This week’s brief reviews papers on a set of interrelated topics, each of which also can enable SDG achievement on their own as well: data; blockchain; technology in general; finance; good governance; and “transformational action.”

“Inclusive and prosperous world development within a stable and resilient Earth system” is the ambition reflected in the SDGs and Paris Agreement on climate change, write the authors of a report to the Club of Rome titled, ‘Transformation is Feasible.’ In the paper, the Stockholm Resilience Centre and BI Norwegian Business School examine pathways to achieve the SDGs within planetary boundaries, and outline four long-term scenarios to 2050:

  • Same (business as usual);
  • Faster (accelerated economic growth);
  • Harder (stronger efforts on all fronts); and
  • Smarter (transformational change).

Using modelling based on these scenarios, the report concludes that it is not possible to meet the SDGs with current growth policies. Accelerated growth, it notes, can enable achievement of the socio-economic aspects of the Goals, but this will occur at the expense of the environmental ones. However, through five actions on the “smarter” track, the world can meet most of the SDGs by 2030. These smarter actions are: 1) accelerated renewable energy growth; 2) accelerated productivity in food chains; 3) new development models in the poorer countries; 4) active inequality reduction; and 5) investments in education for all, gender equality and family planning.

Such transformation is only likely to occur in a context of good governance, delivered through initiatives that build towards SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions). A paper released by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs looks at digital instruments to fight corruption. Titled, ‘Code to Integrity: Digital avenues to anti-corruption – also for her!’, the paper focuses on how men and women are affected differently when technology is used to fight corruption. It describes a “double inequality” by which those who are affected disproportionately by corruption are also less likely to be able to access digital tools, pointing to a need for “gender-sensitive digitalization” in anti-corruption efforts.

The paper distinguishes between petty and grand corruption, noting that different tools are needed to combat each type, and highlights opportunities arising from four avenues: open data and contracting to provide transparency; e-governance to reduce opportunities for corruption; use of blockchain to ensure rights and remove intermediaries; and crowdsourcing to enable whistleblowing.

The paper was presented at the International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) held in Copenhagen, Denmark, from 22-24 October 2018. IACC discussions spanned a range of topics on the theme, ‘Together for Development, Peace and Security: Now is the time to act.’ Sessions covered development, peace and security vis-à-vis data, international cooperation and lessons from financial actors, private sector engagement and partnerships, among other topics.

Also on data and technology, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) released a briefing paper that outlines blockchain’s potential to address environmental sustainability challenges, particularly relating to energy, forests, fisheries and water. The paper highlights that blockchain can offer “a secure and verifiable record of who exchanges what with whom and who has what at a given time.” However, in an echo of the Denmark paper on corruption, ODI flags the challenge of lack of access to digital infrastructure among poorer and rural communities, who are often key stewards of natural resources. Earlier SDG Knowledge Hub coverage on blockchain is also available.

Corruption and governance also link to business and finance, as Valerie Wang illustrates in an article on Sustainable Brands. She notes that the three key components of Goal 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) are mutually reinforcing, and, citing a report from BSR, highlights that companies in the financial sector face two main supply chain risks: conflict and human rights and institution issues, such as corruption. Wang argues that companies can have profound contributions to SDG 16, particularly through sustainable procurement program, and notes several actions that companies can take to reduce risk and contribute to SDG 16: prioritizing certain spend categories and suppliers; integrating sustainability criteria into procurement processes and supplier selection; looking beyond first-tier suppliers to conduct deeper due diligence processes; and extending sustainability principles and due diligence on the lending side.

Linking data to the private sector, Pietro Bertazzi and Charlotte Portier, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), authored a blog ahead of the second UN World Data Forum, which convened in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, from 22-24 October 2018. The article presents a project on using non-government statistical data, piloted in Colombia. The project is supported by GRI, implemented in partnership with Colombia’s Department of National Planning, UN Development Programme (UNDP), and Business Call to Action. The project explores innovative ways to unlock the potential of non-government statistical data, particularly the SDG-related data available through corporate sustainability reporting. The findings of these data were used to support Colombia’s Voluntary National Review (VNR) presented to the 2018 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).

Moving forward, Bertazzi, Portier and partners recommend improving company reporting processes and using standardized data registration mechanisms. The project was presented at one of approximately 85 sessions that took place during the World Data Forum.

Participants at the Forum also discussed topics such as “making the invisible visible,” enhancing data interoperability, including that of humans and institutions, improving data literacy, and working with big data. The Forum closed with the launch of the Dubai Declaration. IISD Reporting Services coverage of the Forum is available here, and coverage of the Eye on Earth Symposium, held concurrently to the Forum, is here. The SDG Knowledge Hub story on the Forum is here.

Citizen-led assessments can support monitoring of SDG 4 (quality education), writes Hannah-May Wilson, PAL Network, on the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) blog. Assessments conducted in households rather than schools offer a contextually-relevant method of examining learning outcomes, given that not all children are enrolled in school or attend regularly. One-on-one citizen-led assessments, she emphasizes, can focus on a few basic skills for all children, rather than subject-wise, grade-level outcomes. Wilson highlights the opportunity for citizen-led assessments to contribute to the monitoring of SDG target 4.1 in particular, and notes that one of the official global indicators for this target (indicator 4.1.1a) is still classified as Tier III, meaning that a methodology for measurement has not yet been established.

Looking ahead on data, technology and innovations for the SDGs, a Global Science, Technology and Innovation Conference (G-STIC) will convene from 28-30 November 2018, in Brussels, Belgium. A guest article by Veerle Vandeweerd on the SDG Knowledge Hub summarizes key findings from the 2017 G-STIC discussions, which included policymakers, technology researchers, business and industry captains, and civil society.

Additional issues of the SDG Knowledge Weekly can be found here.