A few weeks ago, the working group tasked with drafting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) issued its official list of recommended goals and targets  for consideration by the UN General Assembly in September. It is an extraordinary milestone: As far as I know, it is the first time that metrics are defined through a robust intergovernmental process. The Millennium Development Goals, which will expire next year, were the result of a very different process. The international community is showing a growing appetite for setting targets and tracking results to ensure concrete action on the ground.
While the ultimate outcome of the SDG process is still uncertain, sharpening our collective focus on results is good news for the sustainability of our planet and for creating the conditions not only for pulling people out of poverty, but for enabling rich, productive lives. It is a cliché, but it is true: what gets measured, matters.
The challenge now, for governments, stakeholders, and development institutions in general, is in the details of implementation. The Open Working Group on SDGs produced 17 goals and 169 targets. If targets and indicators remain comfortably ensconced in their apparent "sectors", the impact of any metric will be limited. Today’s development challenges demand multi-sectoral, multi-dimensional approaches. Recognizing this, the World Bank has created 19 thematic Global Practices and Cross-Cutting Solutions Areas tasked with working across sectors to deliver effective, transformative solutions.Better defining and articulating the linkages and synergies between targets and sectors could be a real game changer for the implementation of the SDGs: it would facilitate decisions, investments and policies that consciously identify no regret options and proactively manage trade-offs. Only by managing trade-offs and externalities in a timely manner can we avoid zero-sum development options. Informed decision-making based on integrated approaches is at the core of sustainable development.
Take for example, Target 15.2, which proposes to “…promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests, and increase afforestation and reforestation by x% globally”. This target is boxed into a goal on “environmental issues”, presumably the responsibility of environmental authorities. However, would it not be an entirely different target if stakeholders working on rural employment, agriculture, health, poverty, water, trade, PPPs, finance and urban issues also assume a role in delivery? If they would understand this target as a constituent part of their deliverables? The same logic could be applied to the majority of targets – very few are exclusively sector-specific given that benefits, costs, impacts, and results spill over many sectors and areas.
It is only integrated and integrating approaches that will unlock the promise of sustainable development. And only sustainable development will ensure that we have the array of natural resources, services and assets necessary to effectively respond to the challenges ahead.
Photo credit: CIFOR, Flickr Creative Commons