Imagine the world is presented with a giant 'reset' button; an entirely new, blank canvas. All of humanity comes together to share their dream version of what the world should look like. How should we go about designing it?

In a nutshell, the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) try to do just this. The United Nations has brought together governments, experts, businesses and the public to work on this new project. The dream? To create a world free of poverty, with healthy, happy and educated people living in harmony with the environment.

It's no easy task. We all have our own view of what we should paint on the canvas. But one thing is certain: moving towards this new world will need money - lots of money.

A recent report estimates a figure of $2-3 trillion needed per year. That is equal to 7,000 Airbus A380s, almost 5,000 Empire State buildings, or being paid $100 million everyday - for more than 80 years!

It might come as a surprise, then, that this reflects only a small piece of the world economy: about 2.5-3.5%. The reality is that right now we are far from reaching this amount.

Last month, experts met at the Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to change that and discuss where to get the needed money from.


Investments into health, agriculture, education, clean energy, infrastructure, and more all form a key part of the SDGs.  The Financing for Development conference emphasized the importance of businesses and governments working together.  Governments should make polluting our environment expensive, and should support businesses using clean energy. They can work together to build roads, pipelines and electricity grids that will bring healthier lives, free from poverty. Together, they can support smart and effective projects that make a difference.


Experts also discussed how richer countries can assist poorer countries in meeting the SDGs. The United States,  countries in Europe, and others voiced their promise of spending $100 billion per year on climate finance. This money will help countries switch to newer technologies and adapt to climate change. They also reaffirmed their pledge of giving 0.7% of their gross domestic product (GDP) as aid.  It's a great promise, but so far only few countries have met it.  


The final issue tackled at the conference dealt with taxes and illicit financial flows, or illegal movements of money. Countries lose a lot of valuable money from these movements. Finding ways to reclaim this lost money could prove pivotal in funding the SDGs. Policymakers agreed on working towards creating an international tax body. This organization would play a key role in ensuring a fair tax system. Despite a lot of debate, a firm agreement wasn't reached, disappointing many countries. 


Let's go back to our blank canvas. To paint anything first requires us to spend money on buying paint. The Financing for Development conference was all about that. Governments agreed to some good steps forward, but there still remain many areas in need of work. Designing and finding ways to finance our dream for the future is a big challenge. The next stop on our journey: New York City in September, when the world's governments meet. The agenda? To start painting the canvas in front of us by adopting the SDGs. 

Tim Dobermann is the Project Leader for Research at SDSN Youth. All opinions expressed on the blog are the opinions of the authors and not that of SDSN Youth