Ever dream of saving the world? If you work in the building sector, you may have a new opportunity to be part of doing exactly that over the coming years.

An ambitious agenda for sustainable development around the world has just been released and is due to be adopted by the UN General Assembly in September this year. This ‘plan of action for people, planet and prosperity’ includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals, many of which are directly related to the building sector.

When it comes to the global environment, we know that we live in a time of great challenges. Catastrophic climate change, species loss and pollution all threaten the biological support systems that keep life on our planet healthy. But we also live in a time of great opportunity. Innovative ways to generate energy, plan and create our built environment, and transport ourselves are multiplying.

Around the world, more and more of us are moving to our cities, so if we are to realise the UN’s vision of a world in which ‘human habitats are safe, resilient and sustainable,’ our building industry will be crucial when it comes to solving the challenges ahead.

One of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals is to ‘ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.’ For Australia, this means improving the amount of renewable energy in our energy mix, and for the building sector, this means planning the best ways to do this as well as building the infrastructure required to do it at scale.

The UN also wants to ‘double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency.’ This will require work from across the sector as engineers, planners and architects apply their expertise to improve efficiency, industry comes up with technological innovations, and our workforce implements these ideas to make them a reality.

Another goal is to build ‘resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.’ There’s a focus on retrofitting industries to make them sustainable and on increasing resilience of our infrastructure. Recognising the huge disparity in global income, the plan suggests that countries take action in ‘accordance with their respective capabilities’ – perhaps this could serve as a nudge to Australia to take on our fair share of what’s required?

Yet another goal is to make ‘cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.’ The Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council calls for a Minister for Cities to oversee a nationally coordinated focus on the major issues that our cities grapple with, including transport, changing climates and growing populations. From desperately needed public transport infrastructure for our far flung new developments, to innovations in accessibility for an ageing population, to improving the capacity of our cities to survive disasters like storms, fires and floods, there is a huge opportunity for the building sector to contribute to the advancement of cities.

The goal also recognises the need to improve what Australians might call the ‘liveability’ of our cities, with a focus on improving air quality, waste management, and access to green space. As our cities experience renewed population pressure, these issues will become more pressing.

Urgently addressing climate change is an explicit goal too, with the UN urging all countries to strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to by taking ‘urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.’ Integrating climate change measures into policy and planning is also key.

The processes for monitoring, reporting and compliance of the Sustainable Development Goals are currently being devised. These are likely to take shape over the next year.