Two years into the 15-year Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations has identified six megatrends that could boost — or bust — progress toward the goals. The report flags important choices for governments, investors and civil society in efforts to end poverty, boost health education and health outcomes, eliminate gender disparities and take on climate change.
1 — Progress against poverty is uneven. Absolute poverty has fallen, as has inequality between countries. But income disparities within countries continue to rise. How societies choose to distribute economic gains will determine whether whether progress is shared by all segments of society.
2 — Demographic dividends are not guaranteed. Europe, North America, Asia and Latin America have rapidly aging populations. People are on the move, between countries seeking economic opportunities and political refuge. Managed effectively, global migration can bring profound benefits to both sending countries (remittances and networks) and receiving countries (labor, taxes and care services). Africa stands to benefit from a “demographic dividend” of growing productivity from its youthful population, but smart policies are required to capture the benefits.
3 — Climate change is here. Action to address climate change will shape both equitable economic development and the health of natural systems. Countries bearing the brunt of climate change are usually least responsible for triggering them. That means the overexploitation of ecosystems, degraded air and land, marine pollution and biodiversity decline are likely to continue in the short-term, making 2030 goals tougher to reach.
4 — Make open trade work for all. Global trade spurs investment and growth, which has positive macroeconomic impact — but it also affects, sometimes negatively, individual households, particularly food security and nutrition. Trade has been on a downward trajectory that “inward looking approaches and protectionist tendencies” could accelerate. Policies that support global growth should also drive positive impact at home.
5 — Attract private investment to long-term sustainable development. Official development assistance, or foreign aid, from wealthy to less-wealthy countries currently makes up half of development finance. More needs to be done to effectively catalyze the $22 trillion in annual public and private savings and more than $250 trillion in total global financial assets for sustainable development. In developing countries, this includes more effectively collecting taxes. Advanced countries can facilitate and simplify access to climate-specific finance in countries that vulnerable to climate change.
6 — Drive tech innovation in local context. The most effective technologies are developed with target beneficiaries as active stakeholders in problem-solving. “It is important to ensure that technologies are contextually appropriate, responsive to the needs of local people, inclusive in both their development and usage, and conforming to safety, security and privacy standards,” the report states. Though the private sector drives most tech development, the public sector can set expectations through regulation and R&D financing.