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.
In 2015, the leaders of the world made a big promise. A promise that over the next 15 years, the lives of billions of people are going to get better with no one left behind. That promise is the Sustainable Development Goals — the SDGs. We’re now three years in; a fifth of the way into the journey. The clock is ticking. If we offtrack now, it’s going to get harder and harder to hit those goals. So what I want to do for you today is give you a snapshot on where we are today, some projections on where we’re heading and some ideas on things we might need to do differently.
Now, the SDGs are of course spectacularly complicated. I would expect nothing less from the United Nations.
How many goals? Maybe something tried and tested, like three, seven or 10. No, let’s pick a prime number higher than 10. Seventeen goals. I congratulate those of you who’ve memorized them already. For the rest of us, here they are.
Seventeen goals ranging from ending poverty to inclusive cities to sustainable fisheries; all a comprehensive plan for the future of our world. But sadly, a plan without the data to measure it. So how are we going to track progress? Well, I’m going to use today the Social Progress Index. It’s a measure of the quality of life of countries, ranging from the basic needs of survival — food, water, shelter, safety — through to the foundations of well-being — education, information, health and the environment — and opportunity — rights, freedom of choice, inclusiveness and access to higher education.
Now, the Social Progress Index doesn’t look like the SDGs, but fundamentally, it’s measuring the same concepts, and the Social Progress Index has the advantage that we have the data. We have 51 indicators drawn from trusted sources to measure these concepts. And also, what we can do because it’s an index, is add together all those indicators to give us an aggregate score about how we’re performing against the total package of the SDGs. Now, one caveat. The Social Progress Index is a measure of quality of life. We’re not looking at whether this can be achieved within the planet’s environmental limits. You will need other tools to do that.
So how are we doing on the SDGs? Well, I’m going to put the SDGs on a scale of zero to 100. And zero is the absolute worst score on each of those 51 indicators: absolute social progress, zero. And then 100 is the minimum standard required to achieve those SDGs. A hundred is where we want to get to by 2030. So, where did we start on this journey? Fortunately, not at zero. In 2015, the world score against the SDGs was 69.1. Some way on the way there but quite a long way to go.
Now let me also emphasize that this world forecast, which is based on data from 180 countries, is population weighted. So China has more weight in than Comoros; India has more weight in than Iceland. But we could unpack this and see how the countries are doing. And the country today that is closest to achieving the SDGs is Denmark. And the country with the furthest to go is Central African Republic. And everyone else is somewhere in between. So the challenge for the SDGs is to try and sweep all these dots across to the right, to 100 by 2030. Can we get there? Well, with the Social Progress Index, we’ve got some time series data. So we have some idea of the trend that the countries are on, on which we can build some projections.
So let’s have a look. Let’s start with our top-performing country, Denmark. And yes, I’m pleased to say that Denmark is forecast to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Maybe not surprising, but I’ll take a win. Let’s look at some of the other richer countries of the world — the G7. And we find that Germany and Japan will get there or thereabouts. But Canada, France, the UK and Italy are all going to fall short. And the United States? Quite some way back. Now, this is sort of worrying news. But these are the richest countries in the world, not the most populous. So let’s take a look now at the biggest countries in the world, the ones that will most affect whether or not we achieve the SDGs.
And here they are — countries in the world with a population of higher than 100 million, ranging from China to Ethiopia. Obviously, the US and Japan would be in that list, but we’ve looked at them already. So here we are. The biggest countries in the world; the dealbreakers for the SDGs. And the country that’s going to make most progress towards the SDGs is Mexico. Mexico is going to get to about 87, so just shy of where the US is going to get but quite some way off our SDG target. Russia comes next. Then China and Indonesia. Then Brazil — might’ve expected Brazil to do a bit better. Philippines, and then a step down to India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, and then Ethiopia. So none of these countries are going to hit the SDGs. And we can then take these numbers in all the countries of the world to give ourselves a world forecast on achieving that total package of the SDGs. So remember, in 2015 we started at 69.1. I’m pleased to say that over the last three years, we have made some progress. In 2018, we’ve hit 70.5, and if we project that rate of progress forward to 2030, that’s going to get us to 75.2, which is obviously a long way short of our target. Indeed, on current trends, we won’t hit the 2030 targets until 2094. Now, I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to wait that long.
So what can we do about this? Well, the first thing to do is we’ve got to call out the rich countries. Here are the countries closest to the SDGs, with the greatest resources, and they’re falling short. Maybe they think that this is like the Old World where goals for the UN are just for poor countries and not for them. Well, you’re wrong. The SDGs are for every country, and it’s shameful that these wealthy countries are falling short. Every country needs a plan to implement the SDGs and deliver them for their citizens. G7, other rich countries — get your act together.
The second thing we can do is look a bit further into the data and see where there are opportunities to accelerate progress or there are negative trends that we can reverse. So I’m going to take you into three areas. One where we’re doing quite well, one where we really should be doing better and another where we’ve got some real problems.
Let’s start with the good news, and I want to talk about what we call nutrition and basic medical care. This covers SDG 2 on no hunger and the basic elements of SDG 3 on health, so maternal and child mortality, infectious diseases, etc … This is an area where most of the rich world has hit the SDGs. And we also find, looking at our big countries, that the most advanced have got pretty close. Here are our 11 big countries, and if you look at the top, Brazil and Russia are pretty close to the SDG target. But at the bottom — Ethiopia, Pakistan — a long way to go. That’s where we are in 2018. What’s our trajectory? On the current trajectory, how far are we going to get by 2030? Well, let’s have a look. Well, what we see is a lot of progress. See Bangladesh in the middle. If Bangladesh maintains its current rate of progress, it could get very close to that SDG target. And Ethiopia at the bottom is making a huge amount of progress at the moment. If that can be maintained, Ethiopia could get a long way. We add this all up for all the countries of the world and our projection is a score of 94.5 by 2030. And if countries like the Philippines, which have grown more slowly, could accelerate progress, then we could get a lot closer.
So there are reasons to be optimistic about SDGs 2 and 3. But there’s another very basic area of the SDGs where we’re doing less well, which is SDG 6, on water and sanitation. Again, it’s an SDG where most of the rich countries have already achieved the targets. And again, for our big countries — our big 11 emerging countries, we see that some of the countries, like Russia and Mexico, are very close to the target, but Nigeria and other countries are a very long way back. So how are we doing on this target? What progress are we going to make over the next 12 years based on the current direction of travel? Well, here we go … and yes, there is some progress. Our top four countries are all hitting the SDG targets — some are moving forward quite quickly. But it’s not enough to really move us forward significantly. What we see is that for the world as a whole, we’re forecasting a score of around 85, 86 by 2030 — not fast enough.
Now, obviously this is not good news, but I think what this data also shows is that we could be doing a lot better. Water and sanitation is a solved problem. It’s about scaling that solution everywhere. So if we could accelerate progress in some of those countries who are improving more slowly — Nigeria, the Philippines, etc. — then we could get a lot closer to the goal. Indeed, I think SDG 6 is probably the biggest opportunity of all the SDGs for a step change.
So that’s an area we could do better. Let’s look finally at an area where we are struggling, which is what we call personal rights and inclusiveness. This is covering concepts across a range of SDGs. SDG 1 on poverty, SDG 5 on gender equality, SDG 10 on inequality, SDG 11 on inclusive cities and SDG 16 on peace and justice. So across those SDGs there are themes around rights and inclusiveness, and those may seem less immediate or pressing than things like hunger and disease, but rights and inclusion are critical to an agenda of no one left behind. So how are we doing on those issues? Let’s start off with personal rights. What I’m going to do first is show you our big countries in 2015. So here they are, and I’ve put the USA and Japan back in, so it’s our 13 biggest countries in the world. And we see a wide range of scores. The United States at the top with Japan hitting the goals; China a long way behind. So what’s been our direction of travel on the rights agenda over the last three years? Let’s have a look. Well, what we see is actually pretty ugly. The majority of the countries are standing still or moving backwards, and big countries like Brazil, India, China, Bangladesh have all seen significant declines. This is worrying.
Let’s have a look now at inclusiveness. And inclusiveness is looking at things like violence and discrimination against minorities, gender equity, LGBT inclusion, etc… And as a result, we see that the scores for our big countries are generally lower. Every country, rich and poor alike, is struggling with building an inclusive society. But what’s our direction of travel? Are we building more inclusive countries? Let’s have a look — progress to 2018. And again we see the world moving backwards: most countries static, a lot of countries going backwards — Bangladesh moving backwards — but also, two of the countries that were leading — Brazil and the United States — have gone backwards significantly over the last three years.
Let’s sum this up now for the world as a whole. And what we see on personal rights for the whole world is we’re forecasting actually a decline in the score on personal rights to about 60, and then this decline in the score of inclusiveness to about 42. Now, obviously these things can change quite quickly with rights and with changes in law, changes in attitudes, but we have to accept that on current trends, this is probably the most worrying aspect of the SDGs. How I’ve depressed you …
I hope not because I think what we do see is that progress is happening in a lot of places and there are opportunities for accelerating progress. We are living in a world that is tantalizingly close to ensuring that no one need die of hunger or malaria or diarrhea. If we can focus our efforts, mobilize resources, galvanize the political will, that step change is possible.
But in focusing on those really basic, solvable SDGs, we mustn’t forget the whole package. The goals are an unwieldy set of indicators, goals and targets, but they also include the challenges our world faces. The fact that the SDGs are focusing attention on the fact that we face a crisis in personal rights and inclusiveness is a positive. If we forget that, if we choose to double down on the SDGs that we can solve, if we go for SDG à la carte and pick the most easy SDGs, then we will have missed the point of the SDGs, we will miss the goals and we will have failed on the promise of the SDGs.