The UN’s Development Goals

2015 was a blunt illustration in the awkward path of world progress. The year began with a terrorist attack on the headquarters of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, with 12 losing their life. By its end, the UN’s sustainable development goals had been agreed; they aim to set targets and ever more importantly ways of measuring progress for some of the most significant issues facing the earth worldwide. Regardless of the violence, bloodshed and dragged heels of world improvement, over the last four years they have served as a window into a better world and one that is hopefully not hopelessly far away.

There are 17 goals and each one consists of an overarching purpose and then constitute specific targets with measurable metrics. In this way they aim to not only set a definite roadmap for the future but give a precise method of measuring progress in the forthcoming year.

The 17 goals are:

  • 1. No Poverty
  • 2. Zero Hunger
  • 3. Good Health and Well-being
  • 4. Quality Education
  • 5. Gender Equality
  • 6. Clean Water and Sanitation
  • 7. Affordable and Clean Energy
  • 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • 9. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • 10. Reducing Inequality
  • 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • 12. Responsible Consumption and Production
  • 13. Climate Action
  • 14. Life Below Water
  • 15. Life On Land
  • 16. Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
  • 17. Partnerships for the Goals.

While these may seem quite broad and vague in their intention, each one as stated is split into more specific targets with indicators to measure their success. Overall this stacks up with 17 goals, 169 targets spread amongst them and 232 indicators used to measure performance.

Looking at how this works in practice, it’s interesting to see a particular example. Taking goal 1, “No Poverty”, this is split into five specific targets. Target 1.2 aims to “By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions.” To measure this the UN employs indicator 1.2.1 “proportion of the population living below the national poverty line”. This three-way mix of goal, target and indicator is the bread and butter of the system, giving a highly specific aim and a hard statistical way of measuring it.

As can be seen from the data below the world is heading in the right direction, Paraguay’s value for the indicator reducing, from around 58 per cent in 2002 to about 27 per cent in 2015. In the subsequent years since the goals were set to the data’s most recent entry in 2017 the rate has fallen further by a few tens of basis points. Other countries have had a slight uptick notably Bolivia in the most recent couple of years, demonstrating that even for this one specific goal, life is rarely simple or easy to achieve with the bold aims the UN has set out.

While the goals themselves include no information on how they should be achieved; they have created an essential yardstick for those looking to promote change to aim for and measure against. The move for ESG (environmental, social, governance) influenced investment often uses them as an overarching target for their investment assessment.

Private investment is a colossal engine for change. The addition of these goals, now used by investors to inspire their assessment of companies and the direct influence on those companies practices, means such an engine is turning dead square towards progress.

T: 020 7336 7763

E: philip@in2planning.co.uk

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