Prioritizing the World: Cost-Benefit to Identify the Smartest Targets for the Next 15 Years

The UN is currently developing 
a set of so-called Sustainable Development Goals, a sequel to the Millennium Development Goals, many of which were achieved, remarkably, during their 15-year target period, which ends this year. But unlike the MDGs, which consisted of eight specific, succinctly expressed targets, the SDGs currently involve 169 targets that require more than 4,000 words to describe. Lomborg argues that the program must be more focused. If the past decade is any guide, trillions of dollars of foreign assistance will be available in the next 15 years—a large, but not unlimited, amount. Lomborg urges that it be used to maximize the benefits to humankind. To that end, he convened panels of experts to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of each proposal. They found that some of the goals are highly cost effective—for example, reducing import barriers to agricultural products and assuring that all children have adequate access to early childhood care and preprimary education. But the estimated costs of other goals would outweigh their likely benefits—for example, assuring that all young adults have access to affordable, high-quality education and substantially increasing the share of renewables in the global energy market.

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