Who and what gets left behind? Assessing Canada’s domestic status on the Sustainable Development Goals

Editor's note:

revised methodological version of this paper was published in the November 2019 issue of the journal World Development

One of the most important aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), affirmed by leaders of all 193 United Nations member states in September 2015, is that they apply to countries at all income levels, including advanced economies. To that end, this paper presents a framework for assessing Canada’s current domestic status toward achieving the SDGs. To our knowledge, it is the first study to present a detailed national and subnational assessment of SDG status within a G-7 economy. 

Our methodology takes a “by the book” approach to the U.N. framework. We sort the 169 SDG targets based on which ones are outcome-focused, quantified, and measurable within advanced economies. This produces a mix of 37 directly quantified targets and 41 proxy targets. Of these, we identify adequate data to assess Canada on 61 targets using 73 indicators.

Overall, we find that Canada is on track for 17 indicators; needs acceleration for 12; needs a breakthrough on 26; and requires a reversal of negative trends on 18. On many indicators, the absolute distance to the SDG benchmark remains small, but targeted efforts are needed to cover a “last mile.” The results suggest that Canada is not yet wholly on track for any of the first 16 SDGs. For each goal, faster progress is needed on at least one indicator.

The analysis underscores the relevance of the SDG framework to Canada’s domestic context. The findings should not be interpreted as predictions, nor as a suggestion that Canada is unable to meet any of the goals. Instead, the results draw attention to the people and issues that are currently being left behind amid Canada’s pursuit of economic, social, and environmental progress.