Making the UN's Sustainable Development Goals Great Again

The United Nations' ambitious set of goals have proven unwieldy, with some commentators saying they represent "all things to all people." Reorganizing and prioritizing them could help.

2 minute read

September 8, 2017, 12:00 PM PDT

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc


United Nations Flags

Dendodge / Wikimedia Commons

"No target left behind," was how one Gates Foundation employee described the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, according to this piece by Jeff Leitner and Tomicah Tillemann. Worldwide efforts to meet those guidelines by 2030, they write, are falling behind.

But there may be a way to revive the goals. "While this list of 17 goals and 169 targets is longer than the Constitution, it's not the goals' breadth, depth, or even ambition slowing us down; it's the absence of internal logic. The SDGs are a postmodern, deconstructed, Jackson Pollock-version of a to-do list."

The SDGs represent an attempt to engage stakeholders and focus groups, a noble thing to be sure. But trying to be all things to all people rarely works. "As a result, New America and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development set out to solve this problem. They surveyed 85 developmental economists, political scientists, and social scientists around the world, asking them to put a cleaned-up list of 117 targets in the right order."

Leitner and Tillemann give us some of the leading steps:

1) promote the rule of law and access to justice; 2) eliminate the most extreme poverty; 3) ensure access to safe, effective, and affordable health care, medicine, and vaccines; 4) ensure women's right to economic opportunity, property ownership, and inheritance; 5) ensure government accountability and transparency

The authors also emphasize how profitable private investments in sync with the goals can mobilize some $85 trillion currently "parked in long-term investment vehicles" around the world.

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