Do you think the world is going to be a better place next year? In the next decade? Can we end hunger, achieve gender equality, halt climate change, all in the next 15 years?
Well, according to the governments of the world, yes we can. In the last few days, the leaders of the world, meeting at the UN in New York, agreed a new set of Global Goals for the development of the world to 2030. And here they are: these goals are the product of a massive consultation exercise. The Global Goals are who we, humanity, want to be.
Now that’s the plan, but can we get there? Can this vision for a better world really be achieved? Well, I’m here today because we’ve run the numbers, and the answer, shockingly, is that maybe we actually can. But not with business as usual.
Now, the idea that the world is going to get a better place may seem a little fanciful. Watch the news every day and the world seems to be going backwards, not forwards. And let’s be frank: it’s pretty easy to be skeptical about grand announcements coming out of the UN.
But please, I invite you to suspend your disbelief for just a moment. Because back in 2001, the UN agreed another set of goals, the Millennium Development Goals. And the flagship target there was to halve the proportion of people living in poverty by 2015. The target was to take from a baseline of 1990, when 36 percent of the world’s population lived in poverty, to get to 18 percent poverty this year.
Did we hit this target? Well, no, we didn’t. We exceeded it. This year, global poverty is going to fall to 12 percent. Now, that’s still not good enough, and the world does still have plenty of problems. But the pessimists and doomsayers who say that the world can’t get better are simply wrong.
So how did we achieve this success? Well, a lot of it was because of economic growth. Some of the biggest reductions in poverty were in countries such as China and India, which have seen rapid economic growth in recent years. So can we pull off the same trick again? Can economic growth get us to the Global Goals? Well, to answer that question, we need to benchmark where the world is today against the Global Goals and figure out how far we have to travel.
But that ain’t easy, because the Global Goals aren’t just ambitious, they’re also pretty complicated. Over 17 goals, there are then 169 targets and literally hundreds of indicators. Also, while some of the goals are pretty specific — end hunger — others are a lot vaguer — promote peaceful and tolerant societies.
So to help us with this benchmarking, I’m going to use a tool called the Social Progress Index. What this does is measures all the stuff the Global Goals are trying to achieve, but sums it up into a single number that we can use as our benchmark and track progress over time.
The Social Progress Index basically asks three fundamental questions about a society. First of all, does everyone have the basic needs of survival: food, water, shelter, safety? Secondly, does everyone have the building blocks of a better life: education, information, health and a sustainable environment? And does everyone have the opportunity to improve their lives, through rights, freedom of choice, freedom from discrimination, and access to the world’s most advanced knowledge?
The Social Progress Index sums all this together using 52 indicators to create an aggregate score on a scale of 0 to 100. And what we find is that there’s a wide diversity of performance in the world today. The highest performing country, Norway, scores 88. The lowest-performing country, Central African Republic, scores 31. And we can add up all the countries together, weighting for the different population sizes, and that global score is 61. In concrete terms, that means that the average human being is living on a level of social progress about the same of Cuba or Kazakhstan today.
That’s where we are today: 61 out of 100. What do we have to get to achieve the Global Goals?
Now, the Global Goals are certainly ambitious, but they’re not about turning the world into Norway in just 15 years. So having looked at the numbers, my estimate is that a score of 75 would not only be a giant leap forward in human well-being, it would also count as hitting the Global Goals target. So there’s our target, 75 out of 100. Can we get there?
Well, the Social Progress Index can help us calculate this, because as you might have noticed, there are no economic indicators in there; there’s no GDP or economic growth in the Social Progress Index model. And what that lets us do is understand the relationship between economic growth and social progress.
Let me show you on this chart. So here on the vertical axis, I’ve put social progress, the stuff the Global Goals are trying to achieve. Higher is better. And then on the horizontal axis, is GDP per capita. Further to the right means richer. And in there, I’m now going to put all the countries of the world, each one represented by a dot, and on top of that I’m going to put the regression line that shows the average relationship. And what this tells us is that as we get richer, social progress does tend to improve. However, as we get richer, each extra dollar of GDP is buying us less and less social progress. And now we can use this information to start building our forecast. So here is the world in 2015. We have a social progress score of 61 and a GDP per capita of $14,000. And the place we’re trying to get to, remember, is 75, that Global Goals target. So here we are today, $14,000 per capita GDP. How rich are we going to be in 2030? That’s what we need to know next. Well, the best forecast we can find comes from the US Department of Agriculture, which forecasts 3.1 percent average global economic growth over the next 15 years, which means that in 2030, if they’re right, per capita GDP will be about $23,000. So now the question is: if we get that much richer, how much social progress are we going to get? Well, we asked a team of economists at Deloitte who checked and crunched the numbers, and they came back and said, well, look: if the world’s average wealth goes from $14,000 a year to $23,000 a year, social progress is going to increase from 61 to 62.4.
Just 62.4. Just a tiny increase.
Now this seems a bit strange. Economic growth seems to have really helped in the fight against poverty, but it doesn’t seem to be having much impact on trying to get to the Global Goals. So what’s going on? Well, I think there are two things. The first is that in a way, we’re the victims of our own success. We’ve used up the easy wins from economic growth, and now we’re moving on to harder problems. And also, we know that economic growth comes with costs as well as benefits. There are costs to the environment, costs from new health problems like obesity.
So that’s the bad news. We’re not going to get to the Global Goals just by getting richer.
So are the pessimists right?
Well, maybe not. Because the Social Progress Index also has some very good news. Let me take you back to that regression line. So this is the average relationship between GDP and social progress, and this is what our last forecast was based on. But as you saw already, there is actually lots of noise around this trend line.
What that tells us, quite simply, is that GDP is not destiny. We have countries that are
underperforming on social progress, relative to their wealth. Russia has lots of natural resource wealth, but lots of social problems. China has boomed economically, but hasn’t made much headway on human rights or environmental issues. India has a space program and millions of people without toilets. Now, on the other hand, we have countries that are over-performing on social progress relative to their GDP. Costa Rica has prioritized education, health and environmental sustainability, and as a result, it’s achieving a very high level of social progress, despite only having a rather modest GDP. And Costa Rica’s not alone. From poor countries like Rwanda to richer countries like New Zealand, we see that it’s possible to get lots of social progress, even if your GDP is not so great.
And that’s really important, because it tells us two things. First of all, it tells us that we already in the world have the solutions to many of the problems that the Global Goals are trying to solve. It also tells us that we’re not slaves to GDP. Our choices matter: if we prioritize the well-being of people, then we can make a lot more progress than our GDP might expect.
How much? Enough to get us to the Global Goals? Well, let’s look at some numbers. What we know already: the world today is scoring 61 on social progress, and the place we want to get to is 75. If we rely on economic growth alone, we’re going to get to 62.4. So let’s assume now that we can get the countries that are currently underperforming on social progress — the Russia, China, Indias — just up to the average. How much social progress does that get us? Well, that takes us to 65. It’s a bit better, but still quite a long way to go. So let’s get a little bit more optimistic and say, what if every country gets a little bit better at turning its wealth into well-being? Well then, we get to 67. And now let’s be even bolder still. What if every country in the world chose to be like Costa Rica in prioritizing human well-being, using its wealth for the well-being of its citizens? Well then, we get to nearly 73, very close to the Global Goals.
Can we achieve the Global Goals? Certainly not with business as usual. Even a flood tide of economic growth is not going to get us there, if it just raises the mega-yachts and the super-wealthy and leaves the rest behind. If we’re going to achieve the Global Goals we have to do things differently. We have to prioritize social progress, and really scale solutions around the world. I believe the Global Goals are a historic opportunity, because the world’s leaders have promised to deliver them. Let’s not dismiss the goals or slide into pessimism; let’s hold them to that promise. And we need to hold them to that promise by holding them accountable, tracking their progress all the way through the next 15 years.
And I want to finish by showing you a way to do that, called the People’s Report Card. The People’s Report Card brings together all this data into a simple framework that we’ll all be familiar with from our school days, to hold them to account. It grades our performance on the Global Goals on a scale from F to A, where F is humanity at its worst, and A is humanity at its best. Our world today is scoring a C-. The Global Goals are all about getting to an A, and that’s why we’re going to be updating the People’s Report Card annually, for the world and for all the countries of the world, so we can hold our leaders to account to achieve this target and fulfill this promise. Because getting to the Global Goals will only happen if we do things differently, if our leaders do things differently, and for that to happen, that needs us to demand it.
So let’s reject business as usual. Let’s demand a different path. Let’s choose the world that we want.
Bruno Giussani: Thank you, Michael. Michael, just one question: the Millennium Development Goals established 15 years ago, they were kind of applying to every country but it turned out to be really a scorecard for emerging countries. Now the new Global Goals are explicitly universal. They ask for every country to show action and to show progress. How can I, as a private citizen, use the report card to create pressure for action?
Michael Green: This is a really important point; it’s a big shift in priorities — it’s no longer about poor countries and just poverty. It’s about every country. And every country is going to have challenges in getting to the Global Goals. Even, I’m sorry to say, Bruno, Switzerland has got to work to do. And so that’s why we’re going to produce these report cards in 2016 for every country in the world. Then we can really see, how are we doing? And it’s not going to be rich countries scoring straight A’s. And that, then, I think, is to provide a point of focus for people to start demanding action and start demanding progress.
BG: Thank you very much.