The Outlook for Sustainable Development


SEATTLE — In 2015, The United Nations launched The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to expand upon the progress of The Millennium Development Goals from 2000 to 2015. Comprised of 17 goals, the SDGs address issues such as poverty, education and health, with the overall aim of reducing worldwide poverty to less than 3 percent by 2030. Now, three years into the initiative, reports on the outlook for sustainable development express skepticism that these goals could be reached at the current rate of progress.

Poverty and Sustainable Development

According to The World Bank, the rate of poverty reduction — which had cut in half the world population of people living in extreme poverty from 1990 to 2015 — is currently in decline. The organization estimates that the annual rate of poverty reduction, which was 2.5 percent from 2011 to 2013, will eventually decrease to less than half a percentage point.

The World Bank has also calculated that the bottom 40 percent would need to see a yearly income increase of eight percent or more for the next twelve years in order to meet the first SDG of reducing the global poverty rate to three percent or lower. The report notes that income growth has never reached this height despite the notable progress in poverty reduction during the years between 2011 and 2015.

Education and Sustainable Development

Although it is lacking, the available data suggests that the current rate of progress in education is likewise too slow to meet targets by 2030. In its 2018 report, The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) projects that at least 22 million children will be unable to participate in pre-primary education unless the current rate of progress doubles in countries that are lagging behind.

Low reading proficiencies among 15-year-old adolescents is an additional area of concern. According to the same UNICEF report, of the 60 countries where data was provided, 35 percent of 15-year-olds need to see faster improvement in reading proficiency in order to meet the target for quality education. This is without accounting for the remaining countries or the 61 percent of 15-year-olds for which there is little or no data.

Health and Sustainable Development

Along with education, health is considered one of the most important factors in fostering economic and other forms of development. The Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers Report provides recent data and future projections for 18 SDG indicators as a way of tracking the overall progress of the initiative, the majority of them pertaining to health. According to the 2018 report, the United Nations estimates that by 2030:

  • Under-5 mortality will be reduced from 39 per 1,000 live births to 25, which is 14 more births than the original target.
  • The rate of stunting in children under five will be reduced from 27 percent to 22 percent on the current trajectory, but it would remain about seven percentage points higher than the target.
  • Basic vaccines will be available to anywhere from 74 to 90 percent of the world population, falling short of the goal to be accessible to all.
  • Neglected tropical diseases will see a decrease from 17,000 to 13,000 per 100,000 people, which is not far from the goal of 9,000 cases per 100,000.
  • Universal health coverage will be available to 72 percent of the global population, three percentage points higher than in 2017, but well below the goal of achieving universal coverage for all.

The Good News in the Outlook for Sustainable Development

While the outlook for sustainable development in each of these reports is not ideal in terms of the time it will take to be achieved, data trends still show progress in development. With 12 years remaining, The United Nations is still in the initial stages of its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. If the projections for 2030 fall short of the targets for the SDGs, they will at least provide a better understanding of the extent of the resources necessary to improve the outlook for sustainable development going forward.

In consideration of the data, The World Bank, UNICEF and The Gates Foundation have all called for increased investment in world development. As a specific example, The World Bank had invested $3.2 billion in education programs for girls between 2016 and 2018, exceeding a commitment of $2.5 billion three years early. Providing all actors in the 2030 Agenda follow suit, the current outlook does not have to determine the final extent of the world’s progress.

– Ashley Wagner

Photo: Flickr


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