What if we lived in a world without poverty, inequality, or climate change?
The United Nations says that dream might be possible if we follow its new Global Goals for Sustainable Development. We could even do it by 2030.
The Global Goals project, launched earlier this fall, lays out a framework for making the world a better place by providing benchmarks for countries to hit by 2030 (i.e. an end to malnutrition, free primary and secondary education globally, and growth in energy efficiency).
Michael Green, CEO of the Social Progress Imperative, recently gave a TED Talk about the plan. His non-profit partnered with the UN to create the People’s Report Card, which tracks every country’s progress. The Social Progress Imperative and the UN hope to keep world leaders accountable in meeting the Goals by 2030.
The People’s Report Card uses data from the Social Progress Index, an annual measure of national progress in areas like safety, health, and personal rights.
The Index includes the UN’s 17 Global Goals and further breaks them down into 169 targets, including basic nutrition and medical care, clean water, and access to education. The organisation gives every country a score on scale of 0 to 100.
Norway leads the Index with a score of 88, while the Central African Republic sits at the bottom with a score of 37. The average score of the entire world is 61.
The UN is tracking progress over time, in hopes that the world will hit an Index target of 75 in 15 years.
That target seems a bit unrealistic, but Green reminds us the world has a great track record. In 2001, the UN set a goal to cut global poverty in half, from 36% to 18% by 2015. We not only hit this target — we exceeded it. Global poverty, defined as people who live on less than $US1.25 per day, will drop to 12% by the end of this year.
The Global Goals have been met with some criticism. The Economist recently called the 169 targets “sprawling and misconceived,” and estimated their price tag at $US2 to $US3 trillion per year. Another critic deemed them “a high-school wish-list for how to save the world.”
But Green says we might as well try. “The pessimists and the doomsayers who say the world can’t get better are simply wrong,” he says.
Economies in countries like China and India have grown rapidly, which is why global poverty has sharply declined in the last 15 years, he says.
However, progress doesn’t come from improving the global economy. If the world meets the UN’s predictions of wealth by 2016, it will only increase the global Index score by 1.4 points.
Global wealth actually makes very little impact, says Green. The answer lies in policy that guarantees basic human rights.
In 2016, the UN will start giving countries annual report cards that show their progress. The organisation hopes it will pressure countries around the world to meet the goals. “If we prioritise the well-being of people, we can get to these global goals,” Green says. “Let’s choose the world that we want.”
Take that, pessimists.
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