2030 Agenda: Development for whom?

Shobha Shukla, Citizen News Service - CNS
The world is agog with excitement at the recent adoption by the 70th UN General Assembly, of the new framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, composed of 17 goals and 169 targets to wipe out poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change over the next 15 years. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, hails these goals as “A blueprint for a better future…. to transform the world. We must leave no-one behind."

Justin Kilcullen
Justin Kilcullen, co-chair of CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE), and Paul Quintos of IBON International spoke with CNS on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, on the implications of these goals to the people for whom they are actually meant.

“We should rejoice in what we have achieved, but we must not believe that it is going to be easy,” Justin remarked pertaining to the advance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) compared to its predecessor MDGs.

Critics point out that one of the main flaws of the MDGs is the lack of ownership and engagement – something the SDGs have the potential to overcome. During the last 15 years, the world has seen an increasing engagement of citizens, NGOs and government organizations around issues of development. “The challenge now lies in governments fulfilling their commitments to the people,” Justin added.

Each of the 17 Global Goals for sustainable development is essentially a human right, says Justin, with the last goal (Goal 17) being the most important, as it is about resources and new partnerships, without which countries will not be able to deliver the other 16 Global Goals. He calls this the contradiction of the summer of 2015.

“While the SDGs tell us of 'what the governments have agreed to do for their people', they do not give a sense that 'governments will work with the people to help them bring the change these goals envisage'. It is very much top-down", warns Justin.

Binding trade treaties versus non-binding development agenda

Paul Quintos
Other members of civil society have also expressed concerns on how the SDGs will be implemented. One reason to worry, according to Paul Quintos of IBON International is the apparent over emphasis on business sector participation in the 2030 agenda. Like many CSOs, Quintos too is cautious, if not skeptical, of the 2030 sustainable development agenda that according to him “was launched by the UN with much hype and fanfare, with advice from professional corporate marketing agencies.”

“This is ironic, because 15 years ago, when the Millennium Declaration was unveiled, much the same aspirations, hopes and promises had been pledged by these same governments in these very halls. And 15 years hence the world faces the same problems, if not worse,” he added.

The paradox, according to Quintos, lies in the fact that while governments seem to commit to ending poverty by 2030 by agreeing on a ‘non-binding’ global agenda, these same governments are also in the process of negotiating free trade agreements, which are binding and may potentially reverse any development progress the world has gained in the last century. Quintos further warns that these FTAs will grant enormous new powers to corporations by allowing them to veto laws and national regulations in the name of profit making.

Public Private Partnerships (PPP)

Quintos is also vocal about governments raising the ambition of the Global Goals while at the same time avoiding making concrete commitments in terms of public financing. Governments are constructing a narrative wherein there are not enough public resources to fund such an ambitious development agenda, which consequently justifies greater private sector involvement under the garb of PPP, Quintos noted.

“But by resorting to the private sector as being the main driver of development, we are making interests of the private sector primary in terms of what is likely to be prioritized in this agenda,” said Quintos.

PPP has been prominently featured in various development forums and seminars as an innovative means to bridge the funding gap in terms of financing national development. Civil society however fears that PPPs primarily serve business interests over public welfare. In most cases of PPPs, governments end up paying more to cover ‘regulatory risk guarantees’ in order to ensure the profit returns of business concessionaires.

“So what we see is a socialization of risks and further privatization of gains or profits. This is the most alarming aspect to this agenda”, he added.

Role of civil society 

As we talk of a new global partnership, Justin Kilcullen wonders about the role of civil society in it. He agrees that civil society organizations, like CPDE, are in a very strong position today as civil society has been recognized as an independent development actor, having a voice in the negotiations. But there is a question mark over the future of this role because SDGs are purely inter governmental. In the UN, the role of civil society remains consultative with minimal if totally no actual influence in policy-making. Other than playing a role in implementing projects in sectors like agriculture, health, and education, what is needed more is to hear the voices of citizens holding governments to account and challenging them if they make mistakes. This is what good citizenship is about, feels Justin, and wonders why governments perceive active citizens and civil society as a threat, instead of as an asset.

He gives the example of his own country, Ireland, where civil society played a very significant role in its development after it got independence from British rule. “The Catholic Church did a lot for education and healthcare of poor people; other NGOs were involved with homeless people; sports organizations built up the national spirit of the new state; and cultural organizations helped re-establish our Irish identity. All this was done outside the government, with civil society playing a major role in making Ireland a modern and wealthy state”.

Paul sees the 2030 agenda as non-transformative, as it does not challenge existing unequal relationships of power and distribution of wealth. So it remains for the civil society to continue engaging with governments and making sure that they are held accountable for the promises that they have made. Most importantly, it is about how we build power from below through people’s collective action, in challenging those who are in power.

“People will have to continue to challenge the status quo by resisting and fighting land grabs, mining expansions and plunder, making sure that corporations are held accountable for human rights violations and environmental impacts of their operations, and governments’ complicity to all that. That is where the hope lies,” said Paul.

Leaving no one behind

The theme of the post 2015 goals is that ‘No one will be left behind.’ For Justin it is a big challenge to ensure that this becomes a reality. “For me hope is a very strong virtue and with the commitment and the energy of civil society around the world we can make something of these goals. No matter how difficult it may be, I believe in the end it will be right”.

According to Paul, people are not just left behind but they are actually pushed back by the current mode of development-- “It is the market and private sector led mode of development that we must leave behind if we want no person on this planet to be destroyed by the current system”.

Shobha Shukla, Citizen News Service - CNS
October 14, 2015
(The author is the Managing Editor of CNS, and is supported by CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE) to provide thematic coverage around UN General Assembly where Global Goals for Sustainable Development are being adopted. Follow us on Twitter: @Shobha1Shukla, @CNS_Health and @CSOpartnership_ )

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