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Copenhagen Consensus Center

Preliminary Benefit-Cost Assessment of Final OWG Targets

Policy Advice

This report assesses the targets in the OWG’s Final Outcome Document from 19 July 2014. This builds upon the information presented in similar documents which the Copenhagen Consensus Center released in the lead up to the 11th and 12th session of the OWG. From the first report to this one, we have updated ratings as the targets have been reformulated, and we have added new explanation and suggestions for better wording.  




High Level Panel

  11th OWG

 12th OWG


# total targets



140       →

212     →


# Phenomenal



13          →

27        → 


# Poor



10         →

23        →


# words in all targets^



2360     →

4389    →


The number of targets suggested by the Final OWG document is 169, substantially down from the 212 targets for the 12th session. However, the text is only 20 words shorter, from a total word count of 4389 to one of 4369. Thus, while the number of targets has decreased, the number of words within each target has increased almost as much. Overall, it is unlikely we can implement all these proposed interventions to reach all of these targets simultaneously, and completely. Therefore, the international development community will need to prioritize which targets to strive for first, or to devote more resources towards. This decision will rest on a number of factors, not just economics - but knowing the costs and benefits provides an important piece of information. 

Of course, the Post-2015 goals have yet to be finalized, and it is our hope this document will help UN representatives prioritize the final list of targets for replacing the Millennium Development Goals.

The assessments were put together by interviewing 32 of the world’s top economists in their respective fields. The benefits and costs do NOT solely reflect money. In line with standard welfare economics principles, all benefits and costs have been considered (such as improved health and improved environmental impacts) – which have subsequently been converted into a dollar value.

The key for assessments are:

PHENOMENAL – Robust evidence for benefits more than 15 times higher than costs

GOOD – Robust evidence of benefits between 5 to 15 times higher than costs

FAIR – Robust evidence of benefits between 1 to 5 times higher than costs

POOR – The benefits are smaller than costs or target poorly specified (e.g. internally inconsistent, incentivizes wrong activity)

UNCERTAIN – There is not enough knowledge of the policy options that could reach the target OR the costs and benefits of the actions to reach the target are not well known