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Journal Articles OFCE Policy Brief Year : 2019

Social sustainability: from SDGs to policies


On 25 September 2015, 193 UN Member States adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030. The SDGs define multiple aims: well-being, poverty, health, education, gender equality, decent work, economic growth, reduction of inequalities, innovation, infrastructure investment, inclusive cities, clean water, clean energy, preserving biodiversity, climate change, peace, justice and strong institutions. For their advocates, the SDGs represent a major shift from the Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2000, in terms of ambition, elaboration and policy making. However, with such a long list of objectives it's hard to identify priorities, trade-offs and synergies among different goals. Well-designed policies can build synergies to simultaneously achieve better social protection, lower unemployment and better working conditions. The Nordic model is an example of success in this regard. The unemployment rate has returned to its pre-crisis level in the EU but significant differences persist between countries. In particular, the unemployment rate remains well above its pre-crisis level in Greece, Spain and Italy. Moreover, the material well-being of the poorest 10 percent did not improve between 2008 and 2018, even in countries where unemployment has not increased. Beyond the recovery of employment, there is a need for justice and social sustainability. Inequalities can be reduced through social transfers. Social transfers are not necessarily bad for growth and jobs. In addition, equal access to high-quality public goods at low cost is an important way of promoting social cohesion and reducing inequalities. In particular, spending on social investment (education, health, housing) is linked to lower unemployment rates. Social investment reduces income inequality without damaging employment. It is also necessary to mitigate primary inequalities. Higher wages and a lower dispersion of primary income are also elements for reducing poverty and income inequality. Governments and the EU should promote stronger forms of coordinated wage-setting rather than implementing policies that limit the coverage of collective bargaining. In the end, the SDGs have too many goals to be able to be efficiently tracked. It is important to highlight the trade-offs between the different goals and their interrelationship. Policy makers should implement policies that reduce poverty, inequality and unemployment simultaneously. In the short run, social transfers may play that role while social investments would reduce inequalities without adverse effects on employment in the long run.
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hal-03403311 , version 1 (26-10-2021)



Guillaume Allegre. Social sustainability: from SDGs to policies. OFCE Policy Brief, 2019, 50, pp.1 - 11. ⟨hal-03403311⟩
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