The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and have been used my many organisations as a benchmark and framework for economic progress whilst protecting environmental concerns. But are they fit for purpose and have they actually had any kind of meaningful effect. Here we review a couple of relevant papers to see what the research says on the topic.
From the literature evaluated it could be concluded that the MDGs have had varied success against their pre-aligned targets, but in all instances, have made positive steps in the right direction. This leads Chibba (2011) to conclude that the struggle to get towards the goals as being more important than the targets themselves. Most success has been seen in removing people from extreme poverty and hunger, improving education, reducing child and maternal morbidity and the reduction of diseases such as HIV and Malaria. Other goals such as addressing environmental sustainability have been less successful (with the exception of eradicating ozone depleting substances) and overall none of the goals have been fully achieved, despite headline successes (UNDP 2015).
Part of the lack of success with the MDGs lies within the uneven distribution of their impacts across regions; with the poorest and most disadvantaged groups being left behind. This includes gender inequalities, lack of wealth distribution and increased exposure to environmental threats for the global poor. SDGs, although larger in number than the MDGs seem to offer more in connectivity between themes and solutions. For example, they recognise that there is only limited success if education or health care is improved, but only within certain geographies, income levels or ethnic groups.
The success of the SDGs must be measurable by both targets and indicators, that themselves need to be derived by expert opinion. Most importantly they need to be relevant. The indicators then need to be structured into an operational framework that allows them to be connected enabling target synergies are leveraged and trade-offs minimised. Although there may be many scientific and technical policies that measure success of the SDGs we must also ensure that there are understandable and accessible headline indicators to inform the wider public of their progress (Hak et al. 2016).
Chibba, M. 2011. The Millennium Development Goals: Key Current Issues and Challenges. Development Policy Review, 29(1), 75-90.
Hák, T., Janousková, S., Moldan, B. Sustainable Development Goals: A need for relevant indicators. Ecological Indicators 60 (2016) 565–573.
UN, 2019. Sustainable Development Goals. Available from: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/ (Accessed 2nd October 2019).
UNDP, 2015. The Millennium Development Goals Report. New York: United Nations.
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