Addressing the extraordinary challenges of Sustainable Development Goals and why global efforts to reach them are not ambitious enough.

The Monumental Challenges of Sustainable Development Goals

Friday, 12 July 2019: Are we on track to realise the global goals? The annual stocktake by the United Nations (UN) reveals an uncertain outlook.

According to a report released this week at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, there are extraordinary challenges of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the global efforts to reach them are not ambitious enough.

The report highlights the impacts of climate change and increasing inequality as major threats that could reverse many development achievements in areas such as extreme poverty reduction, immunisation, child mortality rates and access to electricity.

The annual forum brings ministers, experts and civil society leaders together to discuss and collaborate on plans. and solutions to challenges in working towards the SDGs.

SDGs include the 17 goals adopted in 2015 by all UN member states in an urgent call for action on reshaping the world to ensure a sustainable future, especially for the most impoverished.

Data collection: The challenge of sustainable development measurement

Research by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), shows the collection of data to track year-on-year progress towards all seventeen SDGs, is a challenge for even the world’s most peaceful and statistically advanced countries.

Countries that are fragile and conflict-affected have much lower statistical capacity than all other countries. As a result, they undertake fewer surveys less frequently, and with less methodological rigour.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) highlighted the inequality of statistical capacity between peaceful countries and those in conflict or fragile circumstances.

On average, 16% of low-income, fragile and conflict-affected countries met or made progress on their MDG targets, whereas all other countries achieved an average of over 40%.

SDG16+: measuring peace as part of sustainable development

The SDGs include peace as a critical component to achieving sustainable development, recognising the impacts of conflict and instability on development.

SDG16 specifically promotes peaceful and inclusive societies, access to justice for all, with effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. Acknowledging that many of the SDGs are contingent on the success of other goals has resulted in the development of SDG16+.

SDG16+ is a more complete framework of all targets connected with peace, justice and inclusive societies. SDG16+ adds an additional 24 targets from seven other goals to SDG16.

However, as part of an audit of the availability of global SDG16+ data, research by IEP found that of the 44 indicators that can be used to measure SDG16+, only four can be measured by all 163 countries included on the Global Peace Index.

These four indicators include intentional homicide, conflict-related deaths, representative politics, inclusive decision-making.

The three indicators with the lowest number of countries reporting data availability include ensuring equal opportunity and reducing inequalities, female genital mutilation or cutting, and discrimination.

Of the 44 measurable indicators, only 24 have officially recognised data sources, such as a country’s own national statistics office.

Inequality and climate change: significant challenges to SDGs in the Pacific

Research by the IEP shows that exclusion and inequality are significant challenges to the SDGs in the Pacific, especially SDG5, which relates to achieving gender equality, and SDG10, which seeks to reduce inequalities.

The percentage of women in Parliament is an indication of gender inclusion and participatory practices.

In the Pacific, Vanuatu, the Federated States of Micronesia and Papua New Guinea have zero women in Parliament, suggesting a substantial hurdle to be overcome in achieving SDG5 and SDG10.

Political exclusion, along with imbalanced access to resources, are known as forms of “slow violence,” which can erode human security in the region. The emerging threats of climate change and the high prevalence of natural disasters in the Pacific present another challenge for the region.

Five Pacific Islands are identified among the 15 countries identified as being most vulnerable to an extreme natural event in the world, according to the 2017 World Risk Index.

Climate change has threatened stability and livelihood in Kiribati and in turn, challenges the achievement of the SDGs.

Rising sea levels around Kiribati, where the islands average at just two metres above sea level, threaten to cause mass migration. The consensus across research is that climate change is not a cause of conflict in itself, but acts as a threat multiplier.

The Pacific region reports very high levels of interpersonal violence including intimate partner violence, and two specific cases of high intercommunal violence. Reducing levels of violence is a key focus of SDG16, and climate change could offer an exacerbating threat to much-needed progress on this goal.