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Trajectories for the sustainable development goals

Mahmoud Mohieldin's picture

At the UN Sustainable Development Summit, in September 2015, the leaders of 193 member states of the United Nations formally adopted an ambitious agenda for sustainable development for the next 15 years. The 2030 Agenda embeds the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), comprising 17 goals and 169 targets. These goals and targets cover economic, social, and environmental dimensions of development, offering a comprehensive view of what is needed for sustainable human well-being.

The SDGs continue to tackle the issues that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) attempted to solve, but they go further. They highlight a global partnership to end extreme poverty and protect the planet for the next generations, while leaving no one behind. Individual countries face the challenge of translating these ambitions into feasible strategies, with clear targets and specific policies based on country circumstances and initial conditions and national priorities. A major issue has been managing financing and service delivery gaps at the country level. Thus, identifying specific service delivery and financing solutions to close attainment gaps is crucial to meeting our development goals.

In 2013, discussions around the Post-2015 Agenda began taking shape. A High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons (HLP) was established by the UN Secretary-General. In addition to producing a report on how to eradicate poverty and transform economies through sustainable development, it engaged on how to best tackle the world's most pressing challenges.

In this context, I was involved in several meetings with leaders and members of the HLP. Two of these were of direct relevance to this work. The first was with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, and Amina Mohammed, then Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Post-2015 development planning. The second meeting was with Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, then Coordinating Minister for the Economy and the Minister of Finance of Nigeria. These meetings focused on overcoming the financing and service delivery challenges that the SDGs pose. Later discussions with Maria Kiwanuka, then Minister of Finance of Uganda, confirmed this priority. Conversations with these distinguished leaders and many other policymakers highlighted the demand for a tool to address these challenges of service delivery and financing gaps, which featured so prominently in countries' experience with the MDGs.

Meanwhile, a team of prominent experts at the World Bank was working on approaches and models to analyze progress on the MDGs. I asked the team to assist with the development of a framework to assess the ability of countries to achieve the new goals. After deliberations and technical discussions, the decision was made to proceed with a practical approach to the questions at hand using case studies of a representative group of countries. Criteria for selection was based on a variety of conditions which were not limited to per capita income and initial conditions, but also included access to natural resources, size, and geography. The framework was applied in a recent World Bank publication entitled "Trajectories for Sustainable Development Goals: Framework and Country Applications."

The publication uses the framework to analyze the likely progress on SDGs and their determinants and to discuss country policy and financing options to accelerate progress. It looks at 10 country examples that are geographically dispersed and include low-income, middle-income, landlocked, natural resource-rich, and small island countries. The countries are Ethiopia, Jamaica, the Kyrgyz Republic, Liberia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, Senegal, and Uganda.

For each country, the analysis offers a starting point for discussion of how policies and financing could be designed to speed up development outcomes by (a) benchmarking recent outcomes for SDG target indicators and the factors (including policies) that influence them; (b) projecting 2030 outcomes for these indicators; and (c) assessing options to increase financial resources for spending in support of the SDG agenda. The analysis is from a cross-country perspective, with outcomes assessed relative to countries at the same level of income per capita. Subject to data constraints, the framework strives to address the aspects of the SDG agenda that matter to country- level decision making.

The country assessments cover countries with diverse prospects for realizing the ambitions of the global SDGs agenda by 2030. For example, some face adverse growth prospects and, compared to countries with similar per capita incomes, are underperforming for at least some of the SDGs. Together these considerations make it difficult for these countries to reach the 2030 targets for those SDGs. Other countries expect to grow rapidly and, for at least some SDGs, are currently performing better than expected for their income per capita level. However, because of low initial outcomes, many countries in this second group are still projected to find it difficult to reach the global 2030 targets.

The country assessments also illustrate differences in SDG progress via provision of more and higher-quality public services and various levels of financing. For example, given current levels of taxes and other revenue sources, some countries may find it difficult to raise resources for SDG-targeted policies without additional government resources that a growth acceleration would make available.

The framework aims to be of value and serve as a useful resource for policymakers as well as development practitioners. In addition, the lessons learned could be applied to other countries and further improve policymakers' ability to identify and address opportunities and challenges for the achievement of the SDGs. The framework also serves as a commencement point for quantitative analysis to better understand the policy and financial efforts needed to attain the SDGs.

This post first appeared on The Huffington Post.

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