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How (un)familiar are French people with the Sustainable Development Goals?

Published 22 February 2023 in Surveys , Updated 1 March 2023

In partnership with University College London (UCL) and the University of Birmingham, Focus 2030 is conducting an action-research program to analyze citizens’ perceptions, attitudes, behaviors and feelings on issues related to international solidarity in four countries: France, Germany, the United States and the UK.

Entitled Development Engagement Lab (DEL), this project provides data to development actors (NGOs, foundations, think tanks, ministries, public institutions, international organizations) to help them better understand citizens’ expectations and increase the effectiveness of their communication, mobilization and advocacy activities. Three times a year, the DEL project measures the evolution of knowledge of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

10% of French people declare they know what the "United Nations Sustainable Development Goals" are, compared to 53% who do not know (combined "no" and "I don’t know" responses).

These proportions have remained relatively stable since 2019.

When reference to the "United Nations" is not specified in the title, this rate of "knowledge" amounted to 17%. This reveals the bias induced by the wording, and by extension, in the communication around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is likely that the SDGs are often associated, in France, with everything related to sustainable development in its strict environmental dimension. The 2030 Agenda and its 17 SDGs adopted by the United Nations in 2015 are much less well known.

37% of French people declare they know about the Sustainable Development Goals without "really knowing what they are about", while 48% are certain they do not know what the SDGs refer to or are unable to answer this question (5%).

French people between the ages of 18 and 34 are much more likely than their elders to claim to know about the SDGs (+10 percentage points compared to the average respondent).

The level of education is the most discriminating variable in terms of French people’s knowledge of the Sustainable Development Goals. The more educated people are, the more likely they are to declare that they know the SDGs. Thus, 7% of French people who do not have a high school diploma say they know what the Sustainable Development Goals are, compared to 23% of respondents with at least 5 years of higher education, a difference of 16 percentage points.

Whatever the level of understanding of what the SDGs really are, when we add up all those who answer "yes I know", we observe that the percentage of those who know about the SDGs also seems to be correlated with political orientation. Those who lean towards the center of the political spectrum are the most likely to declare that they know about the SDGs (know what they are / don’t really know what they are), with +8 points compared to left-wing sympathizers and +14 points compared to right-wing sympathizers. On the other hand, if we simply look at the percentage of French people who say they "know what it’s about", the political orientation has little influence.

In conclusion, according to the statistical processing of the survey results, the typical profile of French people who are best informed about the SDGs could be defined as follows: a young man (under 34 years old) with at least two years of higher education, voting on the center or the left.

This data comes from our survey conducted by the YouGov Institute and piloted by the research team at University College London and the University of Birmingham as part of the project Development Engagement Lab which measures the evolution of opinions and behaviors on issues of international solidarity in four countries.