The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), established in 2014, build on the cooperation mechanisms established through the earlier Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to tackle persistent development challenges in the 21st Century. The SDGs provide a framework for setting goals, targets and indicators for achieving a more sustainable and inclusive world by the year 2030.
The goals require a high degree of interdisciplinarity and collaboration. Collaboration, cooperation and innovation have been highlighted as priorities for the next 15 years with an emphasis on partnership (Goal 17) as an integral driver.
While the SDGs are a powerful call to action on the multifaceted task of eradicating poverty, fighting inequality and tackling climate change, critics have simultaneously claimed that the goals are not ambitious enough and too sprawling. With 169 targets grouped into 17 goals, the SDGs are a massive expansion of the MDGs and are in danger of wildly missing their mark without strategic prioritization of “catalyst goals” – goals that once achieved, have the potential to unlock rapid innovation or improvement in another goal.
We know that education, health, economic opportunity and social inclusion are all radically improved by reliable access to energy. Rapid population growth is making the challenge more difficult. According to the IEA most optimistic scenario for future energy access, the number of people worldwide without electricity in the year 2030 is projected to remain above 1 billion. In sub-Saharan Africa the problem is projected to get worse, not better. The fact that population growth is outstripping electrification means that by 2030 the number of people without electricity will have risen by 19% from 2009 levels.
Furthermore, meeting the SDGs comes with a hefty price tag. Some estimates have them tagged at 4% of world GDP per year or roughly $2-3 trillion annually. This investment, in an era of low trust in all four key global institutions – business, government, NGOs, and media – is precarious without remarkable leadership and transparency from cross-sectoral actors.
Now, perhaps more than ever, Canada is positioned to play a catalytic role in advancing the SDGs. As a “knowledge nation,” Canada can develop its own innovation and sustainability priorities while advancing vital global development milestones. Accelerating solutions that service the SDGs will require cross-sectoral collaboration and innovative approaches to finance, policy and global business models. By approaching the SDGs in a proactive fashion, Canada can foster the international collaborations necessary to mobilize enabling policy and sustainable finance channels.
Each of the 17 goals has a set of targets. Of the 169 measurable indicators, some are quantifiable and some require proxy targets. In Canada, it is possible to assess 61 targets using 73 indicators. New research indicates that a significant number of Canadian citizens are being left behind. At present, there is very little alignment of targets from other initiatives, differing time horizons and complete data gaps. What is needed is a multi-dimensional approach to:
Prioritizing targets that require breakthroughs;
Developing clear leadership to accelerate the implementation of solutions.
Although an enormous amount of research has been carried out across the SDGs, there remain many questions and uncertainties about how best to tackle them. WGSI's goal is to, by convening the Generation SDG Summit, select handful of specific challenges that Canada should urgently address through multi-sectoral collaborations and determine what priority areas will benefit from strategic leadership by Canada at the global frontier. Stay tuned for more information on our planned events.