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Sustainable development goal indicators: Analyzing trade-offs and complementarities


  • Barbier, Edward B.
  • Burgess, Joanne C.


Assessment of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has largely focused on formulating appropriate targets and indicators for each goal. Much less attention has been devoted to estimating possible tradeoffs and complementarities in attaining the various SDGs. Yet such tradeoffs and complementarities clearly exist. We develop an analytical model to estimate the welfare effects of progress in attaining one SDG while accounting for interactions in achieving other SDGs. We assess quantitatively progress in the SDGs over 2000–2016 at the global level and for low-income countries, using a representative indicator for each goal. We then estimate the welfare changes for improvements in No Poverty (SDG1) net of any welfare gains and losses in attaining each of the remaining 16 goals. For the world, we estimate the per capita welfare change of reductions in 2000–2016 poverty rates net of any gains or losses in attaining each of the remaining 16 goals is $12,737 per capita. This is more than double the welfare change of $5671 per person for poverty reduction alone from 2000 to 2016. However, once interactions with other SDGs are taken into account, the net welfare change for poverty reduction in poor economies from 2000 to 2016 is $244 per person, which is almost 20% lower than the welfare estimate of $299 per capita of poverty reduction on its own. Such an analysis helps policy makers prioritize improvements towards one goal or set of goals, and show explicitly the net gains and losses for achieving one goal while impacting others. For example, over 2000–2016 the world may have come closer to attaining the No Poverty goal, but at the expense of other critical SDGs, especially those associated with the environment. This research has important implications for achieving sustainability through pursuit of the SDGs.

Suggested Citation

  • Barbier, Edward B. & Burgess, Joanne C., 2019. "Sustainable development goal indicators: Analyzing trade-offs and complementarities," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 122(C), pages 295-305.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:wdevel:v:122:y:2019:i:c:p:295-305
    DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2019.05.026

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Barbier, Edward B., 2013. "Wealth accounting, ecological capital and ecosystem services," Environment and Development Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 18(2), pages 133-161, April.
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    4. Campagnolo, Lorenza & Eboli, Fabio & Farnia, Luca & Carraro, Carlo, 2018. "Supporting the UN SDGs transition: Methodology for sustainability assessment and current worldwide ranking," Economics - The Open-Access, Open-Assessment E-Journal, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW), vol. 12, pages 1-19.
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    Cited by:

    1. Dang, Hai-Anh H. & Fu, Haishan & Serajuddin, Umar, 2019. "Tracking the Sustainable Development Goals: Emerging Measurement Challenges and Further Reflections," GLO Discussion Paper Series 327, Global Labor Organization (GLO).


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