31 October, 2016

Utilizing Data and Partnerships to Realise the SDGs

By Faustine Wabwire
Senior Foreign Assistance Policy Analyst, Bread for the World Institute

One year ago, in September 2015, world leaders and citizens adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — a transformative plan of action based on a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It seeks to end hunger and extreme poverty, make societies more equitable, and better protect the environment. Leaders and citizens are now tasked with making progress on urgent global problems as the world works together to meet these goals before the deadline on December 31, 2030.

This past year has given stakeholders additional insight as to what it will take to achieve the 2030 Agenda and how it differs from its predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) framework, which was the first-ever global effort to set and meet development goals. The SDG Agenda builds on the success of the MDGs, but is different in several ways.

The SDG Agenda is universal – it applies to all countries. This is significant for the United States, where one in five children lives in a food-insecure household. The SDGs set out to create a world in which, no matter where they live, no child goes to school hungry and no mother has to choose which child to feed. Reflecting the reality that every country has room for improvement, the SDGs are comprehensive, enabling countries of all incomes to set national targets.

The universality of the SDGs comes at an opportune time. The demographics of extreme poverty have changed considerably since 1990, when more than 90 percent of the world’s poor lived in low-income countries. Today, more than 70 percent of all poor people live in middle-income countries. This is potentially good news, because middle-income countries have better access to resources needed to meet the SDGs. However, the only way to achieve the SDGs’ key feature of leaving no one behind is for these countries to join together to identify ways to embed the SDG Agenda in their national policies and plans.

Significant progress has been made in achieving global goals such as food and nutrition security, gender equality and access to education. But there is a long way to go. Numerous threats — including climate change, humanitarian crises that have displaced millions of people and infectious diseases such as the Ebola and Zika viruses — threaten to reverse global, national and/or community gains. Political and financial resources are needed to respond to high unemployment rates, particularly among youth, rising inequality among countries and within them and a slowed global economy.

Unlike the MDG framework, the 2030 Agenda goes beyond listing individual goals. It calls for integrating three dimensions of sustainable development — economic, social and environmental — in a comprehensive global vision. It puts far more emphasis on how issues are connected with each other. Progress on one goal necessarily impacts progress on others.

The 2030 framework also introduces a detailed “how to get there” approach, with strong emphasis on means of implementation, technology and capacity building. As Bread for the World Institute has emphasized, strengthening the capacity of local institutions is the bedrock of sustainable development outcomes. It requires data and strong local capacity to provide an evidence base to support effective policymaking.

For example, climate change poses a threat to the goal of ending hunger. Minimizing this threat will require that all governments commit to fully implementing the Paris Agreement, and that national governments, the private sector and civil society forge accountable multi-stakeholder approaches to designing agricultural policies and programs.

One year after its adoption, it’s worth asking how the SDG Agenda is evolving. Preliminary evidence shows that there is immense need for better data to identify gaps and track progress. Most low-income countries have weak statistical systems, making it difficult to assess the well-being of vulnerable and often marginalized populations.

For example, the available evidence suggests that children from the poorest households and rural areas in a given country are more than twice as likely to be stunted as compared with their peers from the wealthiest families. However, the data needed to confirm the accuracy of this understanding and enable countries to track the progress of efforts to improve nutrition among their poorest families is rarely systematically collected. This is why the U.N. Statistical Commission has initiated a process for developing a framework to measure the success of the 17 SDGs and the 169 targets they contain.

Such data and methodological challenges can be overcome, but only if political leaders and communities are motivated to do so. The momentum generated by a truly global effort to bring “all hands on deck” to tackle these problems will help to build and sustain political will that is strong enough to carry the world through to 2030 with substantial progress toward, if not full achievement of, all 17 SDGs.

Note: This is adapted from an article originally published here.