The Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals

By Susan Nicolai, Chris Hoy, Tom Berliner and Thomas Aedy

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) paint an inspiring vision of what the world could look like in 2030. Consisting of 17 goals and 169 targets to spur action in areas of critical importance to humanity – people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership – this ambitious agenda will significantly shape development efforts for the next 15 years. The adoption of these new global goals comes at a time when we are reminded daily that the challenges we face – migration, conflict, climate-related disasters – cannot be solved by individual countries. Solutions to these and other urgent issues can only be found in a truly global endeavour, with all countries – developed and developing, north and south, rich and poor – committed to fulfilling this vision.

On current trends, by 2030:

  • Extreme poverty will be virtually eliminated across much of Asia
  • Maternal mortality will be reduced globally to around 150 deaths per 100,000 live births
  • Sub-Saharan Africa will have seen the largest increase in the proportion of young people completing secondary education
  • More than 1.7 billion people around the world will have gained access to electricity
  • Inequality will have fallen in low-income countries
  • There will be a halt to declining forest cover, with an increase beginning from 2020
  • We will see a 20% rise in public revenue as a share of GDP in both South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Regional differences

  • Sub-Saharan Africa in particular is in need of support as part of SDG implementation. Projections show that, although the proportion of people living in extreme poverty there will fall by 2030, the absolute number may rise due to population growth. Only two-thirds of children in sub-Saharan Africa are projected to complete secondary education by 2030; while this is a large increase for the region, for the rest of the world the proportion is set to be 90%. Maternal mortality and sanitation are expected to lag far behind the global 2030 target. And almost all future increases in slum populations at the global level are due to occur in the region.

Ways forward

The SDGs could be within our reach, if progress speeds up. Extrapolations do not represent a fixed path that cannot be changed. Country-level analysis shows that faster progress is indeed possible, but only if governments and their citizens put in extra effort to meet the goals and targets, with early actions to raise national ambitions including a strong focus on equity. A number of the SDGs targets could get close to fulfilment by 2030 if the world was able to make a similar rate of progress as top-performing countries. Over the past two decades, for example, Vietnam lifted more than 60% of its population out of extreme poverty, Nepal achieved a striking reduction in maternal mortality with its maternal mortality ratio (MMR) falling by nearly 75%, and more recently, in Ecuador, the incomes of the bottom 40% of the population grew over eight times the rate of the average between 2006 and 2011. Analysis points to the following ways forward:

1) The world needs to take early action to raise country-level ambitions and plan implementation. With only 15 years to make these changes, no time can be lost. Political momentum and buy-in is a must. In key MDG goals, such as maternal mortality, global initiatives linked to country-level efforts and ambitious targets made a difference, and can continue to do so.

2) The SDGs must take into account regional- and country-level starting points. Projections based on aggregate trends can hide the fact that there is a great deal of variation between and within countries. We must recognise these very different starting positions, and counties should put in place appropriate country-level targets, along with flexible implementation plans.

3) Inclusivity is key to achieving the SDGs. Failure to address a core principle of the SDG agenda – to ‘leave no one behind’ – will limit prospects for all. To redress inequalities, progress for those who are currently furthest behind must be faster than the mean. Better data is needed both as a baseline and to monitor progress over the coming years, allowing governments to properly target interventions.

4) We need to learn from top performers. We show it is possible to make remarkable progress in a relatively short amount of time. A number of countries have shown that significant gains can be made against the odds. It is important for others to learn from their experience, adapting development solutions to address challenges specific to their context.

The SDGs represent the closest humanity has come to agreeing a common agenda for a truly inclusive future where no one is left behind. This could be within our reach; but not without a sharp, early increase in ambition and action. It is up to all governments, global institutions, the private sector, civil society and citizens to move quickly to realise this ambitious vision and deliver the future we want in 2030.

*Picture : United Nations Photo via / CC BY-NC-ND

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