Research shows national governments cherry picking SDGs

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were designed as an integrated and indivisible set of global objectives. Yet, when analysing Voluntary National Reviews, national governments are found to prioritise SDGs 1 on poverty eradication and SDG 8 on economic growth much more than other goals. This conclusion is the main finding of a recently published article in the journal Sustainable Development.

The fact that many countries prioritise SDGs 1 and 8 regardless of their income level points to the lasting relevance of the traditional paradigm of development centred around the dual objectives of poverty reduction and economic growth. Whilst prioritising certain goals may be sensible from a national level perspective, the aggregate prioritisation of this limited set of SDGs at the global level could negatively affect progress towards sustainable development at the global scale. 

Prioritisation in Bhutan and Vietnam

In both countries, priority SDGs reflect long-standing national policy objectives identified at high political levels, indicating that path dependency is a key explanation for the patterns observed. At later stages of the policy process, international organizations may yield influence over which projects are pursued in practice, due to their authority and financial capacity.

Implications for global governance and the High-level Political Forum on SD (HLPF)

The emergent de facto goal hierarchy observed poses significant challenges to global governance through goals. International organizations have an important role to play in overseeing the practice of cherry-picking by funding specific aspects of development plans as well as by getting involved in the creation of these plans. Here, the HLPF should play a key orchestrating role to coordinate international assistance. 

This research was carried out by GLOBALGOALS MSc student Oana Forestier and researcher Rak Kim.

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