By Cameron Allen, Graciela Metternicht, Tommy Wiedmann, and Matteo Pedercini
As countries plan their recovery from COVID-19, they have an opportunity to seize: they can use the SDGs as a blueprint to achieve a more resilient and sustainable future. But what is the most practical way to do so?
Our new research published in Global Sustainability explores this question using a tool called “integrated national scenario modelling,” focused on Fiji. The study builds on our previous research in Australia, which was published in Nature Sustainability. We set out to answer concrete questions facing countries as they try to utilize the blueprint provided by the SDGs in their COVID recovery plans: what are the key levers that can accelerate progress? Where should countries invest their limited resources and how much will it cost? What trade-offs remain? Is it feasible to achieve the SDGs by 2030 while also meeting global climate and other sustainability targets by 2050?
We developed and simulated a business-as-usual (BAU) and six alternative future scenarios for Fiji. We evaluated their performance on the SDGs by 2030 and a framework for ‘safe and just space’ in 2050.
To simulate each scenario, we used the iSDG-Fiji integrated assessment model, and we evaluated the country’s performance on 52 SDG targets by 2030, covering all 17 Goals, as well as six biophysical thresholds and nine social foundations in 2050.
In the BAU scenario, simulations suggest that Fiji would fall far short of achieving the SDGs by 2030, reaching around 41% progress on all SDG targets. However, other scenarios show that accelerated progress is within reach through targeted policy action and investment across six drivers: human wellbeing and development, governance and institutions, sustainable economies and lifestyles, clean energy and environment, technology advancement and resource decoupling, and demographic trends.
For example, a ‘Green Economy’ scenario focused on sustainable consumption and production, clean energy, and the environment delivers rapid progress on environmental targets with a modest investment of around 2% GDP per annum. This delivers +30% improvement on environmental targets with synergies for social targets, although some trade-offs remain with economic targets.
Another scenario – the more comprehensive ‘Sustainability Transition’ – sees additional investment of around 5% GDP per annum across a broader range of key levers, including green investment and human development measures, to address poverty and inequality and improved governance. This delivers substantial improvements in environmental, social, and economic targets, reaching 70% progress on all SDGs by 2030. However, the scenario falls short on achieving all social foundations and biophysical thresholds by 2050.
To further explore the feasibility of achieving all SDGs and longer-term sustainability objectives, we also include two very high-ambition scenarios – one targeting climate action and one focused more broadly on the SDGs.
Looking at the results for one of these, the high-ambition SDGs scenario includes scaled-up investment across most drivers, relying largely upon international grants provided through climate and SDGs financing. The scenario accelerates progress on the SDGs – reaching over 83% by 2030 – with additional gains on the “safe and just space” framework by 2050.
However, a challenge across all scenarios is that while progress accelerates rapidly from 2020, it then begins to plateau, suggesting diminishing returns from investment as progress gains momentum. Progress remains subdued through to 2050, partly due to escalating climate change impacts.
Several specific trade-offs both within and between Goals were observed that could prevent Fiji from meeting the SDGs. Trade-offs persisted between:
- increasing industrial output and jobs (Goals 8 and 9) while reducing material consumption (Goal 12 and 8);
- increasing agricultural output and nutrition (Goals 2 and 8) while ensuring sustainable fish stocks (Goal 14);
- raising revenue while reducing tax burdens (Goal 17);
- increasing incomes and consumption (Goal 8) while reducing non-communicable diseases (Goal 3); and
- increasing overall SDG expenditure while reducing public debt (Goal 17).
The findings for Fiji highlight that fairer, greener, and more prosperous nations are within reach through a coherent set of policy and investments targeted across key entry points. They also underscore that addressing climate change should be front and center in national recovery strategies from COVID-19.
SDGs transformations are likely to be country-specific. The flexible modelling framework developed for the study could be applied more broadly to increase understanding of the key drivers, opportunities and costs in different country contexts.
View a short video abstract of the key findings here.