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Universal Values

Photo: © UN Photo/Marco Dormino

What does the 2030 Agenda say about universal values?

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development sets out a vision for sustainable development grounded in international human rights standards, putting equality and non-discrimination at the centre of its efforts and encompassing not only economic and social rights but also civil, political, and cultural rights, and the right to development.

Report cover image showing kids playing in water behind a colourful tile overlay.
Photo: © Report Cover: UN-Water, 2016: Water and Sanitation Interlinkages across the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Geneva.

"We envisage a world of universal respect for human rights and human dignity, the rule of law, justice, equality and non-discrimination; of respect for race, ethnicity and cultural diversity… A just, equitable, tolerant, open and socially inclusive world in which the needs of the most vulnerable are met." Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Universal values are what enable the SDGs to be truly transformative, by placing the person and their inherent dignity at the heart of development efforts, empowering all people to become active partners in this endeavour. Universal values allow us to go beyond abstract aggregates to addressing discrimination and other root causes of inequality, that lie at the heart of poverty and conflict. Integrating universal values into SDG implementation also assists countries in meeting their international obligations. If SDG implementation fails to uphold these values, progress will ultimately prove illusive.

What does this mean for the United Nations?

The transformative ambition and universal applicability of the 2030 Agenda challenges the United Nations to remain steadfast in ensuring that the SDGs are implemented in accordance with international human rights law, eliminating gender inequalities and all forms of discrimination, reaching out to those that are furthest behind first, to ensure that no one is left behind.


Together, these imperatives are condensed in three principles we follow in everything we do:

Universal Values icons

"This is not only a conceptual paradigm shift, but also an operational shift, as it requires us to change the way we work in every way; from how we identify priorities, to how we engage with counterparts; from how we implement activities to how we measure and reports on achievements. The shift required from the UN is so profound, that it even requires us to reflect on how as a workforce, we are representing the world’s diversity in terms of gender, geography, disability and other aspects." Guidance Note on Human Rights for Resident Coordinators and UN Country Teams

To operationalise our three guiding principles, we adopt the following four approaches to our work: 

Four operational approaches

You can find a summary of how we integrate these four approaches into our work here.

Caption: Integrating human rights, leave no one behind, and gender equality into UN Cooperation Frameworks