Commentary: Global development goals pose complex challenges of costs and monitoring


Author: A.H. Monjurul Kabir

United Nations – What goals do we have to achieve in order to build a world that is safe and prosperous? About that we’re pretty clear. What’s not so clear, however, is how much we will have to spend along the way and how we will know we’re on the right path.


How much will it cost to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment – No. 5 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to be reached by the year 2030? What about inclusive and quality education (No. 4)? Or access to sanitation and safe drinking water (No. 6)? How will governments agree on a standardized way to measure these costs? Indeed, can they be measured?

The 17 development goals and 169 “targets” that all UN member states agreed to last year are an ambitious attempt to achieve an integrated balance of economic, social and environmental development. Because of this, it is extremely difficult to come up with a realistic estimate of how much it would cost to achieve these goals. Not surprisingly then, no comprehensive cost study has been done.

This is a critical year in which we must establish a framework for carrying out the 2030 agenda. And cost is only one of the many questions that need to be answered.

Statistics and indicators are critical to measuring progress. Learning from the experience of the previous Millennium Development Goals, countries have recognized the need for timely and reliable disaggregated data to monitor the progress of sustainable development and ensure that “no one is left behind.”

Each country needs to develop a comprehensive national monitoring and evaluation system to ensure accountability and gather and analyze the data needed for making policies. Countries should try to improve the quality and timeliness of their reporting to the UN statistical bodies.

The UN Statistical Commission has been tasked with developing, by March, a framework for sound global statistics and indicators. The framework is to be later adopted by the UN Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly.

However, it is not obvious how each country will integrate this global framework into its own national plan. Will each government set its own priorities among the 169 targets to suit its own national context? If so, will that make it difficult to monitor the targets on a global scale? Will some governments have difficulty finding the resources to meet the accountability and reporting requirements of the Sustainable Development Goals? The list of questions goes on.

The Commission on the Status of Women will examine the goal of gender equality when it convenes in New York in March. This will be especially timely in the context of the 20-year review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and the recent adoption of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The international agreement on climate change reached last December in Paris also will become an integral part of the global development agenda and affect the economic status of women.

The UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development will discuss some of these complex questions when it meets in July. It is the main UN forum for reviewing progress on achieving the 2030 agenda. The forum will work with governments to conduct regular reviews, with inputs from intergovernmental, UN, and other bodies. Eighteen countries have volunteered for the first round of reviews in July. This presents a good opportunity to also look at how countries are integrating women’s issues in carrying out the Sustainable Development Goals.

Regional economic commissions and UN development groups will work with governments to adapt the global sustainable development frameworks to the context of each country. Regional banks will be important sources of financing for development goals, including the building of infrastructure.

In each country, the different departments of the government and bureaucracy need to coordinate efforts to integrate the development goals into national policies. Some polices can serve multiple goals; for example, investing in education will also promote health, job creation, as well as gender equality. In addition to money, strong institutions, accountability, and methods to translate investment into effective services for people who need it, are critical to achieving the development goals. In case of Goal 5, significant legal, legislative, and institutional changes are needed to ensure women’s rights. In 2014, a record 143 countries guaranteed equality between men and women in their Constitutions, but another 52 did not. In many countries, gender discrimination remains woven into laws and social norms.

The Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved without sound policies and efficient implementation. Also required is a significant and well-targeted increase in financing, particularly in those countries that are furthest behind in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

About the author

Dr. AH Monjurul Kabir is Programme Adviser and Head of the Asia-Pacific Section at UN Women Headquarters in New York. He writes here in his personal capacity. He tweets as @mkabir2011.