Box 4: The Sustainable Development Goals: A sound basis for sustainable growth
Because the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have evolved into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—a development that is expected to be adopted in by the United Nations in 2015—sustainable development is once again a top priority on policymakers’ agendas. The vision emerging from the discussion of the SDGs 2015 is a more encompassing one of sustainable development that is at the center of the political process, putting poverty eradication at the core of the SDGs but also recognizing that “changing unsustainable and promoting sustainable patterns of consumption and production and protecting and managing the natural resource base of economic and social development are the overarching objectives of and essential requirements for sustainable development.”1
The SDGs now appear to be linked more closely to competitiveness than they used to be because most are prerequisites for job creation and long-term sustainable growth. This link is one of the reasons that policymakers find them attractive. In the proposed list of 17 SDGs to be achieved by 2030, five are directly captured by pillars and subpillars of the Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) (Table 1), while three—Goals 6 (Ensure available and sustainable use of water and sanitation for all), 10 (Reduce inequality within and among countries), and 15 (Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss)—are captured by the sustainable competitiveness framework.
Table 1: Sustainable Development Goals and Global Competitiveness Index equivalents
Source: United Nations Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, July 2014.
In addition, by dedicating nearly half of the goals directly to environmental and social sustainability, the United Nations’ Open Working Group acknowledges both our planet’s boundaries and the importance of just, equitable, and inclusive growth for long-term development. This approach is very much in line with the World Economic Forum’s work on sustainable competitiveness that, since The Global Competitiveness Report 2011–2012, attempts to show a direct link between environmental and social sustainability and economic performance.
Moving from the MDGs to the SDGs is also important from a financing point of view. The cost of achieving the SDGs promises to be significantly higher than the cost of achieving the MDGs. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimated that the “finance gap” (the amount of investment necessary to achieve the MDGs by 2015) was approximately US$120 billion a year,2 while a recent report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimated the gap of reaching the SDGs to be nearly US$2.5 trillion per year.3
Aid will not be enough to achieve these goals. However, by focusing on factors that incorporate some of the drivers of higher standards of living, the SDGs can create a virtuous cycle that could enable countries to generate significant wealth to lift their own people out of poverty, enhancing sustainable competitiveness.