target 2


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