SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS

Scientists quantify sustainable development targets for 2030 and 2050

To make to develop better pathways based on the Sustainable Development Goals researchers have designed 36 quantifiable targets to help research groups develop more consistent and comparable scenarios. Photo:

New efforts can help improve scenario planning and forecasting of global economic development based on the Sustainable Development Goals

Story highlights

  •  In 2015, the United Nations agreed 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Beneath the goals the UN created 169 targets and 232 indicators to monitor progress
  • But for researchers exploring future scenarios there are just too many targets, they are too broad and sometimes they are not even quantified
  • Researchers have created a “target space” of 36 quantifiable targets intended to help research groups develop pathways that are consistent and comparable

Researchers have defined a modellable “target space” for sustainable development in 2030 and 2050, based on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The target space defines quantifiable science-based indicators relating to infant mortality, hunger, longevity, and a range of other targets. This means that these metrics and target values can be used in the same kinds of global models that are already widely used for scenario analysis of climate change, energy and natural resource use.

The target space is intended to help scenario planning and forecasting of global economic development in order to discover the pathways to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and respect planetary boundaries.

The international team, part of The World in 2050 initiative, describe their approach in the journal One Earth.

Too many, too broad

Researchers from several institutes and disciplines including economists, researchers on land and energy systems, social scientists and environmental scientists, were involved. Lead author was Detlef van Vuuren from the Netherlands’ Environmental Assessment Agency PBL.

From the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Owen Gaffney and Sarah Cornell contributed.

Said Gaffney: "In 2015, the United Nations agreed 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Beneath the goals the UN created 169 targets and 232 indicators to monitor progress. But for researchers exploring future scenarios there are just too many targets, they are too broad and sometimes they are not even quantified."

We wanted to propose a robust system that makes scenario analysis of the SDGs meaningful, relevant and simple enough to be transparent and easy to communicate.

Owen Gaffney, co-author

More consistent and comparable

The researchers have created a “target space” of 36 quantifiable targets for two target years, 2030, the end date for the SDGs and 2050 to explore long-term stabilisation pathways for people and planet.

The target space is intended to help research groups develop new sustainable development pathways that are consistent and comparable. That is, unconnected research groups should be able to compare results in a consistent manner to identify similarities and differences in modelling results.

Lead author Detlef van Vuuren added, “At present, scenarios that combine all the SDGs are almost completely lacking. The formulation of 36 measurable, unambiguous targets helps to explore pathways towards achieving the SDGs together. Such scenarios make these SDGs far more manageable for policymakers and other stakeholders.”

Read the article Defining a sustainable development target space for 2030 and 2050 

Conceptualization of the target space, showing how it relates to the required societal transformations and the long-term sustainability vision. Click on illustration to read more

Published: 2022-02-02