The costs of achieving the SDGs: Resources by UN entities and funds

SDG Wheel
The costs of achieving the SDGs:

This repository of resources has been prepared by UNCTAD jointly with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to bring together tools, guidelines and previous research to support SDG costing efforts by all stakeholders. The page presents resources shared by the UN Women, IFAD, IMF, IEA, ILO, ITU, ESCWA, UNEP, UNESCO, UN-Habitat and UNICEF.

Social protection and decent jobs

Previous research

The World Health Organization (WHO, 2017; Stenberg et al., 2017) estimates under their ambitious scenario the additional annual investment needed to meet the SDG 3 on health would be US$371 billion in 67 low- and middle-income countries, covering 75 per cent of the global population. The ambitious scenario includes adding more than 23 million health workers, and building more than 415 000 new health facilities, 91 per cent of which would be primary health care centres. The analysis shows that 85 per cent of these costs can be met with domestic resources, although as many as 32 of the world’s poorest countries will face an annual gap of up to US$54 billion and will continue to need external assistance.

The International Labour Organization (ILO, 2020a) estimates that closing the annual financing gap for social protection (SDG target 1.3) and universal health (SDG target 3.8) would cost US$1.2 trillion in 2020 for 134 developing countries, equalling 3.8 per cent of their GDP. This study considers four areas: children, maternity, disability, and old age, and the universal provision of health care. The regions representing the highest costs for social protection are Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Asia, and Eastern Europe, for health Eastern Asia had the highest costs. The social protection costs range from US$41.9 billion for low-income countries to US$757.9 billion for upper-middle-income countries.

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF, 2020) estimates the cost of universal child benefits based on different assumptions. For instance, universal child benefits that cover children aged 0 to 4 years costs 0.7% of GDP, while covering all children between ages 0 and 14 would require a minimum of 2% of GDP, both in low-income countries.

Tools and guidance

  • Platform ILO Quantitative Platform on Social Security (QPSS) (ILO, 2020b) to provide social protection systems worldwide with robust tools to support evidence-based policy analysis and reforms. Specifically, the ILO Rapid Assessment Protocol Social Protection Costing Tool is a tool for costing social protection floors and assessing the financing and impact of investment in social protection.
  • Simulator (ILO, 2023) for ‘Care Policy Investment’ to calculate the investment requirements, as a monetary value and share of GDP, in four care policy areas: children-related paid leave. breastfeeding breaks, early childhood care and education, and long-term care.
  • Calculator (ILO, 2015) for ‘Social Protection Floor Costs’ to evaluate recurrent costs of annual benefit expenditures from the implementation of social security benefits for children, orphans, pensions, public works, maternity and disability. Simulations are possible for more than 100 developing countries.
  • Calculator (ILO, 2020c) for ‘Rapid social protection calculator for COVID-19’ to support countries to make rapid adjustments to social protection systems in response to the COVID-19 crisis. It considers the cost and effect of implementing different measures (i.e., increasing coverage or benefits).
  • Report (ILO, 2020a) ‘Financing gaps in social protection: Global estimates and strategies for developing countries in light of COVID-19 and beyond’ with monetary estimates for financing the gap in four social protection areas (children, persons and disabilities, maternity, aged person) and essential health care.
  • Report (ILO, 2021) ‘World Social Protection Report 2020-22: Social protection at the crossroads – in pursuit of a better future’
  • Report (ILO, 2022b) ‘Care at work: Investing in care leave and services for a more gender equal world of work’
  • Report (ILO, 2022a) ‘Investing more in social protection. Filling the financing gap through domestic resource mobilization and international support and coordination’
  • Report (ILO and UNICEF, 2023) ‘More than a billion reasons: The urgent need to build universal social protection for children’
  • Report (UNICEF and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) 2020) ‘Universal Child Benefits: Policy issues and options’

Education transformation

Previous research

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, 2020) estimated the cumulative cost to achieve SDG 4 by 2030 in low- and lower-middle-income countries to have stayed at US$5.1 trillion in 2020, like their first estimate in 2015, while the annual financing need had increased from US$340 billion to US$504 billion mainly due to the shorter time frame left. In the course of 2022, UNESCO supported countries in setting up national benchmarks for levels to be achieved under SDG 4 on education. About 75 per cent of countries have submitted national targets and another 15 per cent have targets outlined in their sector plans for at least some of the benchmark indicators. In the costing exercise in 2023, despite lowering ambition following national targets, achievement of SDG 4 on education1 will cost US$461 billion per year on average for 79 low- and lower-middle-income countries from 2023 to 2030 (a cumulative US$3.7 trillion between 2023 and 2030), and there is still an average national financing gap of US$97 billion per year, equal to 2.3 per cent of GDP (UNESCO, 2023). This gap is several times the external resources currently being offered.

Sub-Saharan African countries represent half of the low- and lower-middle-income countries (41 out of 79) but account for the largest share of the financing gap: US$70 billion per year on average (UNESCO, 2023). They also have the highest education exclusion rates, with 20 per cent of primary school aged children and almost 60 per cent of upper secondary school aged youth not in school.

The IMF (Gaspar et al., 2019) estimates the additional total—private and public—spending required to make substantial progress toward the SDGs in five areas (education, health, roads, electricity, water and sanitation) in 121 emerging market economies and low-income developing countries to amount to US$2.6 trillion in 2030. The Asia and the Pacific have the largest estimated spending required followed by Sub-Saharan Africa.

Tools and guidance

  • Report (UNESCO, 2015) ‘Pricing the right to education: the cost of reaching new targets by 2030’ with a detailed background paper, a costing model, a short user guide and a presentation
  • Report (Gaspar et al., 2019) ‘Fiscal Policy and Development: Human, Social, and Physical Investments for the SDGs’.
  • SimuED costing model based on an additive approach (building objects module by module to create a model that is adapted to a country’s education system)
  • EPSSim costing model (tool and user guide) based on a subtractive approach
  • Tool for Education Sector Analysis (ESA) costing models in use at country level.


  1. This cost estimate does not consider the achievement of tertiary education goals (4.c), skills for work (4.4), adult literacy (4.6), education for sustainable development and global citizenship (4.7), and scholarships (4.b).

Food systems

Previous research

The UN 2021 Food Systems’ Summit Finance lever made up of the World Bank, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and SYSTEMIQ’s Food and Land Use Coalition estimated that an average of US$300-400 billion of additional investment is needed per year from 2021 to 2030 to finance the world’s transition to a high-performing and inclusive food system. The report (World Bank et al., 2021) provides five core “imperatives” for optimizing public spending and mobilizing private capital for a global food system transformation.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) jointly estimated that an average of US$265 billion of additional resources are needed per year to sustainably end hunger, SDG 2, from 2016 to 2030 (FAO et al., 2015). An approach would be needed which combines public investment in social protection with public and private investment in productive sectors – especially in rural areas and, particularly, in agriculture. Of this total, some US$198 billion would be needed for pro-poor investments in the productive sectors, mainly for rural development. Some US$67 billion would be needed for social protection programmes, similarly with a focus on rural development.

The World Bank (2016) estimated the global cost of achieving water, sanitation, and hygiene, targets 6.1 and 6.2, at US$28.4 billion per year from 2015 to 2030. The estimate was calculated for 140 countries and 85 per cent of global population. Country variations were large, for instance significantly greater capital spending was needed in Sub-Saharan Africa, due to slow progress to date. The capital investments needed amounted to about three times the current investment levels globally.

Tools and guidance

  • Tool (FAO, 2022) for Food Price Monitoring and Analysis (FPMA), including a feature to calculate food price anomalies as measured by SDG indicator 2.c.1
  • Tool (FAO, 2023) ‘FAO-MAFAP' to measure public expenditures in support of food and agriculture
  • Tool (World Bank, 2023) ‘WB-Aspire' to measure expenditures for food assistance
  • Guidance (SUN, 2020) by Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) ‘Approaches for nutrition costing and financial tracking’.
  • Tool (IFAD and World Bank, 2023) ‘Country-Budget Tool for Food Systems Transformation. Filling an SDG data Gap’
  • Report (IFAD, 2021) ‘Stocktaking report on Donor Contributions to Food Systems’
  • Report (World Bank et al., 2021) ‘Food Finance Architecture: Financing a Healthy, Equitable and Sustainable Food System. United Nations Food Systems Summit 2021’

Climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution

Previous research

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN, 2022) estimated that to halt and reverse biodiversity loss to achieve a nature-positive world by 2030, investment of at least US$200 billion per year is needed globally. In addition, redirecting, repurposing, reforming or eliminating incentives harmful for biodiversity, in a just and equitable way, and reducing them by at least US$500 billion per year must happen.

The UNEP (2022) Adaptation Gap Report estimates the cost of adapting to climate change to range between US$160-340 billion annually by 2030 in developing countries and US$315-565 billion annually by 2050. According to UNEP, the international adaptation finance flows to developing countries are rising slowly but remain 5-10 times below estimated needs and the gap continues to widen. However, this estimate does not consider other costs of achieving SDG 13 to combat climate change and its impacts. Adaptation finance represents about 34 per cent of total climate finance, and is concentrated in agriculture, water, ecosystems and cross-cutting sectors, primarily addressing drought, flooding and rainfall variability.

There is no clear-cut UN estimate of the cost of achieving SDG target 3.9 to substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution by 2030. However, the World Bank (2022) estimates that the global cost of health damages associated with exposure to air pollution is US$8.1 trillion, or 6.1 per cent of global GDP. People in low- and middle-income countries are most affected by mortality and morbidity from air pollution.

Tools and guidance

  • Report (UNEP et al., 2017c) ‘The Integrated Green Economy Modelling Framework - Technical Document’
  • Methodology document (UNEP and the University of Oxford, (forthcoming) on ‘Introducing the Sustainable Budgeting Approach (SBA) - a novel decision-support tool to identify integrated solutions to national development and environmental challenges’
  • Report (UNEP et al., 2017a) ‘The Green Economy Progress Measurement Framework Application’
  • Report (UNEP et al., 2017b) ‘The Green Economy Progress Measurement Framework Methodology’

Energy transition

Previous research

The International Energy Agency (IEA, 2023) estimates that the world must rapidly increase annual clean energy investment to reach US$4.5 trillion by 2030 in order to achieve universal access, SDG target 7.1, and decarbonise the global energy sector, SDG target 7.2, consistent with a trajectory to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 C by the end of the century. While investments in clean energy are rising rapidly in advanced economies and China, investment levels have remained flat in other emerging market and developing economies. This would need to climb 7-fold to reach between US$1.4-1.9 trillion early by 2030 to align with the outcomes of the Paris agreement, according to the IEA and International Finance Corporation of the World Bank. Concessional financing will be essential to attract the needed private investment to clean energy, with the required concessional finance estimated to be between US$80 and 100 billion in the years around 2030.

Tools and guidance

  • Report (IEA, 2023) ‘Scaling Up Private Finance for Clean Energy in Emerging and Developing Economies – Analysis’ with cost estimates for clean energy

Inclusive digitalization

Previous research

The IMF (forthcoming) estimates that global digital infrastructure investment need is US$418 billion annually, based on the assumption of providing universal 4G cellular broadband to users with approximately 40-50GB of monthly data at 95 per cent reliability. Overall, the most prominent needs to invest in digital infrastructure are in emerging market economies, estimated at US$305 billion per year (73 per cent), compared with a very modest investment in advanced economies of only US$11 billion (3 per cent) and a total of US$102 billion (24 per cent) in low-income developing countries.

In 2021, the cost of achieving universal broadband (SDG 17.6.1) was estimated (Edward J. Oughton et al., 2021) at US$1.6-1.7 trillion over the next decade across the developing world, equalling about 160-170 billion in annual costs, or 0.5-0.6 per cent of annual GDP. However, the researchers note that by creating a favourable regulatory environment, governments could bring down these costs by as much as three-quarters. It is estimated that by 2024, 55 per cent of all ICT investment globally will be linked to digital transformation.

Tools and guidance

  • Toolkit (ESCWA, 2022a) for artificial budget intelligence powered (iBiT) to amplify the returns on public spending and optimize public expenditure efficiency and maximize SDG performance.
  • Report (IMF, 2023) ‘Estimating Digital Infrastructure Investment Needs to Achieve Universal Broadband’.
  • Report (IMF, forthcoming) ‘Transforming Public Finance Through GovTech’.
  • Tool (Edward J. Oughton et al., 2021) ‘Digital Infrastructure Costing Estimator (DICE)’.

Sample of other thematic or generic SDG costing tools