What People Know and Think About Sustainable Development

On this page, you can find selected results from international surveys on sustainable development in general, and the SDGs in particular. The results underline how much work lies ahead for SDG advocates. They also reveal the gaps in our knowledge about public attitudes to the SDGs. With regard to this matter, the 22nd of March 2018, DevCom organized a session in the Global Festival for Action that took place in Bonn. 

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How well do people know the SDGs?

Using different methods and covering different sets of countries, surveys find that between 35 and 45 per cent of people have heard of the goals. AIESEC’s Youth Speak report (2016) suggested that young people had a higher level of SDG awareness than average, a finding that is generally replicated in demographic analyses of other surveys.

SDG awareness does not necessarily translate into knowledge. Glocalities (2016) found that, across 24 countries, only around 1 in 100 citizens knew the SDGs ‘very well’, while 25% said they knew the name only.

Source Awareness of SDGs Knowledge of SDGs
Eurobarometer (2016) 36% 10%
Eurobarometer (2017) 41% 12%
Globescan Radar (2017) 35% n/a
AIESEC Youth Speak Global Report 45% n/a

According to the latest Eurobarometer (2017), just over 1 in 10 Europeans know what the SDGs are.


There are major disparities between countries. Hudson & vanHeerde-Hudson (2016) found that in Germany and France, 2 in 10 citizens said they were not aware of the SDGs, compared with about 4 in 10 citizens in the United Kingdom and United States.

It is important to note that the findings of these surveys need to be treated with caution. “Social desirability bias”, in particular, will lead many people to overreport their awareness or knowledge of the SDGs.

Nonetheless, awareness that there is a global set of goals appears to be on the rise. Both Eurobarometer and Globescan find that awareness of the SDGs is generally greater today than awareness of the Millennium Development Goals was in earlier surveys.

Do people support the SDGs? Which ones?

IPSOS (2015) asked people in 16 countries which individual SDGs they considered to be important. There was strong support for all SDGs in all countries. IPSOS also found that support is stronger in emerging economies than established aid donor countries. This echoes Globescan’s finding that citizens in non-OECD countries are more likely than OECD citizens to see themselves as “global citizens”.

Eradicating global poverty, ending hunger, and accessing clean water and sanitation are top SDG priorities in most surveys. Providing access to quality education is also seen as important.


Almost 10 million people have participated in the MyWorld Survey (as of June 2017), identifying the issues that matter most to them. Overall, education, health and an honest and responsive government matter to everyone. Better job opportunities mattered in most countries, but were of lower priority in countries that ranked high on the Human Development Index (HDI). Environmental issues tend to take on increasing importance as a country’s HDI increases.

Citizens may believe that goals are important, but not be hopeful about their achievement. Glocalities found that only 13% of people think ending global poverty by 2030 is likely. Hudson and vanHeerde-Hudson found that even the most engaged US citizens see ending global poverty and hunger as unattainable. Providing access to clean water and sanitation was seen as both important and attainable.

Who is responsible for the SDGs?


IPSOS asked citizens who should fund the SDGs. Nearly 4 in 10 citizens believed that all governments should fund the goals. Some people specifically assigned responsibility to governments in wealthy countries (2 in 10) or developing countries (1 in 10). Only 5% of citizens said that the private sector should pay for the goals.

Responding to a PwC survey, a large share of businesses (49%) and citizens (44%) said that governments bear core responsibility for achieving the SDGs. However, 90% of citizens thought that it was important for businesses to sign up to the SDGs (59% thought it was “very important”).

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development stresses the importance of partnerships. In a 2016 survey, Accenture and the UN Global Compact found that 84% of CEOs wanted more collaboration between business and government on SDG action plans.

Information about Sources

Hudson & vanHeerde-Hudson (2016); survey of 6,000-8,000 individuals in France, Germany, UK & US. (Fieldwork: YouGov, 12/2015)
Globescan Radar (2017); nationally representative samples of approx. 1,000 adults in 16 countries. (Fieldwork: 12/16-05/2017)
Glocalities: Towards 2030 Without Poverty (2016); 56,000 respondents in 24 countries. (Fieldwork: 12/2015-2/2016)
Special Eurobarometer 441 (2016) 27,672 individuals surveyed across 28 EU Member States. (Fieldwork: 11-12/2015)
Special Eurobarometer 445 (2017) 27,929 individuals surveyed across 28 EU Member States. (Fieldwork: 11-12/2016)
IPSOS Global @dvisor. (2015) Nationally representative survey of 12,906 individuals in 16-country study. (Fieldwork: 2015)
MyWorld UN Global Survey for a Better World.
YouthSpeak Global Report (2016) 160,227 individuals surveyed globally. (Fieldwork: 10/2015-2016)

PDF version of What People Know and Think About Sustainable Development (November 2017)