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The Sustainable Development Goals should be “ambitious but not ludicrous” says John Norris, a member of the President’s Global Development Council, set up in 2012 to advise the administration on US development policy.

Norris, a former staffer at the UN and USAID, and now at the Center for American Progress, told the CGD Podcast there should be “far fewer goals” than the current 17 and “far fewer targets” (right now there are 169).

“I don’t think it would serve anyone well to have targets in there that are simply impossible or worded so poorly that nobody will feel committed to do anything about them,” he said.

One of 12 members of the President’s Global Development Council, Norris is seen as an influential development thinker and his comments came during a wide-ranging conversation at CGD to mark the publication of the Council’s 2015 Report.

So what SDG’s would Norris do away with? Click on the video below to find out.

The 2015 Global Development Council Report is the second (the first was issued last year) and it is designed to make practical recommendations to the administration to keep US development policy up-to-date and relevant to shifting realities and challenges. You can read the full report here.

This year’s report focuses heavily on ways to attract more private finance into development, which is as much a recognition of the fact that traditional aid programs are not sufficient to pay for the multitrillion dollar cost of the SDGs as it is an acknowledgement that those aid flows constitute a declining share of development finance.

“Traditional … aid programs are now part of a far larger stream,” the report states in its second line, “that includes domestic resources from developing countries, private capital flows, foreign direct investment, private philanthropy and remittances.” In fact remittances now account for some $400 billion a year in funds to developing countries compared to $133 billion (in 2012) in Official Development Assistance from rich countries.

Many of the report’s recommendations echo CGD’s work (as Ben Leo explains here) including a call for a US Development Finance Bank and additional support for OPIC (including permanent reauthorization), but the report is clear that “the onus for development finance does not belong to the North or the South.” As a result, Norris says, do not expect the US to bring any big-spending proposals to the upcoming Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

“I don’t think we are in the kind of budget environment where you are going to see that,” he says. “We are certainly not in the kind of legislative environment where you are going to see that.”

To see the full interview with John Norris, watch the video below. We’d love to see what you think about John Norris’ comments, about what should happen at Addis and your thoughts on the SDGs. Please add your comments below.

You can also read much more about CGD’s work on the Addis Conference and the SDGs here.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.