The 17 SDGs were launched by the UN on September 25th, to the usual fanfare. They are wordy, as I've noted before, and as the Economist has argued, some are so convoluted as to defy evaluation – which, perhaps, was the point.
"Most of the SDGs’ predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), have been met, largely because of progress in China and India. But there were just eight of them, focused on cutting extreme poverty and improving health care and education, all clearly defined. By contrast there are 17 SDGs and a whopping 169 “associated targets”, covering world peace, the environment, gender equality and much, much more. Many are impossible to measure. ... A tighter focus and more precise definitions might have been wise."
In a more recent posting, Beyond handouts, The Economist has said that although targets are bloated, they do show how aid is changing for the better, and "are part of an important shift in thinking about development that is making it both more ambitious and more realistic."
The Economist's comments concluded:
"As the SDGs proliferate, donors are putting greater emphasis on measuring results and collecting data. They need data to be more disaggregated and to know where the poor are concentrated, as well as their ages, how they live and what sort of work they do. Advances in technology make this easier. Satellites can more precisely determine where forests are thinning, for example, or where crops are thriving or wilting. Among the SDG targets is one that calls for all births to be registered so that all children have legal identities, and their progress can be tracked. What matters most is “measuring need and measuring impact,” says Michael Anderson, who runs CIFF [Children’s Investment Fund Foundation] and was previously Mr Cameron’s special envoy for the UN’s development goals. Yet, he adds, of the 193 countries which have signed up to the SDGs’ nutrition targets only 74 have enough data to assess whether they’re on track to meet them.
“We know so much better now what works and what doesn’t work,” says Mr Anderson. “Aid is an ever-declining part of the story.” That, perhaps, is the SDGs’ real message. Unwieldy as they are, they are not just a call for more handouts. The MDGs were meant to create a social safety net; the SDGs to be fit for an age in which the standard of living in a big chunk of the developing world is creeping towards the levels of rich countries. The SDGs’ boosters, though admitting they will be harder to measure than the MDGs, let alone meet, hail them for going “beyond aid.”
I wonder if the Aid industry in the UK, and its educational fellow travellers, agree.
PostScript: Here's an Economist exploration of how implementation of the SDGs will likely intersect with religious thinking and activity – something we shall likely hear more of, no doubt, and at some length.