Review of targets for the sustainable development goals: the science perspective

5 August 2015
International Council for Science (ICSU) in partnership with the International Social Science Council (ISSC)
Conference document type: 

This report is an independent scientific review of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets, as submitted to the UN General Assembly by the UN Open Working Group (OWG). It is a unique tool designed primarily for negotiators, technical support teams and other actors engaged in defining a universal, integrated and transformational set of global goals and targets for sustainable development and the political declaration on the post-2015 development Agenda.

In particular it is a resource for technical review of the targets carried out in preparation for their adoption and translation at the national level. With more than 40 contributing authors from 21 countries, the report brings together a wide range of scientific expertise across the natural and social sciences in an accessible and concise manner.

The report offers rigorous analysis of the proposed goals and targets, collectively and individually, assessing whether they are backed up by scientific evidence, whether they address the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development in an integrated way, and whether they are sufficiently specific to be effectively implemented and monitored.

It clearly identifies how well defined each target is through a “traffic light” colour scheme (green, amber, red), signaling where more technical work may be needed. Concrete recommendations are put forward for consideration in refining the goals and targets or in planning for their implementation.

The SDG framework

  • The proposed Sustainable Development Goals offer major improvements on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The SDG framework addresses key systemic barriers to sustainable development such as inequality, unsustainable consumption patterns, weak institutional capacity, and environmental degradation that the MDGs neglected.
  • The SDG framework would benefit from an overall narrative articulating how the goals will lead to broader outcomes for people and the planet. An overarching goal could be formulated, for instance in the political declaration framing the Post-2015 Development Agenda, binding together the 17 goals, thus providing a clearer means-to-end continuum.
  • The current SDG framework does not identify the wide range of social groups that will need to be mobilized to deliver on the goals as agents of change alongside governments.
  • Key trade-offs and complementarities among goals and targets should be specified in a follow-up document.