Sustainable Development Goals

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the world's best plan to build a better world for people and our planet by 2030.

People, planet, and prosperity...

These three components underpin the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an international plan signed by all United Nations (U.N.) member states in 2015. This plan outlines 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), with 169 underlying targets. The plan was developed by a U.N. working group, comprised of representatives from 70 countries, who gathered information and engaged with global communities to determine what the SDGs should include.

Earth observation (EO) data inform our daily lives, providing critical information to help in our understanding of the interconnectedness of people, the planet, and prosperity. EO data are used in tracking biodiversity, assessing the impact of disasters, managing natural resources, observing land use changes, and mitigating climate change. The Group on Earth Observations (GEO), of which NASA is a partner, has developed a coordinated and consistent set of observations that can be used in assessing several of the SDGs.

The vision of the SDG framework encourages every country to assume responsibility for planning and providing better outcomes for future generations, leaving no one behind. Participating countries are tasked with developing sustainable solutions for each goal by the year 2030; progress toward meeting these goals is measured by 230 different indicators. The plan promotes the triple bottom line concept of sustainability: every solution must consider and account for social justice, a healthy environment, and economic viability.

The 17 goals within the framework are:

17 goals within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) framework
Each goal of the SDG framework serves as an aspiration, what U.N. member countries hope to ideally achieve in the future. Each goal has targets to help in achieving the ultimate goal, and each target has several indicators for measuring progress. Credit: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

The underlying principle of the SDG Framework is that a country is not measured as an aggregate or whole. Instead, all communities, including sub-communities of indigenous and historically marginalized populations, must meet SDG goals to ensure that no one gets “left behind.” For example, a single nation considered as an aggregate might meet many of the targets. If one considers demographic and place-based data, however, there may be sub-populations in that nation that are suffering from social, environmental, and economic injustices. These injustices include such factors as poverty, hunger, gender inequality, land degradation, and unhealthy air and water quality. A sustainable solution for all communities is needed.

The SDG framework ensures that:

  • the goals apply to all communities;
  • the three components of sustainability are at the heart of every solution;
  • there is a government-wide approach to policy with coherence between policies from each government entity;
  • there is inclusiveness and participation from all; and
  • all goals, targets, and indicators are interconnected and thereby indivisible.

How Earth Observations Support Sustainability Solutions

Earth observation data are an essential source of information in the implementation of solutions and in monitoring progress. Remote sensing has a unique role to play in tracking the progress of the SDGs; Earth observations (from satellite, airborne, and in-situ sensors) provide consistent and continuous information on the state of the atmosphere, ocean, ecosystems, natural resources, the urban environment, etc., and their change over time. Remote sensing data, provided by NASA and many other Earth-observing agencies, are free and open access for all data users, which reduces the cost of monitoring the SDGs and provides developing countries a means to acquire and utilize these data for other policy-making purposes. The remote sensing data:

  • Provide data continuity and a long time series: many satellites pass over the same spot on Earth every one-two days and data have been collected over increasingly long periods of time, from the 1970s to the present. This consistency allows for the establishment of trends and baselines for monitoring progress in meeting targets.
  • Contain a wide diversity of measurements: integrating different types of satellite and/or airborne measurements enables one to get a more holistic view of an area or situation.
  • Supplement ground-based data: ground-based data are more comprehensive on a local scale. However, airborne or satellite data are far more extensive, with millions of measurements over regional and global scales, providing more complete spatial coverage.

Many of NASA's current missions collect data that can inform the design and development of solutions, as well as aid in tracking progress toward meeting each indicator. Example use cases are provided below and currently in development are SDG Data Pathfinders.

SDG 2: Zero Hunger Logo

Use Case — Goal 2: Zero Hunger
End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture

Target 2.4: By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding, and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality.

NASA helps develop tools to address food security and works with decision-makers and data users to tailor these tools to specific locations and user needs. These efforts help address issues like water management for irrigation, crop-type identification and land use, coastal and lake water quality monitoring, drought preparedness, and famine early warnings. Much of this work is carried out and supported fully or in part by the agency's Applied Sciences Program, which works with individuals and institutions worldwide to inform decision-making, enhance quality of life, and strengthen our economy. Along with the NASA Earth science data, programs, and resources described in the SDG 2: Zero Hunger Data Pathfinder, additional information about NASA data and products related to agriculture, water resources, and similar topics is available in the Agriculture and Water Resources Data Pathfinder.

United Nations graphic for sustainable development goal 11

Use Case – Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable

Target 11.6: By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management.

NASA provides measurements of air quality, land surface reflectance, land cover, population, and other socioeconomic data that provide metrics for tracking progress toward meeting SDG 11 Targets. In addition, NASA Earth observation data are vital in assessing environmental justice initiatives. For more information about how NASA helps meet SDG 11 Targets, please see the SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities Data Pathfinder. For more information about how NASA data are helping attain SDG 11 Target 11.6, please see the Health and Air Quality Data Pathfinder. For information about how NASA supports environmental justice, please see the Environmental Justice at NASA Backgrounder.

For more information on datasets that are applicable to the SDG Framework, view the table below and browse the SDG Data Pathfinders or the thematic Data Pathfinders, including Agriculture and Water Resources, Biological Diversity and Ecological Forecasting, Disasters, Health and Air Quality, Water Quality, and Wildfires.


Geospatial information and Earth observations supporting official statistics in monitoring the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (March, 2016).
Geospatial information and Earth observations supporting official statistics in monitoring the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (March, 2016). Credit: Group on Earth Observations