Optimizing Development Co-benefits to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

USA,New York,United Nations Building
USA,New York,United Nations Building

A year ago at the United Nations General Assembly, world leaders from 193 nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, along with a bold set of new sustainable development goals (SDGs). While some have hailed the SDGs as a historic moment--where for the first time, all countries have agreed to a universal agenda to end poverty, save the planet and ensure prosperity for all--others have questioned how realistic the 2030 agenda was, with its 17 SDGs, 169 targets and 230 unique indicators.

Based on existing trends, the SDGs are not attainable by 2030. Take some of the following examples: The first target of goal 4 is to ensure that by 2030, all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education. Based on current trends, it will be 95 years before there is parity in girls' lower secondary education for the poorest 20 percent. Goal 5 aims to ensure women's full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life. Based on current trends it will be 50 years before there is parity in politics and 81 years before there is parity in women's participation. Goal 7 is to ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services. Based on current trends, it will take until 2080 to achieve universal access to electricity.

However, the predecessors of the SDGs, the Millennium Development Goals, have shown that trends are not a fatality and progress can be dramatically accelerated with political will, innovation and increased catalytic investment. Furthermore, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 SDGs, 169 targets and 230 unique indicators is an integrated and indivisible vision for change. This integrated and indivisible nature means that a limited number of policy levers can facilitate simultaneous implementation of several SDGs, dramatically reducing costs and increasing co-development benefits.

Notably, UN Women strongly believes that gender equality and women's empowerment is both fundamental human right and a solution to seemingly intractable sustainable development challenges. Achieving the sustainable development goal on gender (SDG 5) would boost efforts to meet every single SDG and, similarly, progress in the other 16 SDGs will greatly contribute to the attainment of SDG 5.

Take the trend on girls' education. Ensuring that girls complete their education is a foundation for ensuring gender equality. An extra year of secondary education for girls can increase her future potential earnings by up to 20 percent (SDG1 poverty reduction); when women and girls earn income, they reinvest up to 90 percent in their families (SDG 2, 3 & 4 No hunger, Health & Education); when 10 percent more of its girls go to school, a country's GDP increases on average by 3 percent (SDG 8 Decent work and economic growth).

Similarly, take the trend on universal access electricity. Falling renewable energy technology costs, innovative finance instruments and the rapid uptake of mobile technologies with low transaction costs for financial transfers have unlocked pathways for new business models to accelerate energy access through decentralized sustainable energy solutions. Across developing countries, women are typically the primary household energy managers. Close to their customers, women entrepreneurs have the potential to lower customer acquisition and servicing costs and accelerate renewable energy adoption. Promoting women renewable energy entrepreneurs will increase gender equality and women's empowerment (SDG 5) and accelerate affordable and clean energy access (SDG 7 and SDG 13), which in turn will multiplier effects contribute towards reaching ten other SDGs, particularly by improving livelihoods to reduce poverty (SDG 1), health (SDG 4), education (SDG 5), and economic growth (SDG 8); and by increasing access to water (SDG 6).

Optimizing development benefits across SDGs holds the key for the successful implementation of the integrated and indivisible 2030 development agenda. This recognition is reflected, for example, in the progress made towards integrating gender into climate action, as demonstrated by the recent UNFCCC Paris Agreement and the Summary of Chair of the World Humanitarian Summit. Operationalizing this emerging consensus will require programming and financing instruments that bridge silos across humanitarian, peace and security, human rights, development and global environmental management action and allow individual partners to reach their objectives by supporting other partners to achieve their own mandates. But this is definitively a realistic and attainable agenda for change.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post to mark the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, or, officially, "Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development"). The SDGs represent an historic agreement -- a wide-ranging roadmap to sustainability covering 17 goals and 169 targets -- but stakeholders must also be held accountable for their commitments. To see all the posts in the series, visit here.