Meeting the Moment: The U.S. and the UN in 2023

The Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations has unparalleled global reach: Its ability to operate and reach people around the world has long made it a preferred forum for hashing out and putting in motion solutions to challenges that reach across national borders.

Smallpox, for example, was eradicated more than 40 years ago because Member States, with leadership from the World Health Organization, made ending the deadly virus a priority.

In 2015, Member States came together at the UN in pursuit of another ambitious but achievable objective: ending extreme poverty by 2030. The result of that process, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), brought together national governments, civil society organizations, the private sector, religious leaders, and citizens from around the world to create a set of 17 goals to address shared challenges to international development. The SDGs encompass a full suite of issues most recognize as inhibiting progress toward ending extreme poverty. Among them: promoting good governance; ending preventable diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria; improving access to education, food, and sanitation; preventing maternal deaths; mitigating and adapting to climate change; and ensuring gender equality.

Nearly eight years later, at the halfway point to 2030, there is broad recognition that progress toward reaching the SDGs has stalled. The challenges facing the global development agenda were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which showcased in real time how a deadly virus can touch every part of society, increasing preventable deaths, gender-based violence, and unemployment in every sector. There is an urgent need to get back on track, and Heads of State will gather at UN Headquarters in New York in September 2023 to review implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 SDGs.

SDG Poster


U.S. leadership, and many bipartisan foreign policy priorities, is central to many of the goals. Particularly important has been the focus on partnerships. Thousands of businesses and non-governmental organizations worldwide and in the U.S. have made pledges to help achieve different areas of the SDGs.

Increasingly, state and local governments have joined in to not just make pledges but to create a network to show how the integration of the SDGs into city operations and their adoption by local partners improve public service delivery and foster progress. New York City, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Hawaii have worked to localize the SDGs and used the SDG framework to spur development and protect the environment. For instance, in Hawaii the state government has created a dashboard that focuses on six of the SDGs and tracks their progress on things like eradicating invasive species, increasing local food production, and creating a green workforce. In a state as biologically diverse and dependent on tourism as Hawaii, achieving these goals will protect the islands and at the same time help the UN achieve its goals.

Globally, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been the leader at helping governments integrate the goals into their national plans. As the lead development agency, UNDP works in 170 countries on projects as diverse as water reclamation and conservation efforts in arid communities to ending gender discrimination in crisis settings. Like other UN agencies, UNDP has continued to partner with the private sector.

Through the SDG Accelerator program, UNDP provides expertise and tools to small- and medium-size businesses to help them adjust “business models to accelerate sustainable innovation and business development delivering on the SDG targets.”

The UN, Member States, non-governmental organizations, corporate partners, and citizens from around the world all have a stake in ensuring a more sustainable and equitable world. Ending smallpox, once unimaginable, was achieved through tools and global partnership. The same can be done for ending extreme poverty.