There are still around 783 million people around the world living in extreme poverty. That’s the level of poverty where families have to survive on less than $2 per day, where healthcare is an unaffordable luxury, and simply scratching together enough food to survive is a daily challenge. It’s the level of poverty where, should environmental or civil disaster strike, you have little or no resources to fall back on. Without savings, adequate incomes or resources, the stark truth is that it is the world’s poorest who are most at risk from death, disease, and violence, not to mention escalating climate threats.

The UN’s first Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) wants to change this brutal reality – and fast. SDG1 aims to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere”. The goal’s sub-targets provide more detailed targets, pledging to eradicate “extreme poverty”, defined as living on less than $1.25 per day, and halve the proportion of men, women, and children living in national poverty – that is to say poverty relative to their country’s wealth – by 2030. The relative target means that while the primary focus for SDG 1 is on developing economies, it also has implications for the world’s richest countries, many of which are characterised by deep and widening financial inequality.

It’s an undoubtedly bold and ambitious target, and it comes first on the list of 17 SDGs for a reason, according to Lila Karbassi, chief of programmes at the UN Global Compact, a UN-backed agency that aims to help corporates engage with the SDGs.

She argues that almost every other SDG, from SDG7 (affordable and clean energy) to SDG2 (zero hunger) will feed into SDG1’s target of eliminating poverty. “SDG1 is a slightly different than the other topics, in the sense that it would be the overall purpose of the SDGs,” she tells BusinessGreen. “To achieve a world without poverty, to achieve development, to have some level of fairness, to reduce inequality – all of the other SDGs will have an impact on SDG1, even if the intent is not to target that particular topic.”

But if the goals are indeed listed in order of importance, the huge ambition of SDG1 has not yet been matched by commensurate action. A global community still wrestling with the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis and a resurgent nationalism in many key economies has struggled to mobilise the kind of high profile co-ordinated anti-poverty campaigns – the governmental and corporate pledges to Make Poverty History – that characterised the Millennium Development Goals that were the forerunner for the SDGs. And there are worrying signs the new target could be getting ever more daunting. The most recent progress report on the SDGs from the UN, released in June, revealed that in 2016, for the first time in more than a decade, the number of hungry people in the world rose not fell. In fact, it climbed by 38 million to more than 815 million, driven by global conflict and increasingly frequent bouts of extreme weather – yet more proof that climate change will hit the poorest hardest.

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