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The Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, world leaders made commitments to 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), collectively known as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This page explains how the data on this site relate to the SDGs. 

An explanation of the SDGs can be found on the dedicated comprehensive UN website.

Government Spending Watch does not yet cover all of the Sustainable Development Goals. Instead, the data on this website cover 7 sectors which have been shown to have the most immediate impact on ending poverty and reducing inequality. These sectors are: agriculture and food; education; environment; gender equality; health; social protection; water and sanitation. These correspond directly to 11 of the SDGs as described below.

The GSW database also covers sectors which clearly do not contribute to reducing poverty and inequality – i.e. debt service and defence – in order to show the degree to which spending on these items is diverting money away from spending which can directly fight poverty and inequality.

Over the next few years, subject to availability of funding and progress by countries in better classifying their spending, we want to disaggregate spending even more to track spending which most clearly reduces poverty inequality, such as basic education; primary health care; smallholder agriculture; and non-contributory social protection. We also intend to expand coverage of the SDGs by including sectors such as housing and urbanisation; and affordable and sustainable energy, which have been shown to have a consistent positive impact on reducing poverty or inequality. However, we do not intend to cover large infrastructure projects or large-scale industrial projects.

Agriculture and Food

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GOAL 2 aims to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030, making sure all people – especially children – have access to sufficient and nutritious food all year round. While significant achievements were registered in line with the MDGs’ targets, malnutrition and extreme hunger remain a major obstacle to development.

Tracking spending on agriculture and food allows us to see how much is being spent to achieve this, as well as for agricultural development, which (because most poor people in low-income countries rely on agriculture for their livelihoods) can lift many poor people out of poverty. Over time, we hope to be able to separate out more clearly the spending which is contributing to reducing hunger, and to reducing poverty and inequality by benefiting smallholder farmers.


SDG goals icons 04GOAL 4 ensures that all girls and boys complete free primary and secondary schooling by 2030. Targets also include equal access to affordable vocational training, eliminating gender and wealth disparities, and universal access to a quality higher education. 

Tracking spending on education allows us to see how much is being spent to achieve this goal. We place a particular focus on primary (or in some countries "basic" – primary plus early secondary) education as this has been shown to have the most impact on reducing poverty and inequality, and so where possible we track this separately. Over time we hope to improve the tracking of spending to cover other aspects of the Education for All goals, such as pre-school care and adult literacy.


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GOALS 13, 14 and 15

Three goals come under this sector. SDG 13 commits to mobilizing $100 billion annually by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries and help mitigate climate-related disasters. SDG 14 aims to sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems from pollution; SDG 15 aims to conserve and restore the use of terrestrial ecosystems by 2020, halt deforestation and reduce the loss of natural habitats and biodiversity.
By tracking spending on the environment, we aim to cover all three of these goals. Climate change is the most significant challenge the world is facing and every country on the planet is experiencing its impact one way or another. Although MDG7 gave the international community targets to work towards, the response this huge challenge needs to be dramatically stepped up.

This goal to mobilize $100 billion annually by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries and help mitigate climate-related disasters.

Over time we will aim to disaggregate such spending further into each of the three goals.


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GOAL 5 aims to build on the significant progress achieved in the global effort to end gender discrimination against women and girls. Since 2000, more girls are receiving an education and women have more access to employment in the non- agricultural sector. Yet, a great deal more needs to be done to make gender-based inequality history. This goal promotes universal equal access to economic resources and to sexual and reproductive health.

GSW tracks all spending by Women's Ministries or Agencies, as being the key spending not covered by other sectors, and aims specifically to promote women's development. Insofar as governments ensure that other spending is targeted equally to men and women, this probably represents a major underestimate of spending oriented towards women, but no countries have accurate assessments of the degree to which this is the case.

The SDGs place a major focus on improving gender disaggregation of all government spending. As country assessments of the degree to which their budgets are “gender responsive” (i.e. benefit women and girls) improve and become more over time, we would aim to include these results in GSW.


SDG goals icons 03GOAL 3 builds on the major achievements of last 2015 years in reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and fighting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. But despite these significant advancements, too many preventable deaths are registered every day across the world. This goal commits to end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other communicable diseases by 2030, as well as achieve universal health coverage and access to safe and affordable medicines and vaccines for all. 

Tracking health spending allows us to assess the efforts being made to reach this goal as well as to improve overall health systems in countries. 

Social Protection

SDG goals icons 01SDG goals icons 10Two goals come under the social protection sector. GOAL 1 and GOAL 10 respectively aim to end poverty in all forms and dimensions by 2030 by, among others, targeting the most vulnerable, increasing access to basic resources and services, and to reduce income inequality and promote economic inclusion by improving the regulation, monitoring of financial markets and institutions and encouraging development assistance.

All government spending which boosts economic development for the poor and promotes inclusive and employment-intensive growth can help meet these two goals. Nevertheless, this site does not include all growth-promoting expenditure, such as infrastructure, because it is not possible to assess how much of it will impact on poverty and employment. The data on this site focuses on the most direct government interventions: social protection spending - social insurance and assistance which provide income for the poorest and most vulnerable groups as well as direct employment promotion interventions.

Water and Sanitation

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GOAL 6 will ensure universal access to safe, affordable drinking water and basic sanitation for all by 2030 by, among others, investing in infrastructure, providing sanitation facilities and encouraging international cooperation for water efficiency in developing countries.

Monitoring spending on water and sanitation allows GSW to see how much emphasis governments and donors are placing on these goals.

 Aid, Debt and Tax

SDG goals icons 17GOAL 17 focuses on the all-important global partnership and cooperation needed to make the SDGs a success and aims to enhance North-South and South-South cooperation by supporting national plans to achieve all the targets. This goal encompasses targets on finance (debt, taxation, aid), technology, capacity building and trade.

GSW looks at financing in two ways: by tracking how aid is contributing to government spending – the amounts spent from aid which go through developing country budgets in the various sectors, and by tracking the level of debt service resulting from loans to fund spending. Through other work, including on the Commitment to Reducing Inequality (CRI) index, DFI also tracks the levels and progressivity of tax collection and its impact on inequality.