The SDGs Wedding Cake

The SDGs -Sustainable Development Goals (also known as Global Goals) are 17 goals constituting the Internationally agreed agenda, upon UN umbrella, which sets targets to be achieved by 2030 in economic, social, and environmental sustainability. It’s a transformation for the future and a tremendous opportunity and challenge for Humanity.

Seventeen Sustainable Development Goals

The SDGs are meant to be communicated, understood, tackled, and tracked by governments, organizations, and individuals. They are also meant to be seen as a system of interconnected challenges, rather than different problems to be tackled individually. Thus, the Stockholm Resilience Center re-structured the Global Goals in a systemic hierarchy, now referred to as the “wedding cake“, where economic growth, poverty, gender, equity are seen as interconnected dimensions of the same ecosystem within the space of a stable and resilient planet.

The SDGs Wedding Cake, by the Stockholm Resilience Center

The wedding cake shows that economies are embedded in societies, and societies are embedded in the biosphere, and the biosphere has finite resources. It shows that society needs equity, as well as economy needs efficiency and effectiveness, otherwise there is no sustainability.

Interestingly, food is at the base of this picture (it’s a cake after all). That’s because the world population is projected to grow from 7.8 Billion to 10 Billion by the year 2050 and that will create a lot of pressure on food systems and agriculture value chains.

The world population projection, UN 2017 revision


There is, of course, a direct impact to the SDG2 Zero Hunger on the top, aiming to end hunger and provide healthy food to anyone everywhere. But food closely links also at the bottom of the wedding cake, into the biosphere ring, with the SDGs 14&15 protecting life on land and below water. SDG 12 Responsible Consumption is directly impacted, too. We’ll have no food security if we overexploit Oceans, Seas, and Land.

Nowadays, about 40% of the global land surface is already used for agriculture (FAO estimate). But population growth will call for further land conversion from natural ecosystems, thus increasing Co2 emissions, losing biodiversity, and degrading land. Hence, there is a tremendous need for innovation (SDG 9) in land use, to reach for increased productivity while minimizing the environmental impact and sustaining countries whose economy is primarily agricultural.

Indeed, the increase in Co2 emissions (negatively) supports climate change and impacts back the Life underwater SDG, with the ocean acidification, and the consequent decline in commercial fisheries. Life on land SDG is also impacted by Climate Change, with sea-level rise and increased risk of drought, which causes mass emigrations and impacts the SDG 1 No-poverty.

These are only a few of the systemic cause-and-effect relations that we are already suffering.

A clear agenda with the 17 SDGs was the starting point in 2015, and progress has been made in many areas, but, overall, action towards the goals needs to be much faster and more effective.

The Sustainable Development Report world map 2020

We know that we are not doing enough, by far, to reach the Global Goals by the year 2030. A systemic view such as the one provided by the wedding cake could help us better understand and communicate the urgency of the challenge, the intricacies of the interconnected relations between goals, and the potential for actions that countries, organizations, and individuals could put in place immediately.