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No-Brainer Sustainable Development

The current political climate in high-income countries doesn't bode well for the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Donor governments are unlikely to increase their foreign-aid outlays, which means policymakers will have to spend what money they have more wisely.

BUDAPEST – The 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals have among their objectives primary-school education for all children, jobs for all adults, and an end to hunger and poverty. These are noble aspirations – but very expensive. Can we really afford them all?

The OECD has estimated that meeting all 17 SDGs, which comprise 169 specific development targets, would cost $3.3-4.5 trillion annually – about the same as the United States’ 2016 federal budget, and far more than the nearly $132 billion spent globally on overseas development aid last year.

In fact, just providing universal primary education would require at least $17 billion of additional spending per year, and a UN General Assembly intergovernmental committee estimates that eradicating poverty would require annual investments in infrastructure of $5-7 trillion globally. In truth, estimates vary because nobody is quite sure how much the SDGs will cost.

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