Increasingly better data help us understand historical trajectories and current conditions with respect to these questions. These include the metadata repository of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and a very large number of more specialized and extensive data series from assorted intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and research projects. Yet, many targets are not adequately quantified and/or supported by data.
There are also increasingly extensive and high-quality forecasts or projections of progress toward the goals. Yet, some analyses largely extrapolate from historical data series, others are restricted to nexus studies of a few goals (especially with respect to sustainability studies for the Planet), and still other efforts rely upon expert assessment of relationships among goals and targets rather than on elaboration of the dynamics that create the synergies and trade-offs among them.
Studies also often find themselves limited to selected countries or to broad aggregations at regional and global levels, even though it is important that progress toward the goals be assessed for all countries.There is also widespread recognition that progress toward the goals is a matter of great uncertainty. Not least are the uncertainties flowing from the COVID-19 pandemic (not just during the pandemic period but for years and decades beyond it) and those related to the potential for extensive and intensive policy-driven action to facilitate goal attainment. In short, we need alternative scenarios.
This report addresses these challenges with two primary methodological supports:
- First, it uses the International Futures (IFs) model system. IFs aids the analysis here in several ways. It is an annually recursive model system that forecasts from its base year of 2015 through 2030 and on to 2050 (or even further). That helps us look beyond the current SDG horizon. Additionally, IFs represents 186 countries and facilitates aggregation to literally any desired grouping of countries including regions, income levels, and of course the world. Further and most important, IFs integrates distinct models across almost all the issue areas of the SDGs, including demographics, health, education, economics, governance, agriculture, energy, and the environment. This integration allows for exploration of dynamic connections across the SDGs. Those connections involve causal linkages that can be reinforcing or opposing. The connections also include representations of action-constraining accounting systems for finances (e.g. government revenues and expenditures) and physical resources (e.g. agricultural land and water limitations).
- Second, it uses scenario analysis. Our forecasts or projections (terms that we use interchangeably) cannot be point predictions. Instead, scenarios help us think about the paths that countries and the world might follow and the factors that could shape the resultant alternative futures.