Are some SDGs more important than others? Revealed country priorities from four years of VNRs

by evelynciara1 min read16th Aug 20206 comments


Global Health and DevelopmentCause Prioritization

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about how a group of 85 experts ranked the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Prioritizing among the SDGs is important because there are 17 goals and 169 targets, and some of these goals are much more important and easy to achieve than others.[1]

This UN document attempts to get a sense of how various countries' representatives implicitly prioritize the SDGs based on how much their voluntary national reports (VNRs) on SDG progress talk about each of the goals. I couldn't find much metadata for this document, but according to the first footnote, it was "prepared by the CDP Secretariat on behalf of the CDP Subgroup on VNRs." The document metadata shows that the PDF file was created on July 22, 2019.

Key findings

Which SDGs receive the most and least attention in the VNRs?

  • "SDG 17 on global partnership finds most attention. This might reflect not only the breadth of SDG 17, but also that countries see global partnership as central to Agenda 2030.
  • "SDG 13 on climate change is given the second most attention as measured by the SDG scores. This widespread recognition of the climate challenge needs to translate into action.
  • "SDG 10 on inequality has the lowest scores. Given that inequality is a key impediment for Agenda 2030, this is highly concerning."

Does the attention given to individual SDGs remain constant over time?

"Attention to SDGs varies over time. Those SDGs in focus at a given HLPF[2] receive more attention than in other years, but no clear trends emerge."

Are countries prioritizing the same SDGs?

"There is great variation in country reporting. This reflects the variety of priorities and approaches at the country level."

  1. See this Economist op-ed criticizing the SDGs for exactly this reason. ↩︎

  2. HLPF stands for High-level Political Forum. The HLPF is an annual UN conference on the SDGs. Each year's HLPF focuses on a different subset of the SDGs. ↩︎