Pouring several colors of paint into a single bucket produces a gray pool of muck, not a shiny rainbow. So too with discussions of financing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Jumbling too many issues into the same debate leads to policy muddiness rather than practical breakthroughs. Financing the SDGs requires a much more disaggregated mindset: unpacking the specific issues, requiring specific resources, in specific places.
In a forthcoming paper, we zoom out on the global SDG financing landscape in order to zoom back in on country-specific contexts and gaps. In particular, we consider how much the world’s governments are already spending on SDG-related issues every year, how spending varies across income levels, and how the spending patterns link to country-by-country estimates of needs. We focus on the public sector due to its lead responsibility for tackling both the public goods and the “no one left behind” issues embedded in the SDGs and the 2015 Addis Ababa Action Agenda on financing for development, the latter including a “social compact” commitment to provide universal access to basic services. This research can be considered as complementary to assessments of where the private sector can best contribute to SDG financing. Below we summarize some preliminary findings, noting that all results are subject to refinement as we complete the analysis.
1. Global public sector SDG spending is already more than $20 trillion per year
Our first key finding is that, as of 2015, governments around the world were already spending approximately $21 trillion per year on SDG-related sectors: health, education, agriculture, social protection, infrastructure, justice, and conservation. If recent global economic trends continue under a business-as-usual scenario, SDG-related public spending (hereafter described more simply as “SDG spending”) likely reaches $33 trillion or more by 2030, in constant dollar terms. In other words, global SDG spending in the public sector alone will grow by around $12 trillion per year, simply through the world’s ongoing processes of economic growth.
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