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Realising the Transformative Potential of the SDGs

Written by Institute for Global Environmental Strategies

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The 2030 Agenda, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 169 targets, and 232 indicators, agreed by all countries, are intended to “transform the world”. This report examines the ability of the SDGs to actually trigger this transformation and to suggest some key actions to make the SDGs more transformative. It examines the roles of key actors—governments, cities, and the private sector—and two key means of implementation—finance and technology. The extent to which the SDGs will be truly transformational, however, remains an open question, which depends on how they are implemented.

The report concludes that solutions to implement the SDGs, as well as key means of implementation including finance and technology, are readily available, and have been discussed many times in the past. The issues addressed by the SDGs are not new. There is a danger, however, the key actors will focus on collecting and reporting on the indicators and/or cherry picking individual SDGs which already conform to business as usual, rather than using them as an opportunity to achieve transformational change and treating the SDGs as indivisible and comprehensively linked. As the attention shifts from the overall vision of the SDGs to the details of the targets and indicators, there is some risk that an intensive focus on data, monitoring and measurement may shift attention away from the big picture and concrete and ambitious transformative actions. It is important to ensure that implementing the SDGs is not just about record keeping or only chasing small wins; it is essential to have broad strategies that are ambitious enough to achieve multiple goals. A key message is that it is not necessary to wait to take action until all of the indicators have been developed and all the data has been collected.