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Closing the SDG Gap

Summary:
Given the technology, knowledge, and resources now available, the gap between current progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals and what is achievable remains far too wide. Closing that gap will require smart politics, new partnerships, and bold campaigning. LAGOS – As global business and political leaders gather in Davos for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting, they should ask themselves one big question: Will the world achieve the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals for 2030? Or will the SDGs – with their targets for eradicating extreme poverty, ending preventable child deaths, expanding educational opportunity, and averting a climate disaster – join the long list of enthusiastically endorsed global pledges

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Given the technology, knowledge, and resources now available, the gap between current progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals and what is achievable remains far too wide. Closing that gap will require smart politics, new partnerships, and bold campaigning.

LAGOS – As global business and political leaders gather in Davos for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting, they should ask themselves one big question: Will the world achieve the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals for 2030? Or will the SDGs – with their targets for eradicating extreme poverty, ending preventable child deaths, expanding educational opportunity, and averting a climate disaster – join the long list of enthusiastically endorsed global pledges that go unfulfilled?

Those suffering from early new-decade SDG blues might take comfort from Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker. Building on the core theme of his influential book Enlightenment Now, and citing a familiar barrage of statistics on human progress, Pinker has offered an upbeat assessment: “Progress toward [the SDGs] is continuing,” he wrote. “It is unlikely to do a sudden U-turn.”

He is right, up to a point. Since 2000, there have been extraordinary improvements in human-development indicators. Poverty has been decreasing at historically unprecedented rates: the share of the world’s population living on less than $1.90 per day has fallen from 28% to 10%. The risk of children born in Africa dying before their fifth birthday has been halved, saving millions of young lives. Out-of-school numbers have fallen dramatically, and gender gaps in school attendance are shrinking. Over 1.6 billion people have gained access to clean drinking water. Such achievements refute the pessimism that often pervades public debates about aid and international development.

So far so good. But here’s the catch: if progress over the next ten years mirrors that of the last decade, the world will fall catastrophically short of the 2030 targets.

Consider child survival. On current trends, there will still be over four million child deaths worldwide in 2030. The vast majority of these fatalities could be prevented through improved nutrition and basic health-care interventions. But progress toward eradicating malnutrition, which is implicated in...

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