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Scientific evidence on the political impact of the Sustainable Development Goals

The authors present the results of a meta-analysis of the available scientific evidence on the political impact of the SDGs since 2015. The assessment included 3000 studies analysed by 61 experts.

Måns Nilsson / Published on 20 June 2022

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Biermann, F., Hickmann, T., Sénit, CA., Beisheim, M., Bernstein, S., Chasek, P., Grob, L., Kim, R. E., Kotzé, L. J., Nilsson, M., Ordóñez Llanos, A., Okereke, C., Pradhan, P., Raven, R., Sun, Y., Vijge, M. J., van Vuuren, D., & Wicke, B. (2022). Scientific evidence on the political impact of the Sustainable Development Goals. Nature Sustainability

In 2015, the UN agreed on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the central normative framework for sustainable development worldwide. The effectiveness of governing by such broad global goals, however, remains uncertain, and we lack comprehensive meta-studies that assess the political impact of the goals across countries and globally.

The authors presented condensed evidence from an analysis of over 3000 scientific studies on the SDGs published between 2016 and April 2021. Their findings suggest that the goals have had some political impact on institutions and policies, from local to global governance. This impact has been largely discursive, affecting the way actors understand and communicate about sustainable development. More profound normative and institutional impact, from legislative action to changing resource allocation, remains rare.

The researchers concluded that the scientific evidence suggests only limited transformative political impact of the SDGs thus far.

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SEI author

Måns Nilsson
Måns Nilsson

Executive Director

SEI Headquarters

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