The SDGs offer a “major improvement” over their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). However, this report by the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the International Social Science Council (ISSC) finds that of the 169 targets beneath the 17 draft goals, just 29% are well defined and based on the latest scientific evidence, while 54% need more work and 17% are weak or non-essential.
The assessment of the targets – which are intended to operationalise the 17 goals set to be approved by governments later in 2015 – is the first of its kind to be carried out by the scientific community, and represents the work of over 40 leading researchers covering a range of fields across the natural and social sciences.
However, the report finds the targets suffer from a lack of integration, some repetition and rely too much on vague, qualitative language rather than hard, measurable, time-bound, quantitative targets.
Authors are also concerned the goals are presented in ‘silos.’ The goals address challenges such as climate, food security and health in isolation from one another. Without interlinking there is a danger of conflict between different goals, most notably trade-offs between overcoming poverty and moving towards sustainability. Action to meet one target could have unintended consequences on others if they are pursued separately.
Finally, the report highlights the need for an ‘end-goal’ to provide a big picture vision for the SDGs. “The ‘ultimate end’ of the SDGs in combination is not clear, nor is how the proposed goals and targets would contribute to achieve that ultimate end,” write the authors. They recommend that this meta-goal be “a prosperous, high quality of life that is equitably shared and sustained.”