Global Challenges, Local Solutions: Advancing Economic Sustainability and Equality

A call to action for economic sustainability, poverty eradication, and inclusive growth amid global challenges.

This is the final instalment of our series discussing the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and explores SDGs under the heading of economy.[1]

You can catch up on the previous articles in the series here:


No poverty (SDG #1)

End poverty in all its forms everywhere.

Global poverty declined between 2015 and 2018, from 10.1% of the global population to 8.6%. But then COVID-19 caused an increase to 9.2% in 2020.

This was followed by rising inflation and war in the Ukraine, which led to an estimated increase of the order of 85 million people living in extreme poverty in 2022 compared to pre-pandemic projections, and would be further exacerbated by the Middle East conflict.

2030 goals include eradicating extreme poverty and halving the proportion of people living in poverty as defined nationally. Also, by 2030, the United Nations is striving to ensure all people, particularly the poor and vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources and access to basic services, and a number of other rights enabling economic growth. Within the same timeframe, the goal is to reduce vulnerable people’s exposure to climate-related extreme events.

Science has contributed to improvement under this goal, with the provision of access to safe drinking water in some areas. This has reduced death from water-borne diseases and supported improved hygiene.

Individuals can help by supporting organisations that work towards these goals, and by encouraging governments to generate productive employment and job opportunities for the poor and marginalised.

Decent work and economic growth (SDG #8)

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

Projected GDP growth for least developed countries is 5.7% for 2023, still below the 7% 2030 target. GDP growth for 2022 was anticipated to be 3%, but the war in Ukraine will reduce that to around 2.1%.

At the start of 2020, 160 million children were engaged in child labour, with this expected to increase by 9 million by the end of 2022 as a result of rising poverty driven by the pandemic.

Goals and targets include sustaining economic growth – including at least 7% GDP growth in the least developed countries – and the use of diversification and technology to achieve higher economic productivity. 2030 goals also include achieving full and productive employment for all with equal pay for work of equal value. This can include devising and implementing policies that promote sustainable tourism and associated work[3].

Some examples of work being done include the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) working in Ethiopia to establish a credit-risk guarantee facility that has enabled access to USD1.2 million to support clean energy technologies.

Closer to home in Fiji, the UNCDF has helped implement the Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme which has funds for over 44 projects to assist customers’ use of technology.[4]

On an individual level, people can contribute towards this goal by investigating the supply chain of the goods they purchase – do the companies involved in the supply provide fair treatment, pay and safe conditions for their workers? Consumers can also support local producers and businesses.[5]

Industry, innovation, and infrastructure (SDG #9)

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

Technological progress, investment in infrastructure and innovation are needed to find lasting solutions to economic and environmental challenges, such as providing new jobs and promoting energy efficiency. However, more than 4 billion people still do not have access to the internet, and 90% are from the developing world.[6]

Targets for this SDG include developing sustainable, resilient and inclusive infrastructures, increasing access to financial services, and enhancing research to upgrade industrial technologies.

By 2030, targets include doubling industry’s share of employment and GDP for least developed countries by promoting sustainable industrialisation and upgrading infrastructure and retrofitting industries to make them sustainable.

Much progress has been made in mobile connectivity, with 95% of the world’s population now within reach of a mobile phone signal as of 2022.[7] Global expenditure on research and development (R&D) as a proportion of GDP increased from 1.69% in 2015 to 1.93% in 2020, but there are large regional differences. In particular, Least Developed Countries only spent 0.27% of their GDP on R&D.[8]

Companies can help by promoting industry innovation and investing in R&D for products, services and business models to deliver sustainable and resilient infrastructure. Individuals can help by choosing sustainable products and donating to institutes that encourage innovation and technological upgrades[9].

Reduced inequalities (SDG #10)

Reduce inequality within and among countries

A large portion of the world’s wealth is held by a very small group of people, and this often leads to financial and social discrimination. The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have increased income inequality, with developing countries experiencing slower recovery than developed countries. The graph below shows that between-country inequality rose by 1.2% from 2017 to 2021, compared to the United Nations’ projection of a 2.6% decrease before the pandemic occurred[10].

Goal 10 aims to reduce inequality within and among countries. One specific target by 2030 is to progressively achieve and sustain income growth of the bottom 40% of the population at a rate higher than the national average.

Other targets are designed to progressively remove barriers to equality by eliminating discriminatory laws and policies, improving regulation and monitoring of global financial markets, and facilitating safe migration of people.

The Actuaries Institute released a Report earlier this year exploring the drivers and broader implications of inequality. Technology can be a great equaliser by enhancing connectivity, financial inclusion and access to services, but those yet to be connected may experience further marginalisation as a result. The United Nations ‘Roadmap for Digital Cooperation[11] aspires to connect the remaining four billion people to the Internet by 2030.[12]

Individuals can help by speaking out against inequality they observe in workplaces and communities – this includes any type of discrimination, inequality of access to services, or lack of representation of minority and underprivileged groups.

Partnerships (SDG #17)

Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.

Achieving the SDGs requires collaboration across sectors and countries, so partnerships are key. SDG 17 aims to strengthen international investments and support.

SDG 17 includes financial targets to assist developing nations and help them attain long-term debt sustainability, as well as technology targets to promote sharing of environmentally-sound technologies. There are also targets to promote open trade and develop coordinated policies for sustainable development.

Geopolitical tensions and the rise of nationalism in some parts of the world have made it more difficult to achieve international cooperation. Many developing countries are battling record inflation, rising interest rates and debt burdens.[13]

A growing share of the global population has access to the Internet, and a Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries has been established, however, the digital divide persists, with internet access still a rare privilege in least developed nations.[14]

An achievable goal?

The SDGs are very wide-reaching and require a huge global commitment over a long period of time. But their achievement could absolutely transform the world we live in. They aim for an end to hunger, poverty, discrimination and inequality. They also call for long-term sustainable treatment of our environment, and peace and fair opportunities for all.

There has been gradual but limited global progress towards this enormous task. Each individual is encouraged to consider how their actions impact the environment, society and the economy, and to make choices that align with the SDGs.


[1] United Nations Development Program. (2023). Sustainable Development Goals. (

[2] United Nations. (n.d.). Economic Growth.

[3] The Global Goals. (n.d.). Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth.


[5] The Global Goals. (n.d.). Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth.

[6] United Nations Development Programme. (2023). What are the sustainable development goals?

[7] United Nations. (2023). The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2023.

[8] United Nations. (2023). The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2023.

[9] Basso, G. (n.d.). How to improve industry innovation and infrastructure.

[10] United Nations. (2022). The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022.

[11] United Nations. (n.d.). Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation.

[12] Guterres, A. (2020). Tackling inequality: A New Social Contract for a New Era.

[13] United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (n.d.). Goal 17.

[14] UN Sustainable Development Goals. (n.d.). Goal 17: Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.

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