A global alliance of civil society organisations (CSOs) and networks on 24 October presented a report assessing the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as highlighting some of the structural obstacles and challenges to its achievement.

The CSOs that came together under the Reflection Group on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development comprised the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), Social Watch, Third World Network (TWN), and Global Policy Forum (GPF). They were supported by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES).

The Group’s annual report is titled “Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2016“, with the presentation taking place at an event at the UN here co-organised by the Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) and FES.

Some of the key findings and recommendations of the report were highlighted at the event that included as panellists Mr Roberto Bissio of Social Watch, Ms Gita Sen of DAWN, Ms Areli Sandoval of Equipo Pueblo, and Ms Sandra Vermuyten of Public Services International (PSI).

The session was moderated by Mr Hamish Jenkins of UN-NGLS with Mr Richard Kozul-Wright, Director of the Division on Globalisation and Development Strategies of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), as discussant.

In some opening remarks at the event on Monday, Mr Hubert Rene Schillinger of FES said that FES has been sponsoring the work of the Reflection Group since its inception in 2010.

Some of the earlier thinking of the Reflection Group has been laid out for instance in its first report to the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development in 2012.

It was at this Rio+20 summit that the notion of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was developed and agreed upon by the international community, he said.

The approach of the group to the then upcoming global sustainability agenda was further developed, for instance, in a discussion paper titled ‘Goals for the Rich’, where the approach taken there was based on the notion that the concept of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) that officially applies only in the area of climate change also has to apply to the sustainability agenda.

He explained that this implies particular responsibility for the rich and powerful both domestically in their respective countries but also internationally where the rich countries have a particular responsibility including but not only with regards to the means of implementation.

Another key element of the approach taken by the Reflection Group is policy coherence, which implies a strong focus on structural and policy obstacles that might stand in the way of successfully implementing the 2030 agenda and achieving its goals.

Hamish Jenkins of UN-NGLS said that what is in the Spotlight Report is quite exceptional in terms of looking both at the opportunities of the new 2030 Agenda but also the hardcore questions that need to be addressed in terms of the incoherence in the global governance system.

“I think this report will be the start of a series that will really help the international community guide its path towards a genuine implementation of the Goals that do offer fundamental transformative potential but require a certain number of political changes that are quite difficult in the current conjecture,” said Jenkins.

Roberto Bissio, Coordinator of the Social Watch, said that the report has two parts. One is the physical part (the present report) and a second part which is virtual but is easily available on the website (www. socialwatch. org) to which Social Watch helped to facilitate and contributed greatly.

According to Bissio, the second part consists of 40 national reports (from civil society) that look into the 2030 Agenda and the potential for implementation of what would be required to make it happen in the different countries and particularly trying to answer the question of the obstacles (to its implementation).

He noted that the 2030 Agenda is very ambitious and as civil society, “we were active participants in the process.”

He referred to the Millennium Development Goals (the predecessor to the SDGs) as a limited formulation of a set of goals by a group of experts without any consultation with anyone else, not even with the governments, not to mention civil society, in that formulation.

But the process (for the 2030 Agenda) was completely different and as a result we have an agenda that is first of all a global universal agenda.

It is not just about what developing countries should be doing to achieve a certain set of goals but about goals that are global in nature and that commit all countries.

“In that sense our formulation in the previous process that we needed goals for the rich is contemplated in the new agenda,” said Bissio.

He said that goals for the rich in the new agenda does not just mean that richer countries have to contribute to the achievement of the goals of those countries that have less capacities.

That is an old obligation, he said. It also means that under the new Agenda, they have responsibilities to their own societies within their own countries and this is a new component.

Bissio also pointed to the implicit need in the SDGs for developed countries to look at the extraterritorial impact of what they do at home.

He highlighted some obstacles, namely, the malfunctioning trading system, and an international financial system that is not making the money flow the way it should flow.

He also pointed to two risks. One risk that is clearly seen is that the discussion on the SDG indicators is still open and some of the important concepts in the Agenda such as policy space do not have a definition or do not have a clear indicator.

The other major risk is that implementation is largely put in the hands of the private sector and/or partnerships between the private sector and the public sector as the major tool in the Agenda to mobilise trillions of dollars for infrastructure and so on.

According to Bissio, out of the 40 national reports, a majority of them talk about Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) in terms of the problems detected by them.

PPPs end up being more expensive than any other alternative to fund that same infrastructure. They create debt in forms that are outside the scrutiny of parliaments or even outside the decisions of the economy ministers. And they lack transparency, which inevitably leads to more corruption.

“So there is a major risk that the diagnosis and the aspirations clearly put us on the right side but the solutions identified so far are pushing the other way,” said Bissio.

Gita Sen of DAWN, referring to the MDGs, said that “we had the soaring rhetoric of the Millennium Declaration followed by the reductionist goals that got enshrined as the MDGs and which for many of us who participated in the UN conferences of the 1990s were an extreme disappointment because they in fact shrank dramatically what we thought was an opening and expansion of the agenda.”

However, she said that on the positive side, the SDGs, in contrast to the MDGs, had very strong mobilisation. Women’s organisations have been centrally engaged in the process throughout.

She noted that all of this is happening in a world that “we in DAWN call ‘fierce’ ” and the ferocity of that world includes climate change, militarisation and conflict, and economic crises driven by neo-liberal financialisation.

She also highlighted the extreme and ongoing conservative backlash against women’s human rights along a variety of fronts.

One of the central challenges for the onward movement of the implementation of the SDGs is the rapidly expanding role of the private corporate sector.

Sen said that it is useful that the WHO finally managed at its last General Assembly to agree on the Framework of Engagement with Non-State Actors (FENSA).

If you look at a couple of things to do with FENSA, they raise some questions. One of those is Para 27 bis of the final FENSA document, which may be one of the most problematic because it completely appears to water-down due diligence and risk assessment, she said.

Another thing that got lost in the FENSA was that there was a strong move to try and get individual funders to pool the funds to avoid undue influence by any particular individual funder.

“That went down the tubes as well,” said Sen.

It could not get agreed in FENSA which means that “you are still out of the realm of pooling the money and you still have the possibility of the biggest player being able to exercise undue influence.”

On PPPs, Sen noted that the European Commission’s expert panel on the effective ways of investing in health adopted an opinion in 2014 based on a review by an independent consultant of 15 PPP cases in European countries.

She cited the expert panel as saying: “Public disclosure of data and analysis behind PPP investments is very poor, inconsistent and not standardised. The expert panel has not found scientific evidence that PPPs are cost-effective compared with traditional forms of public finance and managed provision of healthcare.”

“If that is for the European Union, which has more institutional capacity for managing PPPs, just imagine the situation in developing countries with very weak health infrastructure and health systems to be able to manage this kind of explosion and plethora of PPPs that we seem to be driving towards,” she pointed out.

Areli Sandoval of Equipo Pueblo spoke on the Mexican chapter of the report, which focuses on the challenges and obstacles of the current policy and legal framework in Mexico that due to the lack of human rights and a sustainability approach to these legal and policy frameworks put limits or barriers to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

She said that an urgent call has been made to review and at some point reform some of these frameworks.

Sandra Vermuyten of PSI, referring to the SDGs and the outcome document of the 2030 Agenda, said the broad objectives that we had going into this process such as the recognition of the importance of full and productive employment, decent work for all, universal social protection, the human right to water and sanitation, universal free education, healthcare for all, gender equality and reduced income inequality, were by and large reflected in the declaration and in the SDGs and targets.

What is worrying is that the supporting framework and implementation are not in line with those declared goals, she said.

According to Vermuyten, PSI has held the opinion that this Agenda could end up being a vehicle for privatisation and maintaining the status quo.

“Unfortunately one year down the line, with a follow-up meeting of the FfD [Financing for Development] and the HLPF [High Level Political Forum], our opinion hasn’t changed.”

“It is a wonderful opportunity for multinationals to get an entry into the United Nations but we haven’t seen a lot of commitment to public service delivery. Because we don’t see the unconditional criteria that are needed to ensure that the private sector intervention is in line with public interest especially when public resources are used to support the private sector.”

Privatisation and PPPs in water and energy have also proven to lead to disastrous results, she said.

All of these developments are in complete contradiction with the 2030 Agenda and the human rights obligations of States.

In addition, there is a lack of much needed public policies that are more sustainable and little or no attention for alternative models of development such as social and solidarity economy.

“We also have to look at trade agreements to what extent they are compatible with the SDGs and human rights obligations. We think ISDS [Investor-State Dispute Settlement] systems are certainly not compatible with the 2030 agenda and its implementation,” she said.

Richard Kozul-Wright of UNCTAD noted that the authors of the report welcome the SDGs as a positive move from the MDGs. The SDGs are more ambitious, more universal, more inclusive, and more transformative. In a word, it is essentially more developmental, he said.

Despite the acronym, the MDGs were never very developmental. They were essentially about eliminating extreme deprivation rather than addressing developmental challenges.

“At least from the UNCTAD perspective, that is why we welcome the SDGs too as a positive step forward in terms of fashioning an international development agenda.”

The MDGs, because they were focused on deprivation and not on development, failed to address the kinds of structural flaws in the global economic and financial system.

“As the report says, it is now incumbent on those people that are responsible for implementing the SDGs not only to think about those in national terms and the kinds of national policies that are implied by meeting the SDGs, but also to address the problems at the international and multilateral level,” said Kozul-Wright.

This is becoming an increasing challenge given the steady weakening of multilateral institutions over the course of the last thirty years.

According to Kozul-Wright, the overview to the report points to a number of concerns in that context that it will be essential for proponents of the SDGs to address if they are to become a meaningful agenda that moves economic and social progress forward.

He also pointed to the inter-related nature of inequality. It is no good just talking about inequality. It is important to recognise that many inequalities are closely inter-connected: economic, racial, and gender-based.

He further pointed to the reigning-in of corporate power. There is a recognition that in a lot of the framing of the SDGs there is a seeding of responsibility from the public to the private sector, and in particular from the public realm to the corporate realm, and this poses serious worries in terms of meeting the SDGs.

On the PPPs, Kozul-Wright endorsed the comments made by the panel. He said it is about the lobbying power of large corporations and the consequences that it has for democratic representation. It is about the undermining of fiscal space through tax havens and other kinds of illicit flows.

Unless these are part of the serious agenda on the SDGs, it is difficult to see how they will be met, he underlined.

The full report including the national reports can be found here.

By Kanaga Raja

Source: South North Development Monitor – SUNS #8342 dated 27 October 2016.