The international community has committed to achieve 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 and to enhance climate action under the Paris Agreement. Yet achievement of the SDGs is already threatened by climate-change impacts. Here we show that further adaptation this decade is urgently required to safeguard 68% of SDG targets against acute and chronic threats from climate change. We analyse how the relationship between SDG targets and climate-change impacts is mediated by ecosystems and socio-economic sectors, which provides a framework for targeting adaptation. Adaptation of wetlands, rivers, cropland, construction, water, electricity and housing in the most vulnerable countries should be a global priority to safeguard sustainable development by 2030. We have applied our systems framework at the national scale in Saint Lucia and Ghana, which is helping to align National Adaptation Plans with the SDGs, thus ensuring that adaptation is contributing to, rather than detracting from, sustainable development.