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Home > News centre > Latest news > News feature > ICSU and ISSC release “Review of Targets for the Sustainable Development Goals: The Science Perspective“

ICSU and ISSC release “Review of Targets for the Sustainable Development Goals: The Science Perspective“

The International Council for Science, in partnership with the International Social Science Council, released a new report today which provides an independent review of the 169 targets under the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are set to be approved at the General Assembly of the UN in September.

Bringing together the work of over 40 leading researchers from across the natural and social sciences, the report is being released ahead of a major meeting at the UN in New York from 17-20 February where negotiators in the Open Working Group will discuss an over-arching declaration for the proposed framework, a “goal of the goals”.

The authors find that the SDGs offer a "major improvement" over their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). However, of the 169 targets beneath the 17 draft goals, just 29% are well defined and based on the latest scientific evidence, while 54% need more work and 17% are weak or non-essential.

Many of the targets suffer from a lack of integration, some repetition and rely too much on vague, qualitative language rather than hard, measurable, time-bound, quantitative targets, the report finds.

Authors are also concerned the goals are presented in ‘silos.’ The goals address challenges such as climate, food security and health in isolation from one another. Without interlinking there is a danger of conflict between different goals, most notably trade-offs between overcoming poverty and moving towards sustainability. Action to meet one target could have unintended consequences on others if they are pursued separately.

Finally, the report highlights the need for an ‘end-goal’ to provide a big picture vision for the SDGs. “The ‘ultimate end’ of the SDGs in combination is not clear, nor is how the proposed goals and targets would contribute to achieve that ultimate end,” write the authors. They recommend that this meta-goal be “a prosperous, high quality of life that is equitably shared and sustained.”

Download the full report (PDF) and the accompanying supplement “Sustainable Development Goals and Targets” (PDF) which lists all 17 goals and 169 targets. There is also a blog post on our Road to Paris blog which discusses the key finding of the report and includes interviews with the authors.

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