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Can the SDGs be achieved by 2030?

Thu, 2015-10-08 12:54
Tom Berliner

ODI has projected how the world is likely to do on all 17 SDGs, based on current trends. While performance across the goals and in each region is likely to vary widely, current global performance is leading us towards failure on all the SDGs come 2030.

Some regions face a tougher challenge in implementing the SDGs, photo: World Bank photo collection via flickr.com, creative commons licence 

Amid the hullabaloo of the Pope, Putin and Shakira launching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) last week, very little attention has been paid to how many, if any, are actually achievable.

ODI has spent much of this summer trying to answer this question. Using projections from leading organisations such as the World Bank, OECD and the WHO and, where none yet exist, creating our own, we have assessed where the world is likely to be in 2030 on current trends. This tells us how much global progress has to be accelerated to achieve these vitally important goals.

We selected one key target for each of the 17 goals. Each of these were graded, based on how close they would come to being achieved if current progress continued to 2030. An ‘A’ grade means current progress would see the target being met, while ‘B’, ‘C’, ‘D’ and ‘E’ grades represent a continuum of how much faster progress would need to be. An ‘F’ grade indicates that the world is currently heading in the wrong direction. The results of this analysis is shown in our ‘SDG Scorecard’ below.


Key: Current trends suggest: A - will meet the target, B- More than halfway to target, C - More than a third of the way to the target D - More than a quarter of the way, E - Little to no progress, F - Progress in wrong direction

The major take-away from this is that not a single goal will be met by 2030 if current trends continue. There are no A grades.

In some ways, this is not a bad thing. The goals are meant to inspire greater ambition amongst nations. They should inspire increased efforts beyond current rates of progress. If the SDGs set targets that we’re actually on course to achieve, this would have been a false exercise.

However, the scale of failure on the SDGs predicted is still mightily concerning. Just three of the selected targets are expected to reach more than halfway towards the goal by 2030 (those scoring a ‘B’). Ten of the 17 targets aren’t projected to reach even a third of the way towards success (those scoring ‘D’,’E’ and ‘F’).


Reform, Revolution and Reversal

We’ve grouped the targets in to three categories of action -:

-          Reform targets are those that are on course to reach more than halfway towards the target – ‘B’s (shown in green, above). These will require appropriate, targeted solutions to speed up progress and ensure that the SDG is met. Here, optimism is relatively high as a concerted effort from governments, donors and citizens could see us achieve the targets by 2030.

-          Revolution targets (shown in purple, above) will require more significant action and innovation to lift those scoring just ‘C’s, ‘D’s and ‘E’s.

-          Reversal targets (shown in red, above) are those graded ‘F’, where current global trajectories are taking us completely in the wrong direction. Here, there will need to be complete about-turns in approaches, new commitments, and, most likely, a great deal of public pressure to see success by 2030.


Regional variations

The scorecard reflects global projections. However, we also found that there will be substantial regional variation among regions against almost all the targets.

Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, is projected to fare poorly across the SDGs. Projections show that, although the proportion of people living in extreme poverty should fall by 2030, the absolute number of poor in Africa may still rise (Target 1.1). Only two-thirds of children in sub-Saharan Africa are projected to complete secondary education by 2030 (Target 4.1). Maternal mortality (Target 3.1) and sanitation (Target 6.2) in the region are expected to lag far behind the universal 2030 target. Almost all future increases in slum populations (Target 11.1) are due to occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

The scorecard is not just a story of African struggles though. South Asia is on track to see 350 million people escape extreme poverty, yet the region is still likely to have a maternal mortality rate almost double the global target in 2030. East Asia and the Pacific will see noteworthy progress, with both extreme poverty and maternal mortality falling substantially. However the region is also projected to have the most unequal growth to 2030 (Target 10.1), followed by OECD countries. Latin America is projected to continue impressive progress on inequality, but the high number of violent deaths (Target 16.1) in the region is expected to continue.

Even advanced economies are likely to flounder against some of the SDGs. The largest environmental impacts are likely to stem from BRIICS  (Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia and China) and OECD countries, which will be the biggest offenders in greenhouse gas emissions (Target 13.2) and waste management (Target 12.5). Even the richest countries, therefore, will need to make major shifts to see the SDGs secured.


Time for action

The SDGs represent the closest humanity has come to agreeing a common agenda for a prosperous, inclusive future where no one is left behind. Our scorecard shows that future could be within reach - but not without a major increase in ambition and action, today. We are currently headed towards failure in 2030, across the board.  This scorecard should act as a wake-up call to anyone concerned about the fate of the SDGs, be they governments, global institutions, private sector organisations, or everyday citizens.

Tom Berliner is a researcher in the Development Progress team at ODI. His research explores where and how progress has happened, helping to communicate these lessons to policymakers, academics and the general public. He has spent significant time 


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