Can the sustainable development goals be made smarter?

What should UN member states agree on at the summit of the future? — Economic principles, finance, financing, and a multilateral approach to the common good

It is recommended that the UN member states at the summit of the future agree on an updated and renewed sgd framework to guide national and global action until mid-century. We suggest they set up an inter-agency working group to work on the details.

A new economics of the common good should be put in place for setting goals and working out how to achieve them. This involves cross-cultural respect and cooperation, the cultivation of civic virtues and defending the dignity of the socially, politically and economically marginalized — with not just words but also policies and collaborations involving government, business, workers and civil society. Diverse voices and sources of knowledge must be brought to the table to discuss what it means to co-create a just and sustainable economy.

The operating space for humanity on Earth is one of the main purposes of theSDG agenda. A physically stable environment is a prerequisite for human well-being. Yet the world is transgressing six of nine planetary limits or ‘boundaries’ that regulate its stability and functioning9 — including in areas such as climate change, biodiversity and more. Surpassing these limits puts Earth’s entire life-support system at risk, and with it the chance to eradicate poverty and hunger and achieve good lives for all.

Regarding financing, member states should agree to adopt the SDG Stimulus programme (see to bolster official financing and debt relief. In addition, a reformed global financial architecture, including global taxation on fossil-fuel emissions, air travel, shipping and international financial transactions, should be adopted at the Financing for Development Summit in 2025.

UN member states should follow a balanced and multilateral approach to their capabilities. There should be publicly funded research systems deployed nationally and globally that include social and technological innovation.

There is not enough money to enable low and middle-income countries to achieve the goals of the UN. Many nations are in debt distress and face a tight schedule of repayments which is setting back development. Weak domestic institutions and corruption make it difficult to give equity and debt finance to LMICs.

It is necessary that cutting-edge technologies are included. An example is that artificial intelligence could affect both the good and the bad of the UN. There is a need for agreements on regulation to stop the spread of misinformation and inequalities.

By 2030: Adopt social protection measures to address the most vulnerable in society (older people; mothers and children; people with disabilities; those who are unemployed).

By the year 2040, the poor will have resilience to extreme events and shocks related to climate change.

By 2040: Adopt sustainable-agriculture programmes to raise food production, reduce food loss and waste, and protect ecosystems to achieve food security.

Towards a sustainable global standard of living: Artificial Intelligence and the SDG 2050 targets need to be aligned with international targets

By the year 2050. Continuous work is needed to make sure that theSDG remains on track and integrate topics such as the management of artificial intelligence in the training curriculum.

In other cases, they suggest that actions should align with international agreements — such as the Paris climate agreement’s commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, so that global temperatures do not exceed 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.

By 2050: Nature’s resilience should be restored in the major areas of the planet for both human health and planetary stability.

Changing theSDG for 2050 will require wide consultations including scientists, Indigenous populations, marginalized communities and the private sector. Maintaining awareness and legitimacy is dependent on inclusiveness.

All 2050 targets need to be clear, easy to implement and widely accepted. IfSDG 13 has net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by mid-century, it should be an effective climate-action goal.

Accounting for factors such as artificial intelligence in a more ambitious set of goals has a lot of merit — as long as urgency is not lost on the existing ones.

The challenge of ensuring that the Sustainable Development Goals in Low- and Intermediate-income Countries are aligned with global macro-economic goals

Measures of cross-border impacts, or spillovers, need to be better integrated into SDG targets, to ensure that progress in one region does not come at the expense of another1. High-income countries have practices that make it hard for LMICs to progress, like dumping of electronic and other waste, and supporting tax havens.

The current geopolitics will be a challenge to achieve this transition. The world has frameworks that enable workable plans for sustainable transitions. These include, for example, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. The task is to shift the focus from negotiating over problems to delivering solutions, and to introduce strong enforcement mechanisms.

The cost of planetary damage needs to be accounted for in economic transactions. This requires a price on carbon, as well as tariffs on activities that undermine the functioning of ecosystems, freshwater cycles, marine systems and biochemical flows. The global financial system is going to need to agree on universal principles for de-risking sustainable investments in LMICs, and putting an end to investments that are harmful to the planet.

Source: Extending the Sustainable Development Goals to 2050 — a road map

In-House Knowledge Management: From Missions to Missions: A Case Study of Developing a Multi-Sector Innovation Infrastructure for LMICs

Governments can use dedicated and flexible systems to work on the 11 priority goals by building in-house knowhow. They should strengthen their capacities to anticipate, adapt and learn about what works in and across organizations. They must design tools, institutions and partnerships to maximize public value, engage citizens and build digital infrastructures that serve the common good.

Enhanced regional cooperation is also crucial, particularly in managing transnational infrastructure and rainforests, river basins, aquifers, coastal regions and fisheries. Transnational data sharing will be needed, through open-data initiatives for example.

To meet theSDGs, public investment must be scaled up. This will involve strategic allocations that build complementarities between human capital, business capital and natural capital. The return on business investment can be achieved by countries that have a skilled workforce and infrastructure for energy, water, transport, digital services and so on. In LMICs, investment in this essential infrastructure has been lacking.

One way to help transform societal challenges into practical policy pathways is to frame the fulfilment of theSDGs through missions with well-defined goals. One of the EU’s mission is to reduce plastic litter at the sea by at least 50% by 2030.

Missions can bring together many sectors, technologies and types of firm to achieve ambitious goals13. For example, in its efforts to protect and restore marine and freshwater ecosystems in Europe, the European Commission has convened 13 of its ministries (or directorates-general) — including those responsible for climate action, maritime affairs and fisheries, and research and innovation, to tackle the mission in a whole-of-government way.

Cost-benefit analyses do not capture spin-offs. For example, NASA’s Apollo missions led to camera phones, foil blankets and formula milk. Dynamic methodologies will need to be developed to quantify these effects.

National and international banks can align with innovative missions and deep pathways. For example, Germany’s green steel sector owes its growth to the KfW Development Bank’s green loans programme for heavy industry, which aligned its long-term and low-interest finance to the government’s energy transition mission16.

Why is the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 8) not the same as the Sustainable Growth Goal (Epoch of the Future)? Comments on a Paper by J. Paul Guterres

When a well-thought-out plan isn’t succeeding, what should the response be? Abandon the plan entirely? Hope that it just needs more time to work? To understand why it’s not functioning, make changes accordingly.

Is it possible to improve on the existing approach? A group of researchers from Europe and the United States make suggestions in a Comment article this week. The researchers propose that the 17 goals should all remain the same, as should many of the targets and indicators for those targets. But they are also calling for greater ambition. Providing social protection for vulnerable people is something that should be included in the goal to end poverty. The goal for zero hunger should also tackle undernutrition.

The proposal is well timed. The Summit of the Future will be a meeting held in New York City this September by the UN secretary-general. At the Pact for the Future gathering, there will be a proposal to identify indicators like economic growth, well-being, and sustainable development similar to those of the long term sustainable development goals. Few of the SDGs have the priority, status and attention in national policymaking that SDG 8 (economic growth) does. Guterres wants to change this and get policymakers to focus not just on economic indicators such as gross domestic product (GDP), but on a dashboard of indicators that he is calling Beyond GDP.

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