SDG Summit 2023: World needs investment of over $6 trillion to transform food systems, end hunger by 2030

Estimates for transforming food systems are among key findings of new UNCTAD analysis on cost of achieving sustainable development targets from 2023-2030

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Friday 22 September 2023
Photo: iStock__

The cost of Sustainable Development Goals indicators related to transition towards sustainable food systems is estimated to be around $6.1 trillion per year till 2030, according to a new analysis released by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). 

This translates to $1,383 per person per year, the analysis showed. It was released on September 19, 2023 as global leaders met in New York for the UN SDG Summit

UNCTAD arrived at these estimates by analysis of seven indicators across SDG 2 (end hunger) and SDG 15 (life on land). These include prevalence of undernourishment, moderate or severe food insecurity, the percentage of terrestrial critical biodiversity regions that are protected, among others.

Insufficient funding is causing many developing nations to fall behind in the transition to sustainable food systems, which is essential for eradicating hunger, malnutrition and even enhancing livelihoods while safeguarding the environment.

This is also important to ensure access to enough safe and nutritious food all year for the poor and vulnerable people.

But despite the urgent needs for transforming food systems, the shortfall for 48 developing countries assessed in the report is estimated at $328 billion annually. An increase in annual spending of 5.7 per cent would be necessary to close this gap, the authors noted. 

The 48 developing countries included in the UN analysis include 19 low- and lower-middle-income countries and 29 upper- and high-income countries. These countries are home to 68 per cent of the population in developing countries.

The upper-middle- and high-income developing nations, with a $309 billion annual shortfall or around 6 per cent of their required finances, confront the biggest annual gap in investments for sustainable food systems, relative to the overall annual costs, revealed the new UN estimates. 

When broadened to include all developing countries, using the median per-capita cost for 48 countries in the study, the total annual needs for SDGs on food security and zero hunger are likely to be around $7.6 trillion.

The estimates for transforming food systems under the SDGs 2030 are amongst key findings of the new UN analysis on cost of achieving ambitious sustainable development targets 

The UNCTAD analysis is an outcome of the project which focuses on six transformative “pathways” for sustainable development goals by 2030. These include social protection and decent jobs, education transformation, food systems, climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, energy transition and inclusive digitalisation.

Depending on the pathway, between now and 2030, fulfilling ambitious sustainable development goals will cost $5.4-6.4 trillion annually, which translates to $1,179-1,383 per person each year, according to the analysis. 

UNCTAD arrived at these estimates by analysing data on nearly 50 SDG indicators across 90 countries, including 48 developing economies, covering three quarters of the global population.

The indicators included a wide variety and range from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing protected forest cover to universal access to electricity and the internet, promoting literacy, combating hunger and reducing preventable deaths.

Fighting climate change, preserving biodiversity and reducing pollution will cost close to $5.5 trillion annually between 2023 and 2030, the UNCTAD analysis estimated.

Energy currently contributes over two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate impacts threatening all 17 SDGs,  stated the World Meteorological Organization in 2021. 

Climate change and extreme weather events threaten the achievement of SDG targets, even as just 15 per cent of the SDGs are on track, warned the WMO in September 2023. 

So, energy transition fundamental to achieving various SDGs is projected to cost about $5.8 trillion annually from 2023 to 2030 for the 48 developing economies studied by the UN trade organisation. 

SDGs on gender equality and food systems required the highest investments, while those for social protection and jobs pathway were the least expensive.

SDG targets / indicators   Annual cost of related SDGs targets / indicators (in $)#  Per person cost (annual; in $ ) Financial burden (% of collective GDP) Largest spending gap and how much  (in $)
Gender equality 6.4 1,383 21 360***
Food systems 6.1 1,342 20 328*
Education transformation 5.9 1,300 19 275**
Energy transition 5.8 1,271 19 286*
Inclusive digitisation 5.6 1,231 18 469*
Climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution 5.5 1,213 18 337*
Social protection and decent jobs 5.4 1,179 17 294***

#Figures include data for 48 developing countries ;  *largest gap faced by 29 upper-middle and high-income developing nations ;  **largest gap faced by 6 LDCs and the 19 low and lower-middle-income economies; ***largest gap faced by 8 small island developing states

Strategic spending can fast-track progress

Recently, world leaders at the SDG summit 2023 acknowledged the funding gaps and adopted a political declaration for massive increase in investments to attain SDGs. 

In this context, the analysis is timely and a significant attempt to fill data gaps on costing of the SDGs. It is useful to countries for estimating how much they need to spend and how best to allocate financial resources mid-way to SDGs

“Merely increasing funds won’t guarantee success,” said Anu Peltola, UNCTAD Statistics. “Governments, companies, investors and institutions need to strategically allocate their resources.”

The indicators taken into account for each of the six paths are interconnected and cover related SDGs. For instance, to arrive at costs for addressing climate change, biodiversity conservation and reducing pollution, the analysis covered six SDG indicators related to SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), SDG 13 (climate action) and SDG 15. 

The analysis, thus, helps identify synergies — showing how spending in one area can boost results in others and how combined spending can fast-track progress towards multiple SDGs. This outcome can help resource-constrained countries maximise the output from their resources and achieve goals of the 2030 Agenda. 

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