Michael Green

Michael Green: The global goals we've made progress on -- and the ones we haven't

"We are living in a world that is tantalizingly close to ensuring that no one need die of hunger or malaria or diarrhea," says economist Michael Green. To help spur progress, back in 2015 the United Nations drew up a set of 17 goals around important factors like health, education and equality. In this data-packed talk, Green shares his analysis on the steps each country has (or hasn't) made toward these Sustainable Development Goals -- and offers new ideas on what needs to change so we can achieve them.


In 2015, the leaders of the world made a big promise. A promise that over the next 15 years, the lives of billions of people are going to get better with no one left behind. That promise is the Sustainable Development Goals -- the SDGs. We're now three years in; a fifth of the way into the journey. The clock is ticking. If we offtrack now, it's going to get harder and harder to hit those goals. So what I want to do for you today is give you a snapshot on where we are today, some projections on where we're heading and some ideas on things we might need to do differently.

Now, the SDGs are of course spectacularly complicated. I would expect nothing less from the United Nations.

(Laughter)

How many goals? Maybe something tried and tested, like three, seven or 10. No, let's pick a prime number higher than 10. Seventeen goals. I congratulate those of you who've memorized them already. For the rest of us, here they are.

Seventeen goals ranging from ending poverty to inclusive cities to sustainable fisheries; all a comprehensive plan for the future of our world. But sadly, a plan without the data to measure it. So how are we going to track progress? Well, I'm going to use today the Social Progress Index. It's a measure of the quality of life of countries, ranging from the basic needs of survival -- food, water, shelter, safety -- through to the foundations of well-being -- education, information, health and the environment -- and opportunity -- rights, freedom of choice, inclusiveness and access to higher education.

Now, the Social Progress Index doesn't look like the SDGs, but fundamentally, it's measuring the same concepts, and the Social Progress Index has the advantage that we have the data. We have 51 indicators drawn from trusted sources to measure these concepts. And also, what we can do because it's an index, is add together all those indicators to give us an aggregate score about how we're performing against the total package of the SDGs. Now, one caveat. The Social Progress Index is a measure of quality of life. We're not looking at whether this can be achieved within the planet's environmental limits. You will need other tools to do that.

So how are we doing on the SDGs? Well, I'm going to put the SDGs on a scale of zero to 100. And zero is the absolute worst score on each of those 51 indicators: absolute social progress, zero. And then 100 is the minimum standard required to achieve those SDGs. A hundred is where we want to get to by 2030. So, where did we start on this journey? Fortunately, not at zero. In 2015, the world score against the SDGs was 69.1. Some way on the way there but quite a long way to go.

Now let me also emphasize that this world forecast, which is based on data from 180 countries, is population weighted. So China has more weight in than Comoros; India has more weight in than Iceland. But we could unpack this and see how the countries are doing. And the country today that is closest to achieving the SDGs is Denmark. And the country with the furthest to go is Central African Republic. And everyone else is somewhere in between. So the challenge for the SDGs is to try and sweep all these dots across to the right, to 100 by 2030. Can we get there? Well, with the Social Progress Index, we've got some time series data. So we have some idea of the trend that the countries are on, on which we can build some projections.

So let's have a look. Let's start with our top-performing country, Denmark. And yes, I'm pleased to say that Denmark is forecast to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Maybe not surprising, but I'll take a win. Let's look at some of the other richer countries of the world -- the G7. And we find that Germany and Japan will get there or thereabouts. But Canada, France, the UK and Italy are all going to fall short. And the United States? Quite some way back. Now, this is sort of worrying news. But these are the richest countries in the world, not the most populous. So let's take a look now at the biggest countries in the world, the ones that will most affect whether or not we achieve the SDGs.

And here they are -- countries in the world with a population of higher than 100 million, ranging from China to Ethiopia. Obviously, the US and Japan would be in that list, but we've looked at them already. So here we are. The biggest countries in the world; the dealbreakers for the SDGs. And the country that's going to make most progress towards the SDGs is Mexico. Mexico is going to get to about 87, so just shy of where the US is going to get but quite some way off our SDG target. Russia comes next. Then China and Indonesia. Then Brazil -- might've expected Brazil to do a bit better. Philippines, and then a step down to India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, and then Ethiopia. So none of these countries are going to hit the SDGs. And we can then take these numbers in all the countries of the world to give ourselves a world forecast on achieving that total package of the SDGs. So remember, in 2015 we started at 69.1. I'm pleased to say that over the last three years, we have made some progress. In 2018, we've hit 70.5, and if we project that rate of progress forward to 2030, that's going to get us to 75.2, which is obviously a long way short of our target. Indeed, on current trends, we won't hit the 2030 targets until 2094. Now, I don't know about you, but I certainly don't want to wait that long.

So what can we do about this? Well, the first thing to do is we've got to call out the rich countries. Here are the countries closest to the SDGs, with the greatest resources, and they're falling short. Maybe they think that this is like the Old World where goals for the UN are just for poor countries and not for them. Well, you're wrong. The SDGs are for every country, and it's shameful that these wealthy countries are falling short. Every country needs a plan to implement the SDGs and deliver them for their citizens. G7, other rich countries -- get your act together.

The second thing we can do is look a bit further into the data and see where there are opportunities to accelerate progress or there are negative trends that we can reverse. So I'm going to take you into three areas. One where we're doing quite well, one where we really should be doing better and another where we've got some real problems.

Let's start with the good news, and I want to talk about what we call nutrition and basic medical care. This covers SDG 2 on no hunger and the basic elements of SDG 3 on health, so maternal and child mortality, infectious diseases, etc ... This is an area where most of the rich world has hit the SDGs. And we also find, looking at our big countries, that the most advanced have got pretty close. Here are our 11 big countries, and if you look at the top, Brazil and Russia are pretty close to the SDG target. But at the bottom -- Ethiopia, Pakistan -- a long way to go. That's where we are in 2018. What's our trajectory? On the current trajectory, how far are we going to get by 2030? Well, let's have a look. Well, what we see is a lot of progress. See Bangladesh in the middle. If Bangladesh maintains its current rate of progress, it could get very close to that SDG target. And Ethiopia at the bottom is making a huge amount of progress at the moment. If that can be maintained, Ethiopia could get a long way. We add this all up for all the countries of the world and our projection is a score of 94.5 by 2030. And if countries like the Philippines, which have grown more slowly, could accelerate progress, then we could get a lot closer.

So there are reasons to be optimistic about SDGs 2 and 3. But there's another very basic area of the SDGs where we're doing less well, which is SDG 6, on water and sanitation. Again, it's an SDG where most of the rich countries have already achieved the targets. And again, for our big countries -- our big 11 emerging countries, we see that some of the countries, like Russia and Mexico, are very close to the target, but Nigeria and other countries are a very long way back. So how are we doing on this target? What progress are we going to make over the next 12 years based on the current direction of travel? Well, here we go ... and yes, there is some progress. Our top four countries are all hitting the SDG targets -- some are moving forward quite quickly. But it's not enough to really move us forward significantly. What we see is that for the world as a whole, we're forecasting a score of around 85, 86 by 2030 -- not fast enough.

Now, obviously this is not good news, but I think what this data also shows is that we could be doing a lot better. Water and sanitation is a solved problem. It's about scaling that solution everywhere. So if we could accelerate progress in some of those countries who are improving more slowly -- Nigeria, the Philippines, etc. -- then we could get a lot closer to the goal. Indeed, I think SDG 6 is probably the biggest opportunity of all the SDGs for a step change.

So that's an area we could do better. Let's look finally at an area where we are struggling, which is what we call personal rights and inclusiveness. This is covering concepts across a range of SDGs. SDG 1 on poverty, SDG 5 on gender equality, SDG 10 on inequality, SDG 11 on inclusive cities and SDG 16 on peace and justice. So across those SDGs there are themes around rights and inclusiveness, and those may seem less immediate or pressing than things like hunger and disease, but rights and inclusion are critical to an agenda of no one left behind. So how are we doing on those issues? Let's start off with personal rights. What I'm going to do first is show you our big countries in 2015. So here they are, and I've put the USA and Japan back in, so it's our 13 biggest countries in the world. And we see a wide range of scores. The United States at the top with Japan hitting the goals; China a long way behind. So what's been our direction of travel on the rights agenda over the last three years? Let's have a look. Well, what we see is actually pretty ugly. The majority of the countries are standing still or moving backwards, and big countries like Brazil, India, China, Bangladesh have all seen significant declines. This is worrying.

Let's have a look now at inclusiveness. And inclusiveness is looking at things like violence and discrimination against minorities, gender equity, LGBT inclusion, etc... And as a result, we see that the scores for our big countries are generally lower. Every country, rich and poor alike, is struggling with building an inclusive society. But what's our direction of travel? Are we building more inclusive countries? Let's have a look -- progress to 2018. And again we see the world moving backwards: most countries static, a lot of countries going backwards -- Bangladesh moving backwards -- but also, two of the countries that were leading -- Brazil and the United States -- have gone backwards significantly over the last three years.

Let's sum this up now for the world as a whole. And what we see on personal rights for the whole world is we're forecasting actually a decline in the score on personal rights to about 60, and then this decline in the score of inclusiveness to about 42. Now, obviously these things can change quite quickly with rights and with changes in law, changes in attitudes, but we have to accept that on current trends, this is probably the most worrying aspect of the SDGs. How I've depressed you ...

(Laughter)

I hope not because I think what we do see is that progress is happening in a lot of places and there are opportunities for accelerating progress. We are living in a world that is tantalizingly close to ensuring that no one need die of hunger or malaria or diarrhea. If we can focus our efforts, mobilize resources, galvanize the political will, that step change is possible.

But in focusing on those really basic, solvable SDGs, we mustn't forget the whole package. The goals are an unwieldy set of indicators, goals and targets, but they also include the challenges our world faces. The fact that the SDGs are focusing attention on the fact that we face a crisis in personal rights and inclusiveness is a positive. If we forget that, if we choose to double down on the SDGs that we can solve, if we go for SDG à la carte and pick the most easy SDGs, then we will have missed the point of the SDGs, we will miss the goals and we will have failed on the promise of the SDGs.

Thank you.

(Applause)