GDP not enough to measure development

What if we used SDGs instead?
Gross domestic product (GDP) has long been the main indicator of economic growth used almost everywhere in the world.



However, the measurement does not take into account other factors essential to a country’s growth and development, such as social inequalities, the environment and the well-being of citizens.



In the last ten years, the climate deadlock and the limits of the current economic model based on the infinite growth of capitalism have prompted discussions of a “post-GDP” era.



We are two researchers affiliated with the Centre on Governance at the University of Ottawa. In recent years, we have become interested in the question of implementing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals framework.



In this article we explain why we believe it is now necessary to think about an alternative measure of economic activity and growth.



More than an environmental issue



The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda is a universal action plan to promote sustainable development by considering social, economic and environmental aspects. It is meant to apply to all countries, even the richest.



At the heart of the agenda are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).



These cover a wide range of development challenges, encompassing aspects of human well-being, equity and social inclusion.



The goals explicitly recognise that sustainable development cannot be achieved through isolated actions focused on a single dimension (the environment, for example), but require a coordinated effort across several domains.



Could SDGs be used to replace traditional growth measures such as GDP?



This is one of the questions we raised at a conference organised by the University of Ottawa’s Centre on ­Governance.



In this article, we provide the beginnings of an answer.



Beyond GDP



“Beyond GDP” is a new concept that ­expresses the need for a more inclusive and sustainable measure of development that goes beyond simply assessing a country’s economic output.



Using the 2030 Agenda as an example, this article proposes an exploratory analysis of the role of this global framework in the context of wealthy countries, using Canada and France as examples.



We identify and analyse the various policies set in place by these two countries to align their development strategies with the SDGs. Although these actions are real, they remain largely unknown to the general public.



We aim to shed light on these initiatives and show their potential as development measures.



Multidimensional goalsThe SDGs offer an alternative, more comprehensive means for measuring countries’ ­progress and development and represent a clear departure from traditional economic indicators such as GDP.



The SDGs were adopted in 2015 through a ­negotiation process involving the 193 member states of the United Nations, to address a series of ­interconnected global challenges humanity faces.



But more importantly, the SDGs recognise the need for a change in direction in what is now a context of profound and rapid economic, social and environmental transformations.



For example, the SDGs were designed to address extreme poverty, social inequality, the climate crisis and biodiversity loss.



By contrast, as a measure of economic activity, GDP does not take into account the equitable distribution of wealth, the sustainability of growth or the preservation of natural resources.



In short, adopting the SDGs as a multiscale measure (from the most local to continental and global scales, via the national level) of countries’ growth and development could make it possible to assess countries’ progress in a more representative, fairer and more inclusive way, in line with the principles of sustainable development.



France takes actionBut is it really possible to measure sustainable development?



To answer this question, we first need to look at the efforts individual countries are making.



The case of France offers an interesting perspective on how to integrate SDGs into measurements of development.



By hosting COP21, the UN climate conference in 2015, France not only served as a platform for the adoption of the Paris Agreement, it also took on the role of mediator between nations and helped forge a global consensus on the need to limit global warming.



France acted quickly in operationalising the SDGs by implementing a series of strategies, initiatives and collaborations.



For example, France’s Roadmap for the 2030 Agenda, published in September 2019, focuses on a fair transition and a transformation of the societal model to promote low-carbon assets.



In addition, French policies emphasise citizen participation in the choice of projects to be carried out.



For example, the town of Saint-Fons has developed a “sustainable development framework plan” to register, review and assess its actions and projects in relation to the implementation of the SDGs in its urban area.



And what about Canada?



The process of integrating the SDGs in Canada, although more recent than in France, is showing encouraging signs through various ongoing initiatives.



In 2021, Canada adopted a national strategy for the 2030 Agenda - Moving Forward Together.



For Canada, this represents, first and foremost, a commitment to meet its international obligations to the United Nations by aligning its actions with the 17 SDGs, while adopting a more holistic approach to improving the economic, social and environmental well-being of its population.



To quantify the SDGs, indicators need to be put in place and information collected.



To do this, Statistics Canada created the Global Indicator Framework for the Sustainable Development Goals Data Hub, which plays an important role in monitoring and reporting Canada’s progress on the SDGs to the United Nations. This online portal offers freely accessible data.



Although this project is still in its first steps, Statistics Canada is continuing to examine different sources of data that could potentially be used to report on the SDGs to international bodies such as the UN, as well as internally to various Canadian stakeholders, including governments, the private sector, civil society and communities.



A colossal taskDespite this progress, a huge amount of work still needs to be done.



Adopting the SDGs as a measure of development in rich countries requires a major ­paradigm shift.



Many challenges need to be overcome, particularly in terms of methodology, data collection, policy implementation and social acceptability.



The SDGs and their indicators represent a useful and innovative instrument for measuring the development of societies that takes into account a multiplicity of social and environmental factors, as well as political and ­economic ones.



Even if achieving the SDGs or decarbonising the economy by 2030 seems unattainable, they are still legitimate.



Not achieving all the targets doesn’t mean we should give up trying.



This is provided, of course, that we take a step in the right direction by adopting a ­holistic ­approach to sustainable development, as opposed to using strictly economic indicators such as GDP.



The vision proposed by the SDG framework provides a framework and objectives for guiding and implementing public policies that are better adapted to current and future challenges. 



- The Conversation

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Currie Cup: NovaVit Griffons 15 vs 64 DHL Western Province | Hollywoodbets Sharks XV 21 vs 31 Airlink Pumas | Vodacom Bulls 25 vs 13 Toyota Cheetahs XV | Fidelity ADT Lions 25 vs 13 Suzuki Griquas Rugby World Cup U20: England U20 21 vs 13 France U20 | Australia U20 6 vs 14 Argentina U20 | Ireland U20 24 vs 38 New Zealand U20 | Italy U20 13 vs 24 Georgia U20 | Wales U20 31 vs 47 South Africa U20 | Spain U20 24 vs 19 Fiji U20 Katima Mulilo: 13° | 33° Rundu: 13° | 34° Eenhana: 13° | 34° Oshakati: 14° | 32° Ruacana: 14° | 33° Tsumeb: 17° | 30° Otjiwarongo: 11° | 29° Omaruru: 12° | 30° Windhoek: 8° | 25° Gobabis: 8° | 30° Henties Bay: 11° | 17° Wind speed: 16km/h, Wind direction: S, Low tide: 10:00, High tide: 04:01, Low Tide: 22:27, High tide: 16:30 Swakopmund: 12° | 15° Wind speed: 15km/h, Wind direction: SW, Low tide: 09:58, High tide: 03:59, Low Tide: 22:25, High tide: 16:28 Walvis Bay: 10° | 20° Wind speed: 17km/h, Wind direction: SW, Low tide: 09:58, High tide: 03:58, Low Tide: 22:25, High tide: 16:27 Rehoboth: 9° | 27° Mariental: 10° | 27° Keetmanshoop: 9° | 24° Aranos: 9° | 28° Lüderitz: 11° | 19° Ariamsvlei: 10° | 25° Oranjemund: 9° | 18° Luanda: 20° | 22° Gaborone: 11° | 27° Lubumbashi: 13° | 31° Mbabane: 12° | 23° Maseru: 3° | 19° Antananarivo: 12° | 25° Lilongwe: 16° | 30° Maputo: 17° | 24° Windhoek: 8° | 25° Cape Town: 9° | 15° Durban: 13° | 21° Johannesburg: 12° | 22° Dar es Salaam: 21° | 31° Lusaka: 16° | 30° Harare: 14° | 27° Currency: GBP to NAD 23.54 | EUR to NAD 19.86 | CNY to NAD 2.51 | USD to NAD 18.25 | DZD to NAD 0.14 | AOA to NAD 0.02 | BWP to NAD 1.3 | EGP to NAD 0.37 | KES to NAD 0.14 | NGN to NAD 0.01 | ZMW to NAD 0.69 | ZWL to NAD 0.04 | BRL to NAD 3.28 | RUB to NAD 0.21 | INR to NAD 0.22 | USD to DZD 134.26 | USD to AOA 872.64 | USD to BWP 13.58 | USD to EGP 48.36 | USD to KES 130.98 | USD to NGN 1584.2 | USD to ZAR 18.25 | USD to ZMW 25.9 | USD to ZWL 321 | Stock Exchange: JSE All Share Index Same 0 | Namibian Stock Exchange (NSX) Overall Index 1757.83 Down -0.25% | Casablanca Stock Exchange (CSE) MASI 13623.01 Up +0.20% | Egyptian Exchange (EGX) 30 Index 28783.24 Up +0.45% | Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) DCI 9380.4 Same 0 | NSX: MTC 7.75 SAME | Anirep 8.99 SAME | Capricorn Investment group 17.34 SAME | FirstRand Namibia Ltd 49 DOWN 0.50% | Letshego Holdings (Namibia) Ltd 4.1 UP 2.50% | Namibia Asset Management Ltd 0.7 SAME | Namibia Breweries Ltd 31.49 UP 0.03% | Nictus Holdings - Nam 2.22 SAME | Oryx Properties Ltd 12.1 UP 1.70% | Paratus Namibia Holdings 11.99 SAME | SBN Holdings 8.45 SAME | Trustco Group Holdings Ltd 0.48 SAME | B2Gold Corporation 47.34 DOWN 1.50% | Local Index closed 677.62 UP 0.12% | Overall Index closed 1534.6 DOWN 0.05% | Osino Resources Corp 19.47 DOWN 2.41% | Commodities: Gold US$ 2 393.81/OZ DOWN -0.0074 | Copper US$ 4.20/lb DOWN -0.013 | Zinc US$ 2 749.30/T UP 0.1% | Brent Crude Oil US$ 82.66/BBP DOWN -0.0082 | Platinum US$ 945.60/OZ DOWN -0.0252 Sport results: Currie Cup: NovaVit Griffons 15 vs 64 DHL Western Province | Hollywoodbets Sharks XV 21 vs 31 Airlink Pumas | Vodacom Bulls 25 vs 13 Toyota Cheetahs XV | Fidelity ADT Lions 25 vs 13 Suzuki Griquas Rugby World Cup U20: England U20 21 vs 13 France U20 | Australia U20 6 vs 14 Argentina U20 | Ireland U20 24 vs 38 New Zealand U20 | Italy U20 13 vs 24 Georgia U20 | Wales U20 31 vs 47 South Africa U20 | Spain U20 24 vs 19 Fiji U20 Weather: Katima Mulilo: 13° | 33° Rundu: 13° | 34° Eenhana: 13° | 34° Oshakati: 14° | 32° Ruacana: 14° | 33° Tsumeb: 17° | 30° Otjiwarongo: 11° | 29° Omaruru: 12° | 30° Windhoek: 8° | 25° Gobabis: 8° | 30° Henties Bay: 11° | 17° Wind speed: 16km/h, Wind direction: S, Low tide: 10:00, High tide: 04:01, Low Tide: 22:27, High tide: 16:30 Swakopmund: 12° | 15° Wind speed: 15km/h, Wind direction: SW, Low tide: 09:58, High tide: 03:59, Low Tide: 22:25, High tide: 16:28 Walvis Bay: 10° | 20° Wind speed: 17km/h, Wind direction: SW, Low tide: 09:58, High tide: 03:58, Low Tide: 22:25, High tide: 16:27 Rehoboth: 9° | 27° Mariental: 10° | 27° Keetmanshoop: 9° | 24° Aranos: 9° | 28° Lüderitz: 11° | 19° Ariamsvlei: 10° | 25° Oranjemund: 9° | 18° Luanda: 20° | 22° Gaborone: 11° | 27° Lubumbashi: 13° | 31° Mbabane: 12° | 23° Maseru: 3° | 19° Antananarivo: 12° | 25° Lilongwe: 16° | 30° Maputo: 17° | 24° Windhoek: 8° | 25° Cape Town: 9° | 15° Durban: 13° | 21° Johannesburg: 12° | 22° Dar es Salaam: 21° | 31° Lusaka: 16° | 30° Harare: 14° | 27° Economic Indicators: Currency: GBP to NAD 23.54 | EUR to NAD 19.86 | CNY to NAD 2.51 | USD to NAD 18.25 | DZD to NAD 0.14 | AOA to NAD 0.02 | BWP to NAD 1.3 | EGP to NAD 0.37 | KES to NAD 0.14 | NGN to NAD 0.01 | ZMW to NAD 0.69 | ZWL to NAD 0.04 | BRL to NAD 3.28 | RUB to NAD 0.21 | INR to NAD 0.22 | USD to DZD 134.26 | USD to AOA 872.64 | USD to BWP 13.58 | USD to EGP 48.36 | USD to KES 130.98 | USD to NGN 1584.2 | USD to ZAR 18.25 | USD to ZMW 25.9 | USD to ZWL 321 | Stock Exchange: JSE All Share Index Same 0 | Namibian Stock Exchange (NSX) Overall Index 1757.83 Down -0.25% | Casablanca Stock Exchange (CSE) MASI 13623.01 Up +0.20% | Egyptian Exchange (EGX) 30 Index 28783.24 Up +0.45% | Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) DCI 9380.4 Same 0 | NSX: MTC 7.75 SAME | Anirep 8.99 SAME | Capricorn Investment group 17.34 SAME | FirstRand Namibia Ltd 49 DOWN 0.50% | Letshego Holdings (Namibia) Ltd 4.1 UP 2.50% | Namibia Asset Management Ltd 0.7 SAME | Namibia Breweries Ltd 31.49 UP 0.03% | Nictus Holdings - Nam 2.22 SAME | Oryx Properties Ltd 12.1 UP 1.70% | Paratus Namibia Holdings 11.99 SAME | SBN Holdings 8.45 SAME | Trustco Group Holdings Ltd 0.48 SAME | B2Gold Corporation 47.34 DOWN 1.50% | Local Index closed 677.62 UP 0.12% | Overall Index closed 1534.6 DOWN 0.05% | Osino Resources Corp 19.47 DOWN 2.41% | Commodities: Gold US$ 2 393.81/OZ DOWN -0.0074 | Copper US$ 4.20/lb DOWN -0.013 | Zinc US$ 2 749.30/T UP 0.1% | Brent Crude Oil US$ 82.66/BBP DOWN -0.0082 | Platinum US$ 945.60/OZ DOWN -0.0252