Global Sustainable Development Goals need clearer, more measurable targets, according to new report
The authors find that overall, the SDGs offer a “major improvement” over their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with a greater understanding of the interplay between social, economic and environmental dimensions. And while the MDGs only dealt with developing countries, the new set of goals will apply to all countries in the world.
The report finds that of the 169 targets beneath the 17 draft goals, just 29% are well defined and based on the latest scientific evidence, while 54% need more work and 17% are weak or non-essential.
The assessment of the targets – which are intended to operationalise the 17 goals set to be approved by governments later this year – is the first of its kind to be carried out by the scientific community, and represents the work of over 40 leading researchers covering a range of fields across the natural and social sciences. Many of the authors are part of the communities of core projects that are affiliating to Future Earth.
However, the report finds the targets suffer from a lack of integration, some repetition and rely too much on vague, qualitative language rather than hard, measurable, time-bound, quantitative targets.
Authors are concerned the goals are presented in ‘silos.’ The goals address challenges such as climate, food security and health in isolation from one another. Without interlinking there is a danger of conflict between different goals, most notably trade-offs between overcoming poverty and moving towards sustainability. Action to meet one target could have unintended consequences on others if they are pursued separately.
“Targets have to be robust, measurable and should effectively guide implementation,” said Anne-Sophie Stevance, lead coordinator of the report. “The report clearly shows how targets could be consolidated and points to interlinkages that will be critical for managing synergies and avoiding trade-offs.” For example, an increase in agricultural land-use to help end hunger can lead to biodiversity loss, as well as overuse and/or pollution of water resources and downstream (likely negative) effects on marine resources which in turn could exacerbate food security concerns.
The report is being released ahead of a major UN meeting from February 17-20 where governments will negotiate an overall declaration which will serve as the big picture vision of the SDGs framework.
The report highlights the need for an ‘end-goal’ to provide such a big picture vision. “The ‘ultimate end’ of the SDGs in combination is not clear, nor is how the proposed goals and targets would contribute to achieve that ultimate end,” write the authors. They recommend that this meta-goal be “a prosperous, high quality of life that is equitably shared and sustained.”
“This is an opportunity for science to be a partner in the post-2015 development process and support evidence-based decision making. For science, that means connecting the dots across disciplines that usually work independently from each other,” said Stevance.
The report from ICSU and the ISSC, two of the members of Future Earth's Governing Council, highlights the contribution of initiatives like Future Earth to mobilize and bring together scientists across disciplines to address connected global challenges in partnership with policy-makers and stakeholders, and to provide the knowledge needed to support transformations towards sustainability.
DATEFebruary 12, 2015
AUTHORFuture Earth Staff Member
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