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Projecting progress

Reaching the SDGs by 2030

This month the United Nations launches the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a global plan to spur action across the world on areas of critical importance to humanity. With 17 goals and 169 targets, the SDGs replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which end this year.

The SDGs will significantly shape development efforts for the coming 15 years. But are they really achievable? And what can we do to improve our chances of success?

Our SDG Scorecard 2030 is the first real attempt to project where the world will be in 2030 across the SDG agenda. For each goal we selected one target that represents the goal’s main aims. We analysed the best available projections for that target and, where there were gaps, produced our own. For each of these 17 targets, we reviewed trends and projected forward current rates of progress to see how close they will get to being realised.

Based on these projections, we then gave each target a grade. The result is a ‘scorecard’ of where the world will be in 2030, against select targets, assuming progress continues at its present rate.

The pace and depth of change needed to meet the targets varies dramatically across goals and across regions, but the message from our scorecard is clear: early action is essential.

The Scorecard

We’ve graded targets from ‘A’ to ‘F’, based on how much faster progress will need to be if we are to meet the target by 2030.

The results reveal an uncomfortable truth: without a big push, we won’t meet any of the SDG targets under review. No ‘A’ grades were awarded.

However, our scores also show that if current trends continue, we are not far off achieving some of the targets. Global progress only needs a small acceleration to be on track for three of the targets. Others need to speed up by many multiples of the current rate. And a few need to change direction completely to have any chance of success by 2030.

SDG Scorecard 2030

Goal Target Grade
End Extreme Poverty
Economic Growth in LDCs
Halt Deforestation
Reduce Maternal Mortality
Universal Secondary Education
Reduce Violent Deaths
Mobilise Domestic Resources
End Hunger
Water & Sanitation
Universal Access to Sanitation
Universal Access to Energy
End Child Marriage
Industrialisation in LDCs
Reduce Income Inequality
Reduce Slum Populations
Reduce Waste
Climate Change
Combat Climate Change
Protect Marine Environments
‘The resulting scorecard shows that unless significant changes are made, none of the SDGs will be met. This is far from a prediction of failure however, as goals by their very nature should stretch us beyond current trends, with far-reaching and ambitious targets that inspire action.’

Current trends give us some cause for optimism, even if the goals aren’t fully reached. Maintaining current progress should see us achieve the following by 2030:

  • Extreme poverty will be virtually eliminated across much of Asia.
  • Maternal mortality will be reduced globally to around 150 deaths per 100,000 live births.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa will see the largest increase in the proportion of young people completing secondary education.
  • More than 1.7 billion people around the world will gain access to electricity.
  • Inequality will fall in low-income countries.
  • There will be a halt to declining forest cover, with an increase beginning from 2020.
Reform, revolution and reversal

Development Progress Head of Project Susan Nicolai explains how the SDG scorecard was created and says that the level of stretch revealed should act as a wake-up call for policymakers.

'The Sustainable Development Goals set out an inspirational, very ambitious, global development agenda that will be in place for the next 15 years.' - Susan Nicolai

Our scorecard groups the examined targets into three categories according to the grade they received: reform, revolution and reversal. These three groups all need concerted and targeted action, but with differing urgency and scale.

Show Projections
Current progress will already get us more than halfway to reaching three of the targets reviewed by 2030. Projections show us reforms will still be needed in order to reach the last mile, and thus score a ‘B’ grade. These targets are: eradicating extreme poverty; strengthening economic growth in least developed countries; and halting deforestation.
Show Projections
The majority of targets fall in the middle range, scoring ‘C’, ‘D’ and ‘E’. These need to speed up by multiples of the current rate of progress. This group will need a ‘revolution’, requiring radical approaches and innovation to have a chance of success by 2030. These projections give us hope that we are moving in the right direction, but clearly much more work needs to be done. There are nine targets in the revolution group: ending hunger; reducing maternal mortality; universal secondary school completion; ending child marriage; universal access to energy (electricity); access to sanitation; industrialisation in least developed countries; reducing violent deaths; and mobilising domestic revenues.
Show Projections
Then there are the ‘F’s, the targets where the world is currently moving in the wrong direction. They will need a complete ‘reversal’of current trends to see success in 2030. There are five targets in the reversal group: reducing income inequality; reducing slum populations; reducing waste; combating climate change; and protecting marine environments. These will need major shifts and new commitments across the globe.
Regional analysis

The SDG global targets place different levels of expectation onto countries and regions, given their different starting positions.

One region in particular needs attention as it seeks to achieve the SDGs: sub-Saharan Africa. In many targets, sub-Saharan Africa is starting from a much lower position than other regions; in others, it is the slow speed of current progress that affects its eventual 2030 projection.

The number of people living in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa is set to rise by 2030. So are child marriages and slum populations. The proportion of children completing secondary school, though improving, will also remain well below the rest of the world in 2030.

Other regions face their own challenges. At current rates, East Asia and the Pacific will see inequality continue to soar. Latin America is projected to have an even higher number of violent deaths. And the greatest contribution to global carbon emissions will continue to come from developed and emerging economies.

But regional analysis has revealed good news as well. In South Asia, 350 million people are projected to escape extreme poverty. In Latin America, inequality is set to continue to reduce at an impressive rate. And sub-Saharan Africa, in spite of its other challenges, is projected to see substantial economic growth to 2030.

‘Our projections show sub-Saharan Africa failing to reach many of the SDGs in 2030. However, a wider historical perspective as well as a closer look at country starting points helps to show that Africa’s projected progress is somewhat more encouraging than this implies.’
1. Countries are grouped into the following regions: sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and the Pacific, South Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Middle East and North Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and OECD.
1. Countries are grouped into the following regions: sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and the Pacific, South Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Middle East and North Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and OECD.
Raising the grade

The SDGs are clearly an ambitious agenda. Our scorecard shows that we are off track if current rates of change continue. So why do we still think it’s possible to meet the SDGs? What makes us conclude that our grades could improve? And what exactly needs to change for that to happen?

Our optimism comes from exploring the progress of the world’s best-performing countries of recent years. They show us that much faster rates of progress are possible.

Taking each of our groups in turn, we explore what needs to happen to selected targets to give them the best possible chance of success.


Our targets in need of ‘reform’, those which scored ‘B’, are the nearest to being met if they continue at the current rate of progress. They are set to get more than halfway towards the target.

Taking Target 1.1 from this group, ending extreme poverty, we can learn from the example of Vietnam over the past few years.

Vietnam’s recent record on poverty reduction is dramatic: in 1993, 63% of the population lived on less than U$1.25 a day; by 2012, this had fallen to 2%. This makes Vietnam one of the best-performing countries in terms of poverty reduction.

So how did Vietnam achieve this extraordinary success? Our case study points to a few key drivers:

  • Sustained and equitable spending in formal education and healthcare
  • Interventions to increase crop yields
  • Market-based policy reforms in agriculture and trade
  • Investment in new agricultural technologies and rural infrastructure
  • Equitable land reform.

Trade liberalisation followed an unorthodox approach, opening domestic markets to international competition in some sectors while protecting national industries in others. It focused on retaining manufacturing and management skills within Vietnam.

If Vietnam’s rate of progress could be matched elsewhere, the global poverty target would be close to being achieved by 2030.

Top performers' rate of progress on extreme poverty

'Vietnam’s recent record on poverty reduction is dramatic: in 1993, 63% of the population lived on less than U$1.25 a day; by 2012, this had fallen to 2%. This makes Vietnam one of the best-performing countries in terms of poverty reduction.'

Below, ONE's European Executive Director Adrian Lovett discusses extreme poverty and some of the challenges and solutions to meeting Target 1.1.

'Projections say that by 2030, 15 years from now, most of the world will be able to virtually eliminate that level of poverty.' - Adrian Lovett

Our targets in need of ‘revolution’, those which scored ‘C’, ‘D’ or ‘E’, have further to go; at the minimum they need to more than double their rates of progress, and at the most, multiply that progress almost ten-fold.

Focusing on Target 3.1, reducing maternal mortality, we can learn from the progress made by Nepal over the past two decades.

Nepal is estimated to have reduced maternal mortality by 75% since the early 1990s. 

Our study of Nepal highlights some key drivers behind this success:

  • The health budget per person almost doubled, from US$34 in 1995 to US$66 in 2010
  • Women’s incomes and female participation in the labour force grew, giving women greater discretion over household spending
  • There was a massive expansion of health facilities, particularly in remote areas, with health posts almost quadrupling
  • Contraception use more than doubled from 24% in 1991 to 50% by 2011
  • Average fertility fell from six children per woman in the early 1980s to just over two children per woman today
  • Over 50% of expectant mothers now have four antenatal visits – a five-fold increase over 15 years.

If Nepal’s rate of progress on maternal mortality could be matched elsewhere, this target would be achieved by 2030.

Top performers' rate of progress on maternal mortality

'Nepal is estimated to have reduced maternal mortality by 75% since the early 1990s. This impressive record reflects substantial gains in female empowerment as well as concerted government action.’

Two of the other targets requiring 'revolution' are Target 5.3 on ending child marriage and Target 9.2 on industrialisation in least developed countries. Here Lakshmi Sundaram, Chief Executive of Girls Not Brides, discusses the importance of meeting Target 5.3 and explains why she's optimistic that it can be achieved.

'Governments, organisations and donors have to make sure that they address these issues together so that they are actually able to make progress.' - Lakshmi Sundaram

SOAS Lecturer Dr Antonio Andreoni and LSE Professor Robert Wade discuss Target 9.2 on industrialisation in least developed countries and the difficulty in measuring industrial employment and production.

'The Sustainable Development Goals have finally reintroduced industry into the picture of development and development discourse.' - Dr Antonio Andreoni

The targets in need of ‘reversal’, those which scored ‘F’, are furthest off track; current trends need to change direction entirely if we are to have any chance of meeting these targets.

Taking Target 10.1 (income inequality), we identify key lessons to be learned from Ecuador where incomes of the poorest 40% of the population grew over eight times the rate of the average between 2006 and 2011.

A study of its progress reveals certain drivers of this success:

  • A comprehensive, countrywide strategy for poverty reduction was initiated, aiming to establish national solidarity through a socially-oriented market economy
  • Barriers to education and public healthcare were removed and public-university tuition made free
  • The social protection framework was strengthened, including providing conditional cash transfers, with an emphasis on families with children
  • A windfall tax from oil price rises was established, increasing tax revenue to help pay for direct transfers and universal access to social services
  • An increasingly stable economy and political environment allowed Ecuador to enact such bold policies aimed at tackling inequality.

The example of Ecuador shows us that trends and trajectories can be reversed. A country with a staggeringly high level of inequality, it has been able to bring down income inequality consistently over a long period of time.

If Ecuador’s rate of progress on inequality could be matched elsewhere, this target would be achieved by 2030.

Top performers' progress on inequality

Below, Faiza Shaheen, Head of Inequality and Sustainable Development at Save the Children UK, discusses Target 10.1 on reducing income inequality and how we can accelerate progress.

'The big thing about the SDGs is that it puts inequality on the agenda in a big way.' - Faiza Shaheen

A further target requiring a reversal of current trends is Target 13.2 on combating climate change. Here, Ilmi Granoff, Research Fellow in ODI's Climate and Environment Programme, explores how far we are from meeting climate targets and the levels of emissions reductions needed to avoid catastrophic climate change. 

'We are very far from meeting climate targets and projected emissions reductions that we need to avoid catastrophic climate change.' - Ilmi Granoff

The way ahead

Our scorecard shows us what the world is on course to achieve by 2030 across the SDG agenda. Adopting a sharper focus on bolstering current trends could help improve global performance, raising the projected grades in our scorecard substantially.

Achieving the goals will demand much, much more than the efforts currently underway. Our projections show that none of the SDGs will be met unless action is taken early to radically improve rates of change.

Transformative action

If progress is accelerated our research shows that many of the goals are within reach. And faster progress is indeed possible – but only if governments and their citizens put in extra effort, with early actions to raise national ambitions and a strong focus on equity.

The following are key to success on the SDGs:

1. Early action to raise country-level ambitions and plan implementation.  With only 15 years to achieve ambitious targets, no time can be lost. Political momentum and buy-in are essential.

2. The SDGs must take into account regional- and country-level starting points. Projections based on aggregate trends can hide the variation between and within countries. We need appropriate country-level targets, along with flexible implementation plans.

3. Inclusivity is key. If we fail to address a core principle of the SDG agenda – to ‘leave no one behind’ – we will limit prospects for all. To redress inequalities, progress for those who are currently furthest behind must be faster than the rest. We also need better data to monitor progress amongst those typically left out of the development process.

4. We must learn from top performers. A number of countries in recent years have made remarkable progress in a relatively short period of time. Others must learn from their experience, adapting development solutions to address challenges in their own contexts.

The future we all want

The SDGs represent the closest humanity has come to agreeing a common agenda for a truly prosperous and inclusive future where no one is left behind. That future could be within our reach, but not without a sharp increase in ambition and action.

It is up to governments, global institutions, the private sector, civil society and citizens to move quickly. Only then will we have a chance of delivering the future we all want in 2030.