a spotlight on the 2030 Agenda
Published in SUNS #8342 dated 27 October 2016
Geneva, 26 Oct (Kanaga Raja) -- 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
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
(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,
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
"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
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,"
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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 at: http://www.socialwatch.org/node/17211)