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How much innovation will be needed to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals? We model shifts in the cross-country relationship between GDP per capita and achievement in key development indicators as “technological gains” and convergence to the best performers at a given income as “policy gains.” Assuming that the United Nations’ income growth projections for low- and middle-income countries are met, we estimate the residual demand for technology and policy innovation needed to meet several critical targets of the SDGs. Our results suggest that (i) best performers are considerably outperforming the average performance at a given income level, suggesting considerable progress could be achieved through policy change but that (ii) the targets set in the SDGs are unlikely to be met by 2030 without very rapid, ubiquitous technological progress alongside economic growth.

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