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Copenhagen Consensus Center

Press Release


Gender equality, health, trade and subsidies can yield greatest benefits relative to costs of implementation

New York, May 6th 2014

The United Nation’s Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals opened its 11th session yesterday in New York City, and representatives from around the world now face the hard task of narrowing down a current list of over 100 targets into a globally approved mechanism. A new analysis released by the Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC) supports this process with groundbreaking economic research on the costs and benefits of each target. The calculation of benefits includes not only monetary value, but importantly also health and environmental impacts.  

Dr. Bjorn Lomborg, President of the CCC, says: “The post-2015 goals could influence as much as 700 billion USD in foreign aid over the next 15 years. It’s important we get them right, by focusing on goals that will lead to the most benefit relative to the cost of achieving them. Yet if we make bad decisions now, we could waste enormous potential to do more good.”

The main task the OWG now faces is how to effectively decide which goals will stay, and which ones will be left out of the final list. Although this situation calls for a clear need for prioritization of goals, currently there lacks a clear methodology for how to decide which goals can do the most good. Dr. Lomborg argues that “the current post-2015 debates have been captured by political idealism, and our Center is advocating for a more effective framework to craft the path to 2030 - making hard decisions based on economic evidence.”

The Post 2015 Consensus aims to combat this deficiency in the post-2015 process, by conducting economic analysis of each of the draft goals outlined in the latest OWG working document. Some of the world’s leading economists have ranked each of the goals – from phenomenal to poor – according to how much good they can do, relative to their costs of implementation. The preliminary results have revealed some valuable insights.

Some of the most “phenomenal” goals that we should strive towards – meaning that for every dollar spent on implementation, we are likely to see more than 15 dollars of benefit – include reductions in malnutrition, access to health and education, and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies.

However, the analysis also points out “poor” targets that should be removed – as for every dollar spent, economic losses are more likely to result.  These include measures for sustainable tourism and beyond-GDP accounting, which at the global scale will simply incur more losses than their benefits are worth.

The Post 2015 Consensus results are being circulated during the OWG session this week, with the aim to further the cause of economic prioritization in the post-2015 debates. On May 8th, the CCC will also co-host a side event on the role of economic evidence in identifying goals for the post-2015 agenda in the UN’s North Lawn Building.