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Strengthening the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
This work has now concluded.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), formally adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2015, define the development agenda for UN member states to follow up to 2030. Following the Millennium Development Goals set in 2000, the SDGs are meant to bring climate, development, and sustainability goals together under one universal and ambitious package. CGD experts contributed to the post-2015 development agenda over many years.
Do the fifteen year targets of the SDGs stand in the way of their vision of integration and sustainability? If you wanted to achieve long term development progress, you’d probably focus on technology change, learning and innovation in policies, and improving institutional functioning. If you wanted to improve outcomes in fifteen years, you’d probably focus on throwing money at technical solutions. The problems with the second approach include that we don’t have the money, and the technical solutions won’t necessarily work best over the long term.
The Sustainable Development Goals are an ambitious set of targets for global development progress by 2030 that were agreed by the United Nations in 2015. A review of the literature on meeting "zero targets" suggests very high costs compared to available resources, but also that in many cases there remains a considerable gap between financing known technical solutions and achieving the outcomes called for in the SDGs. In some cases, we (even) lack the technical solutions required to achieve the zero targets, suggesting the need for research and development of new approaches.
It is time to take a fresh look at the PSWs and to ask some basic questions about their role and instruments. The aim of this essay is to raise issues that need to be addressed as we think about how PSWs should evolve and adapt to meet the formidable challenges ahead. These questions and the answers gained through careful research can help chart the right course and set the right expectations for MDB PSWs, DFIs, and impact investors generally.
How much innovation will be needed to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals? Our results suggest that (i) best performers are considerably outperforming the average performance at a given income level, suggesting considerable progress could be achieved through policy change but that (ii) the targets set in the SDGs are unlikely to be met by 2030 without very rapid, ubiquitous technological progress alongside economic growth.
Global Burden of Disease (GBD) country rankings can strengthen the case of advocates at global and national levels for prioritising investment towards the major drivers of mortality and morbidity. But as discussed in our earlier blog post, when it comes to informing specific investment cases within these broader priorities, GBD data alone are not enough to allow consideration of trade-offs and of opportunity costs of alternative investment choices addressing the same problem. The next step in using data to trigger action ought to be the generation, in conjunction with domestic stakeholders, of what we call below “super-local data.”
Earlier this month, the first analysis of countries’ progress towards attaining the health-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was published in the Lancet. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) used Global Burden of Disease Data (GBD 2016) to create an index for 37 (out of 50) health-related SDG indicators between 1990–2016, for a total of 188 countries. Based on the pace of change recorded over the past 25 years or so, the researchers then projected the indicators to 2030. The punchline: if past is prologue, the median number of SDG targets attained in 2030 will be five of the 24 defined targets currently measured. Not very inspiring.
In the lifetime of the United Nations, there have been two times when there have been intellectual centers addressing major global issues that led to a sea change in how the world works. One such time was in the late 1940s when a number of Nobel Prize thinkers created national accounting, like the gross national product, and established the post-World War II international trade regime. The second such time started in 1989. Can we imagine a third wave of intellectual leadership at the UN?
Gender data are essential. How else are we going to monitor progress in the wellbeing of women and girls? Below, we provide background on data shortage, and outline three key steps that countries and the international community should take in order to produce better data and close gender gaps.