I Reinterpretated the 17 Logos Representing The 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Learning About The SDGs And The Problems Facing the World Through Digital Reinterpretation
All United Nations Member States have agreed on a blueprint with 17 specific objectives intended to be achieved by 2030. These goals link an aspirational global framework, containing actionable and specific targets for each destination so that all concerned can use to measure global human progress.
Recently, I explored each of these goals by re-imagining and re-creating the icons representing each goal representing my perspective.
I have learned a lot about the immense problems facing the human population and the Earth in that process, and I would like to share each drawing with you.
This project also serves as an encouragement for you to start a project like this to increase awareness. If you are a writer, perhaps a series of 17 stories on each of the goals? If you make youtube videos, how about videos on all 17 goals?
Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere by 2030
Poverty is often institutionally defined by extreme poverty, where people live on less than $1.90 a day. In this state, people struggle to meet fundamental needs, including access to water and sanitation.
Extreme poverty is very much invisible in the developed world.
Most people who live in extreme poverty are in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
Due to rapid progress in China, India, and Indonesia, global extreme poverty rates have dropped significantly in the last couple of decades. However, increases in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa have offset those improvements.
Some experts estimate that, without even considering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, that by 2030, there would still be at least 6 percent of the global population subject to extreme poverty. Thus, the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to make the problem worse and reverse years of progress.
Some argue that work is the solution. However, the reality is that the answer is not as straightforward: 7.1 percent of people (and their families) who are employed suffer from extreme poverty as well. Moreover, the causes of extreme poverty differ significantly across countries and range from catastrophic weather to civil conflict.
In my digital drawing, I tried to depict the perspective that poverty is multidimensional beyond institutional definitions of extreme poverty. The crisscrossed black and white lines forming multiple X symbols represent how poverty is a matter of being denied access to an assortment of important things that improve our human well-being and allow for our human flourishing. The background, partially concealed by the X symbols, consists of unevenly shaped colorful rectangle blocks against a white background. The rectangle colors represent the other SDGs, including access to sanitation, education, food, and decent work.
Goal 2: Zero Hunger
The second coal of the SDG is not solely about ensuring there is sufficient food. It is about having regular and secured access to adequate and nutritious food. From that perspective, nearly 1 in 10 people go hungry every day. According to the UN, "an estimated 2 billion people in the world did not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food in 2019."
LIke extreme poverty, hunger affects mainly people in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The UN states that "144 million children under age five were affected by stunting in 2019, with three quarters living in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa."
The fact that hunger should affect so many people, particularly kids, should be a scandal because globally, at present, there is more than enough food. In addition, food waste, unsustainable industry food practices, poor infrastructure, and global poverty (see goal 1) contribute to hunger.
In my digital drawing, I tried to depict the ratio of hungry people (to not-hungry people) every day through the white circles representing empty plates.
Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
The third goal of the SDG is to improve health and well-being, which is one goal that most of us can get behind. There has been a lot of improvements in this area. Infant mortality rates had decreased (i.e., improved) significantly. There have been broad base declines in HIV infection, tuberculosis infection, and malaria infection rates. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we will lose a lot of progress.
One area that has not shown much improvement, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, is the rate of non-communicable diseases, including "lifestyle diseases" such as cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, and diabetes. Disease sufferers also have a higher risk of suffering more severe outcomes due to the Covid-19 virus.
In my digital drawing, the syringes in the foreground depict the urgent and immediate goal to vaccinate the world's population against Covid-19. Almost every single health improvement has stalled due to the pandemic. Life expectancy has shortened; health workers are in short supply; there are still ongoing disruptions to essential health services. Vaccination is critical.
Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
The fourth goal of the SDG is "to ensure inclusive and equitable education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all."
The first target of this goal is to ensure that by 2030 "all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes."
Learning to read, write and count is essential, particularly for disadvantaged children, because it helps children avoid child marriage or child labor. Access to education is a barometer of all types of inequalities. Primary and secondary school completion figures rates show substantial disparities taking into account household wealth. Many schools in low-income countries have been closed for extended periods — without remote learning as an alternative- resulting in learning losses that may be hard to recover from. In the pandemic-induced shift to remote learning, poorer households are more likely to drop out of formal education due to limited access to remote learning tools.
Infrastructure for education in low-income countries is staggeringly bad. For example, about 20% of all primary schools worldwide have no access to drinking water. In the least developed countries, more than two-thirds of primary schools do not have access to electricity. Computer and internet access are even more limited.
In my drawing, the background is the tiled grid representing the colors of the other goals of the SDG. I believe, like the UN, that achieving educational goals is a crucial accelerator of all the other goals. In the foreground is a red shape (the color selected by UN to represent "Quality Education") formed by interconnecting black lines. The core gold color reflects that what the developed world thinks of as "quality education" — an "ivy league education" — is quite different from what the UN envisages as "Quality Education" and access to that form of "Quality Education" is a matter of privilege. A lot of resources poured into ivy league educations can be re-allocated to the developing world.
Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
The fifth goal of the SDG is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
Gender inequality affects the most people on Earth (at least half), which justifies having a standalone category. There has been much progress in the developed world, but the situation is awful in developing and undeveloped countries. For example, according to the United Nations, "at least 200 million girls and women alive today living in 30 countries have undergone female genital mutilation."
Female genital mutilation is defined to mean "procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons."
Yes, you read that right. 200 million. Gender equality is one of the most complex issues to solve as many of the harmful practices (e.g., forced marriages) are considered a part of certain traditions and heritage.
I interpose a large female sign/symbol pair against multiple smaller female sign/symbols in the background in my digital drawing. The background color is a gradient from black to the shade of red selected by UN to represent this goal.
Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all
The sixth goal of the SDG is to ensure access to water and sanitation for all. Potable water from the tap, at least where I am, is so available that it is, more often than not, an afterthought. Yet, the facts surrounding the lack of access to water and sanitation are astounding. For example, 30% of people lack access to "safely managed drinking water services and 6 in 10 people lack access to safely managed sanitation facilities."
In the drawing, the "raindrops" are in the colors of the other goals which appear to form downward blue streaks covering the whole canvas, emphasizing the biological fact that water is a necessity and access to water and sanitation is critical for the success of the other goals.
Sometimes, these statistics depress me. But, what hope do we have in solving climate change if we cannot even solve the ongoing water access crisis?
Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all
The seventh goal of the SDG is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all.
I am pretty hopeful that most developed countries will have access to clean and affordable energy reasonably soon with committed global effort. The success of this goal depends a lot on the profit motive as there is a lot of profit to be made in meeting global energy needs.
The challenge lies primarily in developing countries.
In my drawing, I have placed the symbol of nuclear fission in the middle because to accelerate energy usage to clean energy, the world must quickly embrace nuclear power. In addition, nuclear power is relatively safe compared to other sources of fossil fuel-based energy sources.
Like Elon Musk, I am surprised such an opinion is controversial.
Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all
The eighth goal of the SDG is to promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all.
Global GDP growth has been relatively relentless, with the growth rate particularly aggressive from the 1980s onwards. However, it is well-recognized that development is uneven. There is also a strong element of exploitation. Child labor is a serious issue, and in emerging countries, nearly 1 in 5 children are routinely engaged in hazardous activity which harms them. In addition, there are about 40 to 50 million people worldwide suffering from some form of "modern slavery," and the pandemic will make it much worse.
In my drawing, the colorful lines in the foreground represent global economic growth, with an upward trajectory with the occasional slump. The chains in the background represent forced labor, wage slavery, and child labor.
In Marxist economic theory, a capitalist will pay the workers less than the value the labor has added to the goods. The capitalist capture of this surplus value is the bedrock of profit generation, and some argue exploitation—the capitalist wishes to extract as much of this surplus value as possible. Whether or not you agree with Marx, the free market does not generally promote decent work. It is up to individuals, workers, and the state to bargain for and limit the worse excesses of the capitalist. For the avoidance of doubt, I am a proponent of a generally free market.
Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation
The ninth goal of the SDG is to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation. When we speak of "first world countries," we are often describing countries that have achieved a significant degree of industrialization, are well connected by ports and airports, and where the population has access to decent to good infrastructure.
In contrast, globally, at least 300 million people continue to lack access to roads.
This goal comes up against the issue of climate change because industrialization and the building of infrastructure presently necessitate carbon dioxide emissions.
In my drawing, the background is the tiled grid representing the colors of the other goals suggesting innovation. In the foreground is a complex fan shape intended to suggest rapid circular movement, with three protruding triangles representing each of the three limbs of this goal, respectively. The color gold used in shape represents the capitalist forces driving this goal.
To raise billions out of poverty, the success of this goal is critical, but I wonder whether we can rise to the challenge of doing it sustainably.
Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries
The tenth goal of the SDG is to reduce inequality within and among countries.
As I learned about the goals of the SDG, I realized that the inequality between countries is vast. In other words, where you are born determines a lot of how you experienced "life." Other sources of inequality include your gender(including your sexuality), race, religion, whether or not you are disabled and economic status.
Discrimination remains a significant problem, even in developed countries. Bias means that economic improvement is very uneven.
This goal, in some ways, has the most (or at least, the most disgusting) opponents because many fascists and racists actively oppose this goal. They point to inherent differences in people to justify unequal treatment. However, what they argue as inherent differences (e.g., race) is mainly a social construct. Moreover, even where there may be intrinsic differences (e.g., gender, intellect, sexual preferences), those differences should not entitle the massive differences in outcomes in a civilized society. This goal is also fundamental because many people's access to justice, healthcare, jobs are limited because of inequality. Yet, many "elites" continue to press for unequal treatment hiding behind arguments about meritocracy while practicing corruption and cronyism.
My drawing uses the prominent = symbol adopted by the United Nations to represent this goal. The colors in the equal sign use the colors from the other goals. There is a deployment of recursive functions to draw equal but smaller and smaller rectangles to form a larger rectangle.
Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable
The eleventh goal of the SDG is to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.
Cities can be both terrible and wonderful places to live in. The worst cities have many slums, horrible air pollution, and no parks or nature or easy access to transportation. Good cities have clean air, access to libraries and gardens, and have lovely clean and energy-efficient apartments. Unfortunately, the number of slum dwellers has continued to increase and number about a billion in 2018. Most slum dwellers are in South East Asia, followed by sub-Saharan Africa, exceeding half a billion in total.
Cities, however, are often seen by experts as part of the "solution" to the climate crisis, who assumed that it is possible to house more people in cities more efficiently.
My drawing uses an abstraction — using angled colored rectangles — of building facades set across a background littered with tiny rectangles. The intention is to invoke a sense of cities being crowded but yet symbols of togetherness and diversity. This is the goal I am the most skeptical about. The massive increase in population in cities that allow energy needs to be met more efficiently and sustainably is a sign of a deeper malaise that we can meet the goals without much compromise.
Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
The twelfth goal of the SDG is to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
Natural resources continued to be poorly used and managed.
Food waste and e-waste are two significant issues in this space. Estimates suggest that between 15 to 20 percent of food produced is "lost" to waste before reaching the retail sector. This is especially bad in Central and Southern Asia. E-waste is an increasing problem, particularly as major manufacturers make products that cannot be recycled or repaired. The E-waste recycling rate is low and must increase at least ten times by 2030 if all e-waste is to be recycled.
In a sense, this goal can be aligned with capitalist models as there may be cost savings if resources are deployed more effectively. The failure to do so may be considered a negative externality that should justify taxation. However, until negative externality is identified and taxed, there are very few financial incentives for the industry to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
My drawing uses the symbol adopted by the United Nations but uses the other goals' colors with a backdrop of black and white lines suggesting industrial production. There is an undoubtedly unintentional irony that the UN selected the symbol usually reserved for "infinity" for this goal. This symbol reminds me of the ceaselessness and infinitely careless consumption and production patterns of the first world.
Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
The thirteenth goal of the SDG is to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
Because there is more ink spilled on talking about climate action while the world burns, there is very little else to add. The climate conditions under which we live will become more deplorable as we go along. Even if emission rates decrease, total emissions are still increasing.
In my observation, the global elites pay lip service to climate action. Many of them have high unsustainable consumption levels, including living in large inefficient houses or driving large cars. Some assist or invest in companies directly responsible for the climate crisis. There is immense hypocrisy in this space. Yet, unlike Bill Gates, they do not seem to recognize the hypocrisy and seek to reduce their carbon footprint.
My drawing is intended to represent "Climate Action." Each rectangle and triangle represents colors from the other goals, which interact with an ellipse in the color selected by the UN to represent "Climate Action." This is intended to reflect that climate action is the single most pressing goal among the 17 goals and affects all countries and the whole of humanity.
Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development
The fourteenth goal of the SDG is to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development.
In the last couple of years, many parts of the fishing and marine industry have improved significantly by realizing that good and sustainable management of the oceans and preventing overfishing is essential to preserve the industry. With awareness, co-operation and regulation, we can achieve some success in this area.
However, our oceans are in significant trouble. There are three challenges: pollution, warming, and acidification.
The cause of warming and acidification is climate change, as oceans absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide. This absorption of carbon dioxide makes the oceans warmer and more acidic, destroying entire ecosystems. As a result, it becomes more challenging for several marine organisms — like coral and plankton — to survive.
Like the vaccine race, we would need a lot of investment in science to ensure that we can find a way to preserve ocean life.
In my drawing, the background is the tiled grid with spaced rectangles representing a gradient of the color representing the goal: life below water. The colors represent the hope of a thriving underwater ecosystem.
Unfortunately, there continues to be very little awareness of the impact of ocean acidification due to climate change, unprecedented levels of marine pollution, destruction of fish stocks and other aquatic ecosystems.
Goal 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
The fifteenth goal of the SDG is to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
From everything I have read and the lack of progress in this goal, I cannot believe that this goal can be achieved and do not wish to say more. Unfortunately, the world is more likely to find a scientific-engineering solution to climate change than to promote "life on land."
As the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (Sustainable Development) described, "The world fell short on 2020 targets to halt biodiversity loss."
They continue with these depressing facts:
“While the rate of deforestation in tropical regions has slowed in the past decade, vigilance and targeted efforts are required to maintain this trend. The proportion of forest area fell from 31.9 per cent of total land area in 2000 to 31.2 per cent in 2020, representing a net loss of almost 100 million hectares of the world’s forests. From 2000 to 2020, forest area increased in Asia, Europe and Northern America, but decreased significantly in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. Despite the losses in forest cover, above-ground forest biomass per hectare, the proportion of forest area in protected areas and under long-term management plans, and certified forest area all increased or remained stable at the global level and in most of the regions of the world, demonstrating global progress towards sustainable forest management.”
Call me a cynic, but if you google what happened in Madagascar and how the Chinese demand for redwood furniture has practically destroyed the country and cause mass starvation and famine, you may be as realistic as me.
In my drawing, the background is the tiled grid representing all 17 colors. In the foreground is a shape formed by green lines extending to form a circle representing the land on Earth. The white tips and white center hints that we will need polar regions to be maintained for life on Earth, even to survive.
I think asking for flourishing is too much.
Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels
The sixteenth goal of the SDG is to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.
In my drawing, the different shapes, rotated via trigonometry functions, are intended to reflect a flourishing of the other goals in a world with peace, justice, and strong institutions.
Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
The final goal of the SDG is to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.
The background is the color representing goal 17: partnerships for the goals. The different sized and colored rectangles (randomly generated) are intended to reflect how other factors may be in the foreground, but strong partnerships are required if all the goals can be met.
However, this is not at all straightforward and is dominated by politics. Certain countries pursue their agenda and, in the guise of "partnership," try to navigate the control of the agenda. Some of these countries have achieved a certain level of leverage supporting abuse and oppression instead.
Sale of the drawings of the reinterpreted logos
If you want to use any of the logos, I sell the reinterpretated logos as an NFT (https://opensea.io/collection/17sdg). If you buy any of the NFTs before the end of 2021, all expected profits (i.e. after withholding 20% for taxes, cost of currency conversion of ETH to Singapore dollars, and gas fees) will be donated towards a registered Singapore charity.