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Characteristics of the UN General Assembly Second Committee

12. Dezember 2019 - 21:06

By Elena Marmo

The ways of working and tensions within the Second Committee are not unique to its agenda and delegates, but rather manifestations of greater challenges across Committees, and UN organs. The Committee’s Bureau consists of Member State Representatives from all UN regions. This year’s 74th Session was chaired by Cheikh Niang, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Senegal to the United Nations, supported by Vice-Chairs Ahmad Saif Al-Kuwari of Qatar, Yuliana Angelova of Bulgaria, and Anat Fisher-Tsin of Israel and Rapporteur David Mulet of Guatemala. The Bureau chairs meetings, appoints facilitators for informal negotiations on resolutions and are responsible for seeing the Committee’s programme of work is completed. Distinct from the Bureau is the Secretariat, comprised of independent UN staff. The Second and Third Committee’s Secretariats are housed and staffed by the ECOSOC Affairs Branch, which is also responsible for conferencing for ECOSOC, the Peacebuilding Commission, Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and the HLPF. In addition to the Secretariat, the Second Committee sees substantive contributions in the form of reports and guidance documents from actors across the UN System, among them: UNCTAD, FfD Office, Department for Economic and Social Affairs on behalf of the Secretary-General, and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

In the Second Committee and various others UN fora, Member States choose to participate both individually and through informal or formal positional or geographical coalitions, with an elected Representative on a fixed term. The most active in the Second Committee include the Group of 77 and China (G77 and China), the European Union (EU), Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (CANZ), the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Given the limited capacity of small developing state delegations to the UN, the G77 and China relies heavily on its coalition representation, particularly when negotiating texts and drafting agreed upon language.

Due to the inability of small delegations to cover the many simultaneous meetings across all of the General Assembly Committees, the coalition statements and draft resolutions, while presented by one Member State (or Observer) reflect a pre-negotiated position on behalf of all members of the G77 and China. Notably, the 2019 representative for the G77 and China has been the State of Palestine, represented in the Second Committee by Nada Tarbush and Saed Katkhuda. In 2020, the Representative will be from the State of Guyana.

For a number of decades, Member States have undertaken both official debate on the various agenda items as well as informal consultations and negotiations on resolutions with the aim to adopt the resolutions by consensus. The process of reaching consensus means often some substance is dropped, as illustrated in this 74th Session of the Second Committee. In this article several examples of the failure and/or impediment of consensus-reaching will be explored.

While themes explored in the Second Committee are often reiterated in ECOSOC, the Executive Boards of UN Funds and Programmes and the HLPF, the Second Committee has a different role. It provides policy guidance and holds the capacity to mandate, request or call for certain types of policy or research work to be done across the UN System. These actions keep items on the agenda and the authorities responsible for carrying out the research and work determines the “slant” or scope and as such the potential for that work to advance more robust and innovative agendas in the future. On macroeconomic governance this is particularly salient, where it is clear that both the drive for consensus and competition for control of the agenda have led to certain substance dropping altogether.

The post Characteristics of the UN General Assembly Second Committee appeared first on Global Policy Watch.

Kategorien: english, Ticker

Global Indicator Framework for SDGs: value added or time to start over?

9. Dezember 2019 - 15:41

By Barbara Adams and Karen Judd

Download this briefing (pdf version).

After 10 bi-annual sessions and a one-month open consultation, the Interagency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goals (IAEG-SDGs) has made important progress in finalizing its global indicator framework by which to measure progress towards the 17 SDGs and 169 targets at the global level. It has agreed on some additional indicators, including a few long sought by civil society organizations, and has upgraded or replaced indicators stalled at Tier III, a continual demand by Member States.

But five years into the implementation of the SDGs, this process has raised new concerns. How has it helped advance progress on achieving the SDGs, particularly at the national level? Has it been overtaken by other assessments, including by UN bodies and the Global Sustainable Development Report, which seek to examine the obstacles to progress not included in the global indicator framework, such as external and global constraints as well as trade-offs as progress towards one goal may mean regression on another?

The IAEG-SDGs has presented its 2020 comprehensive review, which began in January 2019, as “an opportunity to improve the indicator framework to help the global monitoring of the 2030 Agenda and provide the necessary guidance to countries, many of which are already well advanced in implementing their national framework and reporting platforms.” Among their stipulations for proposals, in addition to not increasing the total number of indicators, has been the need to “take into account investments already made at the national and international levels and not undermine ongoing efforts”.

This long-promised opportunity to re-open the global indicator framework for addition, deletion, revision and replacement, following an open consultation (8 September-6 October, 2019) has resulted in a number of changes that will be submitted to the Statistical Commission for their March 2020 meeting. In the interim, outstanding issues are to be resolved separately with agencies and “other interested parties”, including Member States. This is consistent with the consultation process in the development of the indicator framework: it has been characterized with frequent opportunities for input, less frequent clarity and transparency on the dynamics of decision-making.

Additional indicators – winners and losers

Following a list of 27 possible additional indicators issued in October 2019, 16 proposals were considered at the IAEG-SDGs 10th meeting. Out of these, seven will go forward, including one for SDG 2 on hunger and malnutrition, one for SDG 3 on health and well-being, one on education, three for SDG 10, on inequalities, and three for SDG 16, on peaceful and just societies (see box 1).

Several of these respond to long-standing demands by civil society organizations (CSOs). One was the addition of an indicator on anti-microbial resistance, long championed by public health advocates. Under SDG 3, Target 3.d: “Strengthen the capacity of all countries, particularly developing countries, for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks”, the new indicator will measure the percentage of bloodstream infections due to selected antimicrobial resistant organisms and will have WHO as “custodian agency”.

Also responding to CSO demands is the agreement on an additional indicator to measure inequalities under SDG 10. Under Target 10.4 on policies to achieve greater equality, two indicators were combined into a single indicator for submission to the Statistical Commission. One, the redistribution impact of fiscal policy, put forward by the Commitment to Equity Institute at Tulane University and Oxfam, and two, the Gini coefficient, put forward by the French labour federation CFDT and Oxfam, were combined to read: “Redistributive impact of fiscal policy (with Gini coefficient reported as second series in data base as it is a component of indicator).” Thus, interested researchers will find the Gini coefficient in the SDG indicators database, but it will not be named in the official list.

Another proposal for SDG 10, advocated by a range of CSOs (and put forward by CFDT and Oxfam), did not make the final list. This was the addition of the Palma ratio to measure Target 10.1 that promises “to increase the income of the bottom 40% of the population at a rate higher than the national average”. The current indicator, which deducts average national growth from that of the bottom 40% gives positive figures for many countries where the income of the poor has actually decreased, as a result of an even higher drop in the national average.

More successful was the inclusion of an indicator to measure access to civil justice under Target 16.3:  “Proportion of the population who have experienced a dispute in the past two years and who accessed a formal or informal dispute resolution mechanism, by type of mechanism.”

This appears to line up with a proposal by World Justice Project, UNDP and OECD for an indicator on “the accessibility, affordability, impartiality and effectiveness of civil justice systems”, using Legal Needs surveys which look at civil justice from perspective of people rather than institutions and capture diverse ways people seek to deal with their legal problems.

In addition, a proposal was considered for an additional indicator under Target 17.3 on mobilizing resources for developing countries, put forward by the OECD: “Total official support for sustainable development” (TOSSD).

This proposal, which was advanced mainly by developed countries at the March 2019 meeting of the UN Statistical Commission, has been criticized by many developing countries and CSOs as an effort to dilute ODA with a number of other forms of assistance, including humanitarian and disaster aid as well as South-South cooperation. As summarized by UNCTAD, TOSSD represents an effort to “add together a wide variety of flows into a single metric”, including publically leveraged private investments, which “makes little statistical sense, but does potentially provide an alternative to ODA measurements that some governments who are not meeting their ODA commitments could be tempted to use to undermine ODA in the future.”

Following objections that the proposal lacked an agreed methodology, the IAEG-SDGs noted that as it is important to measure aid flows, a two-year working group should be formed, “with more country and UN system involvement” to finalize the methodology, in particular the TOSSD components related to South-South cooperation, for the inclusion of this indicator in the global indicator framework in 2022.

Box 1: Seven additional indicators with custodian agencies

  • 2.2.2 – anaemia in women 15-49 by pregnancy status – WHO
  • 3.d.2 – reduce percentage of bloodstream infections due to selected antimicrobial resistant organisms – WHO
  • 4.1.2 completion rate – primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education – UNESCO/OECD
  • 10.4.2 – redistributive impact of fiscal policy (with Gini coefficient reported as second series in database as it is a component of the indicator – WB
  • 10.7.3. No. migrants killed while attempting to cross maritime, land and air borders – UNHCR (pending clarification on data sources)
  • 10.7.4 – proportion of the population who are refugees, by country of origin – UNHCR
  • 16.3.3 – proportion of the population who have experienced a dispute in the past two years and who accessed a formal or informal dispute resolution mechanism, by type of mechanism – UNDP/OECD

Replacing/deleting stalled Tier III indicators

Six proposals to replace or delete indicators stalled at Tier III, are tentatively agreed.

Indicator 1.a.3 under SDGl 1, “Sum of total grants and non-debt creating inflows directly allocated to poverty reduction programmes as a proportion of GDP”, which lacks a custodian agency, is proposed to be replaced with total ODA that focus on poverty reduction as a share of the recipient country’s GNI- to be monitored by OECD as custodian agency. This is the same as the global proxy agreed in March 2019, and so would presumably replace it.

Under SDG 7 on access to sustainable energy, Tier III indicator 7.b.1, “Investments in energy efficiency as a proportion of GDP and the amount of FDI for infrastructure and technology to sustainable development services”, is proposed to be replaced by “Installed renewable electricity generating capacity in developing countries (in Watts per capita)”.

Four indicators to replace or delete those stalled at Tier III under SDG 13 on climate change have been agreed. Under Target 13.2 to integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning, one indicator is to be deleted, allowing the addition of a new indicator: “total greenhouse gas emissions per year”, which is currently used as a global proxy.

Another indicator stalled at Tier III, indicator 8.9.2 on the proportion of jobs in sustainable tourism industries out of total tourism jobs, is tentatively agreed for deletion without being replaced.

In addition, the IAEG-SDGs requests proposals to replace five stalled Tier III indicators, including  one under SDG 1, on government spending to sectors that specifically benefit women, and poor and vulnerable groups; one on SDG 11 on support to LDCs in building sustainable and resilient buildings; one under SDG 12, on support to developing countries on R&D for sustainable consumption and production; one under SDG 14, on countries ratifying accepting and implementing ocean related instruments that implement international law; and one under SDG 17, on number of science and/or technology cooperation agreements and programmes between countries.

Regrettably, this did not include a call for proposals to replace Target 17.17 on multi-stakeholder partnerships, despite the fact that the current indicator, which measures the amount of dollars committed to a) public-private partnerships and b) civil society partnerships is still at Tier III. The inadequacy and bias of this indicator have been pointed out by CSOs as well as Member States, favouring as it does partnerships that are measured by dollars not by excluded or discriminated-against communities and constituencies, nor by commercial practices that undermine the work of the United Nations and the achievement of the SDGs.

The CSO statement concerning Target 17.17 at the 2015 meeting in Bangkok noted that the OECD had already observed that “Indicators proposed so far only deal with public‐ private partnerships, and focus on specific projects and investments. The wording of Target 17.17 suggests a broader coverage of partnerships may be intended”. To address this problem the CSOs suggested that the value of public-partnerships should be measured not in terms of financial commitments but in terms of their contribution to sustainable development, proposing the indicator be replaced by two indicators:

“i) % of public‐(for profit) private partnerships that deliver greater value for achieving the SDGs than public or private finance alone, as measured via ex ante and ex post evaluations of impact against cost effectiveness, poverty and equity; ii) % of public‐(for profit) private partnerships that include full transparency of contracts, terms, and ex ante and ex post assessment results, and subject to the highest international environmental and social safeguards.”

Tier reclassification: an ongoing process

Seven requests for moving Tier III indicators up to Tier II were made at the 10th IAEG-SDGs meeting, including one on drug treatment under SDG 3 on health and well-being; one on physical or sexual harassment under SDG 11 on sustainable cities; ; four under SDG 14 on marine resources (including an index of floating plastic debris density), one on alignment with the Aichi Strategic Plan for Biodiversity under SDG 15 on biodiversity, and one on illicit financial flows under SDG 16 on peaceful, inclusive and just societies.

Regarding illicit financial flows, UNODC and UNCTAD provided an update on identifying the methodology for measuring indicator 16.4.1, which would enable it to be upgraded from Tier III to Tier II by 2020. Following pilots in five Latin American countries UNCTAD and UNODC are refining the statistical measurement framework and the definition of methods. An additional testing exercise will be conducted in selected countries of Central Asia in 2020, and at the end of 2020 the agencies will submit a joint paper to finalize a typology and a measurement framework.

Following the 10th IAEG-SDGs meeting, discussion has continued on requests to upgrade the Tier III indicators, mainly with Member States. In a series of Webex meetings, 16 indicators are currently under discussion. Given the complexity of many of the indicators, Member State concerns focused on the ability of countries, in both the global North and the global South, to conduct the surveys and compile and analyse the data. Several developing countries are requesting custodian agency support, and many indicators were accepted for reclassification to Tier II subject to simplification or refinement, which will allow countries to receive support in collecting and analysing the data.

One indicator that was not yet accepted for reclassification to Tier II is indicator 17.14.1, “Number of countries with mechanisms in place to enhance policy coherence of sustainable development”. The proposed composite indicator illustrates well the complex and transformative nature that the SDGs capture, as it requires coherence between local and national levels of government, across ministries and sectors, national and international policy makers, and across national boundaries. Its methodology embraces long term goals and interests of future generations embedded in national legal or strategic frameworks, including stakeholder consultations, and the identification and mitigation of trade-offs. Many countries are hesitant to reclassify, seeking results of additional pilots, in which several asked to participate.

Data disaggregation

Many CSO requests for improvements to the framework addressed disaggregation across different groups. In response, the IAEG-SDGs requested several advocacy groups to list their priorities for disaggregation – including gender, LBGT, youth, older persons, persons with disabilities, migrants, internally displaced and detained persons and urban/rural location. CSO statements on priorities, most of them resulting from stakeholder consultations are informative and available for action in a separate link on data disaggregation the IAEG website: [].

The global indicator framework – UN reports raise questions

Despite all the work (and money) devoted to improving the global indicator framework and building the capacity of national statistical offices to monitor it, the reality is that many of the targets will not only not be met, but unless things change radically, will never be met.

Acknowledging the lack of progress towards achieving many of the SDGs, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed has reiterated the need not only for more ambition, but in some cases a different approach, including with regard to data. She has pointed out that on average data is available for only 20 percent of the indicators, and even if available the data lacks sufficient disaggregation to be useful for policy makers.

These concerns have informed two important reports, both of which raise questions about the way forward, including about the way progress towards the SDGs is measured.

The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2019

In July, the UN released the 2019 UN Secretary-General’s report on sustainable development, pointing to the enormous challenges facing all countries and developing countries in particular.

Among its findings:

  • We will miss the poverty target – More than half of the world’s poor live in countries affected by conflict and one in five children now live in extreme poverty; hunger is on the rise; a large number of countries are seriously stressed in terms of water and sanitation, especially in the Pacific region and greenhouse gas emissions are rising.
  • We are also moving backwards on some of the goals, particularly Goal 8 on decent work and Goal 12 on responsible consumption and production.
  • This calls for a different way of thinking about development: the principle of universality means that progress cannot be defined by comparing countries in different stages of development but by deliberate policy-making.
  • There is a need for International cooperation among countries sharing rivers, lakes and water aquifers, in terms not just on indicators, but regarding solidarity, and collective action.

This reality concerning lack of progress also suggests the need to go beyond the global indicator framework to look at obstacles at the global level that may be impeding progress.

2019 Global Sustainable Development Report

More far-reaching was the long-anticipated Global Sustainable Development Report. This report was mandated by Member States in the Rio+20 outcome document, recognizing that the traditional siloed-approach to development would not be adequate and that the future agenda would be unprecedented in ambition. In 2016, Member States decided that the report should be produced once every four years, to inform the high-level deliberations at the General Assembly, and that it should be written by an Independent Group of Scientists appointed by the Secretary-General.

Composed of 15 experts representing a variety of backgrounds, scientific disciplines and institutions, ensuring geographical and gender balance, the Group conducted an independent assessment of progress in achieving the SDGs, based on scientific evidence, and examined over 65 scientific assessments and flagship reports to determine the distance from achieving the SDGs in different countries as well as the likelihood of never achieving them.

One study the report examined looked at the likelihood of reaching each goal in five main regions: the USA, OECD (excluding USA), China, BRISE (Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa and 10 other emerging economies) and the rest of the world. It found that all regions were likely to remain furthest away from meeting targets on goals relating to inequality, responsible consumption and production, and nature (climate, life on land, life on water). With regard to country-level assessments and forecasts, a 2019 study found that no country was on track to meet all of the goals by 2030. While data availability by country and by goal varied, no goal had more than 50 percent of countries on track to reach it by 2030.

Most worrisome, however, were the report’s findings on targets for which recent trends are actually in the wrong direction, either because implementation has been unable to reverse pre-existing deterioration, or because “world recovery from the 2008 economic crisis has brought back negative trends that had been stalled, such as obesity, inequality, greenhouse gas emissions, land degradation, biodiversity loss, wildlife trafficking, absolute material footprints, overfishing and deterioration of coastal waters”.

Several of those negative trending targets are critical, not only because they are hard to change but also because of their impact across the 2030 Agenda as a whole, impeding progress on other goals and targets. The report identifies four trends that are particularly alarming: “rising inequalities, accelerating climate change, biodiversity loss, and the increasing amount of waste from human activity that are overwhelming processing capacities”. The report adds that “some trends presage a move towards the crossing of negative tipping points, which would lead to dramatic changes in the conditions of the Earth system, in ways that are irreversible on time scales meaningful for society.”

What the report concludes is that the current development model is not sustainable; “progress made in the last two decades is in danger of being reversed through worsening social inequalities and potentially irreversible declines in the natural environment that sustains us.” A serious course change is needed, starting with decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation and reducing social and gender inequalities of all kinds.

So if the model is wrong, which women’s and human rights advocates, CSOs, environmental scientists and more recently some economists have long argued, what does this mean for the measurement of progress?

The report highlights six key “entry points” where scientific expertise can be brought to bear and collaborative action can accelerate progress towards the goals: 1. Strengthening human well-being and capabilities;
2. Shifting towards sustainable and just economies;
3. Building sustainable food systems and healthy nutrition patterns;
4. Achieving energy decarbonization and universal access to energy;
5. Promoting sustainable urban and peri-urban development;
6. Securing the global environmental commons.

In all of those areas, it argues “scientific expertise and innovation can be brought to bear and yield impressive results”.
The report acknowledges that the commitments needed for transformation, and the interventions to bring them about, look very different in developed and developing countries.

Difficult – not only different – choices on measurement

These observations and findings present existential challenges for content of the global indicator framework:

  • Should the 2020 Review be a decision on its utility rather than its comprehensiveness?
  • How useful is the global indicator framework in assisting countries to achieve the SDGs, given the likelihood that collecting and compiling the data for each indicator will perpetuate measurement in silos, obscuring, trade-offs and externalities?
  • Why has it taken center stage not only for reporting but also in terms of investment?

Part of the rationale offered for investment in the global indicator framework is to build the capacity of national statistics offices, now underway in almost all developing countries. But the experience of various initiatives related to progress on the SDGs suggest it is needlessly complicated and despite efforts to simplify some of the indicators, limit them to national level only, and step up support to national statistics offices, will compete with more substantive capacity development efforts, including social and scientific research.

  • Is there a better way to build the capacity of national statistics offices to measure progress towards their own sustainable development goals?
  • Should the international community invest in natural and social science institutions based in developing countries, as the Global Sustainable Development Report concludes?

What are the implications for achieving the SDGs, with numerous obstacles and unexamined trade-offs? If, as these and other reports have suggested, the global indicator framework has become a distraction, occupying a tremendous amount of time by both the statistical community and Member States, but still generally unworkable at the national level, should the IAEG- SDGs go back to the drawing board?

This is the (unspoken) question that will confront Member States at the UN Statistical Commission in March 2010 in the consideration and assessment of how to measure the SDGs.

The post Global Indicator Framework for SDGs: value added or time to start over? appeared first on Global Policy Watch.

Kategorien: english, Ticker

Snakes and ladders in sustainable development indexing

6. Dezember 2019 - 19:56

By Roberto Bissio

versión en español

Are Finland and Norway a model to follow if you want to achieve sustainable development or an example of bad practices to avoid? It all depends who you ask.

The two Nordic countries are listed among the top ten in the Global SDG Index1 published last September by the Bertelsmann Stiftung and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (BS-SDGI). But they rank among the bottom 10 worst performers in the Sustainable Development Index (JH-SDI) published by anthropologist Jason Hickel in the January 2020 edition of the Ecological Economics Journal.2

Both indexes use the same raw data from the same international databases (even when Hickel uses 2015 as the latest year of the JH-SDI series) and the difference in the rankings derives from how sustainable development is understood.

The difference is not a minor one, as Table 1 illustrates by showing the extreme ends of the rankings on both indexes. Many of the top-ranked countries by the BS-SDG Index are at the bottom of the table in the JH-SD Index.

Table 1: Top 10 and bottom 10 countries in two different sustainable development indexes3


BS-SDG Index 2019 (0-100)



JH-SD Index

Top 10



Top 10










Costa Rica





Sri Lanka

















Czech Rep.

























Bottom 10



Bottom 10












Sierra Leone


















United States







Congo, DR










Central Africa





The BS-SDGI is computed by averaging some indicators for each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and then averaging these 17 sub-indices into a final global positioning number. Since a majority of the chosen indicators actually measure well-being (in areas like health, education or nutrition) or material wealth (in energy, infrastructure) the final average correlates highly with the UN Human Development Index (For a detailed analysis see:

The JH-SDI also takes the UN Human Development Index as a starting point, but it acknowledges, in the words of its main author, Jason Hickel, that “the countries that score highest on the HDI also contribute most, in per capita terms, to climate change and other forms of ecological breakdown. In this sense, HDI promotes a model of development that is empirically incompatible with ecological key indicators of ecological impact: CO2 emissions and material footprint, both calculated in per capita consumption-based terms and rendered vis-à-vis planetary boundaries.”

The BS-SDGI also reflects damaging material consumption in its sub-index for SDG 12 (sustainable consumption and production) and on SDG 13 (climate change). The Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission’s science and knowledge service, found that “some countries that have poor performance on SDG 12 (on sustainable production and consumption patterns) and SDG 13 (on climate) have good performance on all the other goals and vice-versa. (…) The top five countries in the index are ranked among the bottom positions of SDG12 and SDG13. For example, Sweden tops the list on the SDG Index, but is in the 138th position on the SDG12 ranking. On the other direction, Central African Republic which is at the bottom of the SDG Index gets the second best position on SDG13.”

In the average of 17 sub-indices, the bad ranking of rich countries in two of them is diluted in the BS-SDG Index, while on the JH-SD Index, CO2 emissions and material footprint combined directly penalize the final ranking. This is clearly shown in the Figures 1 and 2, which show the performance on the two sustainable development indexes in relation to per capita income.

Figure 1: JH-Sustainable Development Index in relation to per capita income

Source: Compiled by the author with data from the JH-SDI

In the JH-SDI, the index grows as countries get richer but its value peaks at an annual income of around US$ 20,000 dollars per capita in purchasing parity terms. As income grows beyond that amount, the index values drop, as more wealth is associated with higher CO2 emissions and a bigger material footprint.
The picture is different in the BS-SDG Index:

Figure 2: BS-Sustainable Development Goals Index in relation with per capita income

Source: Compiled by the author with data from the BS-SDGI

In this Index the left part of the graph, grouping the low income countries, is similar to the JH-SDI. Their performance improves as income grows, but the ranking keeps growing more and more and reaches its peak for Nordic countries with annual incomes of around US$ 50,000 in purchasing parity terms. However, from that point countries stop improving as they get richer, either because of their comparative poorer social services, their high CO2 emissions, unsustainable consumption or a combination of these and other factors.

Which path to choose?

Both indices have a similar message for the countries at the left of the graph, with average incomes under US$ 8,600 a year: as your economies grow you will have more opportunities to provide the essential public services that will improve the well-being of your peoples, as required by the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

But from there on the two indices offer diverging paths. If you want to reach the top, the BS-SDGI tells you to keep growing, but to do so with efficient social services and, ideally recycling your garbage and paying attention to energy efficiency… as the Nordics do.

The JH-SDI tells a different story. If all countries had the lifestyle of the Nordics the planet would suffer an ecological breakdown. The average material footprint of nations with “very high” Human Development scores is 26t per capita (four times over the sustainable boundary), while their average CO2 emissions is 11t per capita (six times over the boundary). It is not ecologically possible for all nations to consume at this level. In other words, “this is not a tenable approach for the 21st century”.

On the other hand, Hickel notices that high income is not necessary to achieve well-being. “Greece, Chile, and Portugal have higher life expectancy than the US with less than half the income per capita. Costa Rica has a life expectancy that exceeds that of the US with one-fourth of the income per capita. Similarly, there are a number of countries that score highly on the education index with relatively low levels of income. Kazakhstan’s education levels rival Austria’s, with half of the income per capita. Belarus exceeds Austria with one-third of the income per capita. Georgia and Ukraine rival Austria with less than one-fifth of the income per capita.”

From a sustainable development view, the countries that manage to perform well within planetary boundaries should be commended and celebrated. But they are not at the top of any indicator ranking. The world records are for nations that achieve them thanks to the unsustainable “steroids” of CO2 emissions and wasteful consumption. The JH-SDI does justice to these frugal achievers. And it breaks with the conventional “development” wisdom that systematically places the richer countries, which also happen to be the biggest donors to development agencies, as “models”. This narrative, argues Hickel, “represents the countries of the global North as automatically superior to the countries of the South, erasing and indeed even legitimizing the violence that the former have deployed in order to accumulate their surplus, through for example colonization, the slave trade, structural adjustment, land grabs, labour exploitation, resource extraction and other methods by which nations at the core of the world system have sabotaged the periphery for the sake of their own development.”

Without any mention of history, the introduction of ecological indicators that reflect the negative effects of the excess extraction, consumption and accumulation practiced by rich countries, and demoting them accordingly challenges mainstream wisdom.

While this is not a minor achievement, this new JH-SDI cannot yet claim to be a proxy for the Sustainable Development Goals, as it does not account in any way for inequalities (including gender inequalities) or governance issues (including human rights and access to justice). There is room for improvement, certainly, but this does not in any way diminish the intellectual accomplishment of Jason Hickel. Using only five indicators (life expectancy, education, per capita income, material footprint and CO2 emissions) his Sustainable Development Index pushes the debate forward and improves our understanding of where we are on the 2030 Agenda in a way that the SDG Indicators Framework with its 300 indicators (most lacking sufficient data) has not yet been able to do.


1 J. Sachs, G. Schmidt-Traub, C. Kroll, G. Lafortune, G. Fuller, Sustainable Development Report 2019. New York: Bertelsmann Stiftung and Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), 2019.

2 Jason Hickel, “The Sustainable Development Index: Measuring the Ecological Efficiency of Human Development in the Anthropocene,” Ecological Economics vol 167, January 2020.

3 The JH-SDI can be found online at The BS-SDGI can be found online at

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Kategorien: english, Ticker

Loss and damage from climate change: How much should rich countries pay?

30. November 2019 - 13:58

“The wealthy countries must begin providing public climate finance at the scale necessary to support not only adaptation but loss and damage as well, and they must do so in accordance with their responsibility and capacity to act.” This is the main message of a technical report titled Can Climate Change-Fuelled Loss and Damage Ever Be Fair?, launched on the eve of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) to be held in Madrid from 2 to 13 December.

The US and the EU owe more than half the cost of repairing future damage says the report, authored by Civil Society Review, an independent group that produces figures on what a “fair share” among countries of the global effort to tackle climate change should look like.

“The poorer countries are bearing the overwhelming majority of the human and social costs of climate change. Consider only one tragic incident – the Cyclones Idai and Kenneth – which caused more than $3 billion in economic damages in Mozambique alone, roughly 20 % of its GDP, with lasting implications, not to mention the loss of lives and livelihoods” argues the report. “Given ongoing and deepening climate impacts, to ensure justice and fairness, COP25 must as an urgent matter operationalise loss and damage financing via a facility designed to receive and disburse resources at scale to developing countries.”

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has defined loss and damage to include harms resulting from sudden-onset events (climate disasters, such as cyclones) as well as slow-onset processes (such as sea level rise). Loss and damage can occur in human systems (such as livelihoods) as well as natural systems (such as biodiversity).

Eight weeks after Hurricane Dorian – the most intense tropical cyclone to ever strike the Bahamas – Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley, spoke at the United Nations SecretaryGeneral’s Climate Action Summit. She said: “For us, our best practice traditionally was to share the risk before disaster strikes, and just over a decade ago we established the Caribbean Catastrophic Risk Insurance Facility. But, the devastation of Hurricane Dorian marks a new chapter for us. Because, as the international community will find out, the CCRIF will not meet the needs of climate refugees or, indeed, will it be sufficient to meet the needs of rebuilding. No longer can we, therefore, consider this as an appropriate mechanism…There will be a growing crisis of affordability of insurance.”

An April 2019 report from ActionAid revealed the insurance and other market based mechanisms fail to meet human rights criteria for responding to loss and damage associated with climate change. The impact of extreme natural disasters is equivalent to an annual global USD$520 billion loss, and forces approximately 26 million people into poverty each year.

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, recently warned that the climate crisis is the greatest ever threat to human rights. It threatens the rights to life, health, housing and a clean and safe environment. The UN Human Rights Council has recognised that climate change “poses an immediate and far reaching threat to people and communities around the world and has implications for the full enjoyment of human rights.” In the Paris Agreement, parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) acknowledged that they should – when taking action to address climate change – respect, promote and consider their respective obligations with regard to human rights. This includes the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, the empowerment of women and intergenerational equity. Tackling loss and damage will require a human-rights centred approach that promotes justice and equity.

Across and within countries, the highest per capita carbon emissions are attributable to the wealthiest people, this because individual emissions generally parallel disparities of income and wealth. While the world’s richest 10 % cause 50 % of emissions, they also claim 52 % of the world’s wealth. The world’s poorest 50 % contribute approximately 10 % of global emissions and receive about 8 % of global income. Wealth increases adaptive capacity. All this means that those most responsible for climate change are relatively insulated from its impacts.

Between 1850 and 2002, countries in the Global North emitted three times as many greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as did the countries in the Global South, where approximately 85 % of the global population resides. The average CO2 emissions (metric tons per capita) of citizens in countries most vulnerable to climate change impacts, for example, Mozambique (0.3), Malawi, (0.1), and Zimbabwe (0.9), pale in comparison to the average emissions of a person in the U.S. (15.5), Canada (15.3), Australia (15.8), or UK (6).

In the 1980s, oil companies like Exxon and Shell carried out internal assessments of the carbon dioxide released by fossil fuels, and forecast the planetary consequences of these emissions, including the inundation of entire low-lying countries, the disappearance of specific ecosystems or habitat destruction, destructive floods, the inundation of low-lying farmland, and widespread water stress.

Nevertheless, the same companies and countries have pursued high reliance on GHG emissions, often at the expense of communities where fossil fuels are found (where oil spills, pollution, land grabs, and displacement is widespread) and certainly at the expense of public understanding, even as climate change harms and risks increased. Chevron, Exxon, BP and Shell together are behind more than 10 % of the world’s carbon emissions since 1966. They originated in the Global North and its governments continue to provide them with financial subsidies and tax breaks.

Responsibility for, and capacity to act on, mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage varies tremendously across nations and among classes. It must also be recognised that the Nationally Determined Contributions (climate action plans or NDCs) that have thus far been proposed by the world’s nations are not even close to being sufficient, putting us on track for approximately 4 °C of warming. They are also altogether out of proportion to national capacity and responsibility, with the developing countries generally proposing to do their fair shares, and developed countries proposed far too little.

Unfortunately, as Kevin Anderson (Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the University of Manchester and a former Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research) has said: “a 4°C future is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable.”

Equity analysis

The report assess countries’ NDCs against the demands of a 1.5 °C pathway using two ‘fair share’ benchmarks, as in the previous reports of the Civil Society Equity Review coalition. These ‘fair share’ benchmarks are grounded in the principle-based claims that countries should act in accordance with their responsibility for causing the climate problem and their capacity to help solve it. These principles are both well-established within the climate negotiations and built into both the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement.

To be consistent with the UNFCCC’s equity principles – the wealthier countries must urgently and dramatically deepen their own emissions reduction efforts, contribute to mitigation, adaptation and addressing loss and damage initiatives in developing countries; and support additional sustainable actions outside their own borders that enable climate-compatible sustainable development in developing countries.

For example, consider the European Union, whose fair share of the global emission reduction effort in 2030 is roughly about 22 % of the global total, or about 8 Gigatons of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2eq). Since its total emissions are less than 5 GtCO2eq, the EU would have to reduce its emissions by approximately 160 % per cent below 1990 levels by 2030 if it were to meet its fair share entirely through domestic reductions. It is not physically possible to reduce emissions by more than 100 % domestically. So, the only way in which the EU can meet its fair share is by funding mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage efforts in developing countries.

Today’s mitigation commitments are insufficient to prevent unmanageable climate change, and – coming on top of historic emissions – they are setting in motion devastating changes to our climate and natural environment. These impacts are already prevalent, even with our current global average surface temperature rise of about 1°C. Impacts include droughts, firestorms, shifting seasons, sea-level rise, salt-water intrusion, glacial retreat, the spread of vector borne diseases, and devastation from cyclones and other extreme weather events. Some of these impacts can be minimised through adaptation measures designed to increase resilience to inevitable impacts.

These measures include, for example, renewing mangroves to prevent erosion and reduce flooding caused by storms, regulating new construction so that buildings can withstand tomorrow’s severe weather, using scarce water resources efficiently, building flood defences, and setting aside land corridors to help species migrate. It is also crucial with such solutions that forest dwelling and indigenous peoples be given enforceable land rights, for not only are such rights matters of basic justice, they are also pragmatic recognitions of the fact that indigenous peoples have successfully protected key ecosystems.

Tackling underlying social injustices and inequalities – including through technological and financial transfers, as well as though capacity building – would also contribute to increasing resilience. Other climate impacts, however, are unavoidable, unmanageable or unpredictable, leading to a huge degree of loss and damage. Experts estimate the financial damage also will reach at least USD$300-700 billion by 2030, but the loss of locally sustained livelihoods, relationships and connections to ancestral lands are incalculable.

Failure to reduce GHG emissions now – through energy efficiency, waste reduction, renewable energy generation, reduced consumption, sustainable agriculture and transport – will only deepen impacts in the future. Avoidable impacts require urgent adaptation measures. At the same time, unavoidable and unmanageable change impacts – such as loss of homes, livelihoods, crops, heat and water stress, displacement, and infrastructure damage – need adequate responses through well-resourced disaster response plans and social protection policies.

For loss and damage financing, developed countries have a considerable responsibility and capacity to pay for harms that are already occurring. Of course, many harms will be irreparable in financial terms. However, where monetary contributions can help restore the livelihoods or homes of individuals exposed to climate change impacts, they must be paid. Just as the EU’s fair share of the global mitigation effort is approximately 22 % in 2030, it could be held accountable for that same share of the financial support for such incidents of loss and damage in that year.

The table below provides an illustrative quantification of this simple application of fair shares to loss and damage estimates, and how they change if we compute the contribution to global climate change from the start of the industrial revolution in 1850 or from 1950.

Table 1: Countries’ Share of Global Responsibility and Capacity in 2019, the time of Cyclones Idai and Kenneth, as illustrative application of a fair share approach to Loss and Damage funding requirements.

Country/                          Fair share (%) 1950                 Fair share (%) 1850
Group of countries       Medium benchmark                 High benchmark

USA                                                  30.4 %                                         40.7 %
European Union                            23.9 %                                         23.2 %
Japan                                                  6.8 %                                           7.8 %
Rest of OECD                                     7.4 %                                           8.8 %
China                                                10.4 %                                           7.2 %
India                                                   0.5 %                                           0.04 %
Rest of World                                  20.6 %                                          12.3 %

Total                                                  100 %                                             100 %

The advantages of setting out responsibility and capacity to act in such numerical terms is to drive equitable and robust action today. Responsible and capable countries must – of course – ensure that those most able to pay towards loss and damage repairs are called upon to do so through domestic legislation that ensures correlated progressive responsibility. However, it should also motivate mitigation action to ensure that harms are not deepened in the future.

In the Equity analysis used here, capacity – a nation’s financial ability to contribute to solving the climate problem – can be captured by a quantitative benchmark defined in a more or less progressive way, making the definition of national capacity dependent on national income distribution. This means a country’s capacity is calculated in a manner that can explicitly account for the income of the wealthy more strongly than that of the poor, and can exclude the incomes of the poorest altogether. Similarly, responsibility – a nation’s contribution to the planetary GHG burden – can be based on cumulative GHG emissions since a range of historical start years, and can consider the emissions arising from luxury consumption more strongly than emissions from the fulfilment of basic needs, and can altogether exclude the survival emissions of the poorest. Of course, the ‘right’ level of progressivity, like the ‘right’ start year, are matters for deliberation and debate.i

The report acknowledges “the difficulties in estimating financial loss and damage and the limited data we currently have”, but it recommends nevertheless “a minimal goal of providing at least USD$300 billion per year by 2030 of financing for loss and damage through the UNFCCC’s Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM)”. Given that this corresponds to a conservative estimate of damage costs, the report further recommends “the formalization of a global obligation to revise this figure upward as observed and forecast damages increase”.

The new finance facility should provide “public climate financing and new and innovative sources of financing, in addition to budget contributions from rich countries, that can truly generate additional resources (such as air and maritime levies, Climate Damages Tax on oil, gas and coal extraction, a Financial Transaction Tax) at a progressive scale to reach at least USD$300 billion by 2030”. This means aiming for at least USD$150 billion by 2025 and ratcheting up commitments on an annual basis. Ambition targets should be revised based on the level of quantified and quantifiable harms experienced.

Further, developing countries who face climate emergencies should benefit from immediate debt relief – in the form of an interest-free moratorium on debt payments. This would open up resources currently earmarked for debt repayments to immediate emergency relief and reconstruction.

Finally, a financial architecture needs to be set up that ensures funding reaches the marginalised communities in developing countries, and that such communities have decision making say over reconstruction plans. Funds should reach communities in an efficient and effective manner, taking into account existing institutions as appropriate.

Currently, the Paris Rulebook allows countries to count non-grant instruments as climate finance, including commercial loans, equity, guarantees and insurance. Under these rules, the United States could give a USD$50 million commercial loan to Malawi for a climate mitigation project. This loan would have to be repaid at market interest rates – a net profit for the US – so its grant-equivalence is $0. But under the Paris Rulebook, the US could report the loan’s face value ($50 million) as climate finance. This is not acceptable. COP25 must ensure that the WIM has robust outcomes and sufficient authority to deliver a fair and ambitious outcome for the poorest and most vulnerable in relation to loss & damage.

i For more details, including how progressivity is calculated and a description of the standard data sets upon which those calculations are based, see For an interactive experience and a finer set of controls, see the Climate Equity Reference Calculator (


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Civil Society Letter concerning the draft UN Resolution on “External Debt Sustainability and Development”

15. November 2019 - 18:25

More than 40 Civil Society Organizations endorsed the below letter supporting the draft UN debt resolution currently being negotiated in the UN General Assembly’s Economic and Financial Committee (Second Committee).

Dear Ambassador,

We welcome the innovations in this year´s draft UN General Assembly Resolution on “External Debt Sustainability and Development” (A/C.2/74/L.9). The new wave of debt crises threatens to derail the 2030 Development Agenda and undermines or even reverses progress towards the SDGs in many countries.  This is why we were delighted to see that the UN General Assembly, as the premier forum for multilateral cooperation, considered new steps to strengthen debt crisis prevention and resolution.

Countries affected by climate disasters such as hurricanes are particularly hard hit by debt crises, a concern also stressed by CARICOM at the 10 October session on debt issues held by the UN General Assembly´s Economic and Financial Committee. According to the recent report of the UN Secretary General on External Debt Sustainability and Development, the external debt of Small Island Developing States has increased 20-fold since the year 2000, with climate disasters playing a major role.

The climate actions listed in paragraph 19 of the draft resolution – comprising the establishment of an interest-free financing facility, temporary debt moratoria to safeguard social spending, and a mechanism to restructure a country´s public external debt – are essential steps for the international community to support countries simultaneously affected by the interlinked challenges of climate disasters and heavy debt burdens. Independent from the negotiations ongoing at the General Assembly, more than 50 CSOs and CSO networks have already signed a petition that calls for similar actions as outlines in the draft Resolution. We call on all UN Member States to adopt the paragraph and work immediately on the implementation of the instruments mentioned.

We also welcome the overdue proposal to set up a legal advisory service for sovereign debt workouts as mentioned in paragraph 24 of the draft resolution. Insufficient legal capacities by insolvent debtor countries that need to address their debt overhangs have contributed to a situation where debt restructurings are conducted in a suboptimal manner, causing avoidable development damage and unnecessary costs for all parties concerned.

Moreover, predatory vulture funds are exploiting this situation through aggressive litigation against debtors. There is abundant evidence of cases where insolvent sovereigns had to buy out predatory vulture funds using tax revenue that was meant to fund public services, or divert ODA inflows that were meant to finance development projects (see for example the 2019 report of the UNHRC Advisory Committee A/HRC/41/51). This situation is unacceptable for citizens and taxpayers. The proposed legal advisory service is a good first step to improve the debt restructuring regime, to support partner countries that fall victim to predatory litigation, and to protect tax revenues and scarce ODA budgets for SDG implementation.  We urge you to adopt the language in the paragraph and work on immediate implementation.

We also welcome the calls from the LDC Group and CARICOM in the Second Committee to urgently work towards a multilateral legal framework for comprehensive sovereign debt restructuring. There is also unfinished work on building a global consensus on guidelines for debtor and creditor responsibilities in borrowing and lending to sovereigns as agreed in the 2019 FfD Forum outcome document and Addis Ababa Action Agenda. We thus urge the Economic and Social Council, as encouraged by the General Assembly, in its resolution 70/190, to consider at its forum on financing for development follow up on how to improve sovereign debt restructuring, as by establishing an open-ended intergovernmental and multistakeholder working group to work towards these multilateral solutions to strengthen the legal framework for debt crisis prevention and resolution.

Yours sincerely 

Africa Development Interchange Network (ADIN)
Both Ends – Netherlands
CCFD – Terre Solidaire 
Christian Aid
Citizen Debt Audit Platform (PACD) -Spain
Debt Free Project – Greece
Debt Justice Norway
Ecumenical Akademy – Czech Republic
Enabanda – Slovenia – Jubilee Germany
Freedom from Debt Campaign of Pakistan
Friends of the Earth Hungary
Gestos – Brasil
Global Policy Forum
Instytut Globalnej Odpowiedzialności (IGO) – Poland
Institute for Social & Economic Justice) Pakistan
Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection – Zambia
Jubilee Debt Campaign UK
Jubilee Scotland
Jubilee USA
Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, USA
Observatorio de la Deuda en la Globalización – Spain
Observatorio Mexicano de la Crisis
Oikos – Portugal 
Planned Governance Network – Zambia
Plateforme dette et développement – France 
Réseau Foi et Justice Afrique-Europe
Save the Children
Servicios Ecumenicos para Reconciliacion y Reconstruccion (SERR) – USA
Stamp Out Poverty – UK
Sisters of Charity – USA
Social Justice in Global Development 
Society for International Development
Uganda Debt Network – Uganda
Undebted World – Greece
Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD)
Zimbabwe United Nations Association 

Download pdf version here.

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Global Indicator Framework on SDGs: update and CSO perspectives

20. Oktober 2019 - 17:41

By Barbara Adams and Karen Judd

Download UN Monitor #09 (pdf version).

The UN Inter-Agency and Expert Group on the SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) is in the final stages of preparing its proposals for the 2020 Comprehensive Review of the global indicator framework of the SDGs, to be submitted to the Statistical Commission by 30 November.

The IAEG-SDGs was established by the UN Statistical Commission to identify a set of indicators by which to measure progress on the SDGs. The resulting global indicator framework was debated at the Commission meeting in March 2016 and accepted subject to refinements as methodologies improved. Thereafter the framework was submitted for an extensive online consultation and the process of revising it has continued through nine biannual IAEG-SDGs meetings—attended by agencies and member states as well as civil society.

At the UN Statistical Commission meeting in March 2019, the IAEG-SDGs submitted, in addition to regular indicator refinements and tier reclassifications, a set of proxy indicators for those lacking agreed methodology, along with 37 possible additional indicators. It also issued a call for proposals for additions, deletions, revisions and replacements to be considered as part of the 2020 Comprehensive Review of the global indicator framework.

According to the criteria set out by the IAEG-SDGs for the Comprehensive Review, an additional indicator may be considered “only in exceptional cases” such as a crucial aspect of an SDG target not being monitored or to address a critical or emerging issue that is not monitored; or when an SDG has very few indicators at Tier I or Tier II.

Following its extensive review of the proposals, and an online consultation in June 2019, the IAEG-SDGs submitted a subset of these proposals, covering 15 of the 17 SDG, to an open consultation 6 August- 8 September 2019.

The subset included (at a rough count) 21 replacements of existing indicators, 4 revisions of existing indicators, 25 additional indicators, 3 deletions of existing indicators and “in a few cases, requests for proposals replacing existing indicators where methodological progress or data collection efforts have stalled.” It included several indicators, including the Gini and the Palma ratios, to measure inequalities between states as well as among them, long requested by civil society organizations (CSOs). There are no proposals to change the indicators used to measure SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) or SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure).

The IAEG-SDGs website reiterates, “The aim of the review will be to maintain the same number of indicators currently in the framework in order not to alter significantly the original framework, which is already being implemented in most countries and not to increase the reporting burden on national statistical systems.”

After reviewing the inputs a revised set of proposals will be presented and discussed at the 10th meeting of the IAEG-SDGs in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 21-24 October 2019.

In preparation for the Addis meeting, a webinar briefing for CSOs was held on 10 October. Addressing next steps, Benjamin Rae of the UN Statistics Division indicated that, depending on how much is agreed upon at Addis, there may be a short additional consultation of one or two weeks before the final list of proposals is drawn up for submission to the Statistical Commission.

Participants at the webinar understood that this stage is the final opportunity to influence the revised global indicator framework. Recognizing that there is not a huge appetite for additional indicators, John Romano of the TAP Network observed that it is “all a bit blurred” now that review process is being merged with comprehensive 2020 review. “At a minimum we should request greater transparency – why proposals included, or accepted and why” and suggested a joint statement requesting greater transparency to clarify which proposals are accepted and why, and focusing on what specifics the IAEG-SDGs should deal with.

Civil society perspectives

The dedicated and expert contributions of CSOs broke new ground during the elaboration of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs, and these efforts have continued through the implementation process, including with the IAEG-SDGs (see GPW briefing #29, “Who influences whom in the policy arena? Statisticians seek greater voice”).

During the webinar several CSOs offered their comments on the process and opportunities for engagement, recognizing increased openness and interaction, formal and informal, compared with that for the MDGs. However, they expressed disappointment on the disconnect between opportunities to input and opportunities to engage on substance as well as the lack of transparency on decision-making.

Antonia Wulff of Education International, speaking of the proposed additional indicators, stated that it is important to understand why previously sound additional indicators are now discarded, “particularly as we were told they could only be added as part of the comprehensive review”. (See Spotlight Report on Sustainable Development 2019, SDG 4)

Sarah Long, of the World Justice Project explained that “there were no opportunities to answer questions and clarify issues” and detailed her organization’s experience.

Speaking of the World Justice Project proposal to add an indicator on access to civil justice to Target 16.3 on rule of law, she noted that the proposal they submitted in June, endorsed by UNDP and OECD, did not get into the open consultation. She eventually was told that UNODC also submitted two other proposals for this indicator, so they should get together to submit one joint proposal. As the current indicator framework only measures access to criminal justice, she explained, Member States agreed to add an indicator on civil justice. Their proposed methodology is the only one there is, she added; countries do not collect data from administrative agencies – which only records use, not access. (See World Justice Project Rule of Law Index)

By the time the joint proposal was submitted, she said, the consultation had closed.  When asked if it was on the agenda for review, she added, the response was equivocal. “It is still not clear if all those that were in consultation will be considered or if some will be dropped.”

Romano joined in on this, saying “We thought this one was safe – but it is not clear yet.”

Later Benjamin Rae of UNSD confirmed it is on the agenda–despite the apparent lack of feedback. He said, “We have 200 proposals, 25 went into consultations, nowhere that many will go into the 2020 review – most likely one will probably make it. In general, replacement indicators more likely than additional indicators.” He added, regarding CSO participation, that the 6th IAEG-SDGs meeting in Beirut was “very strained”, and in 2018 in Vienna the mechanism for stakeholders shifted to support greater participation.

At the 10th meeting, the IAEG-SDGs will first meet in a closed session to review workplans of various working groups, updates on Tier III workplans not proposed for reclassification and data availability of Tier I and Tier II indicators.

The following day, open to all participants, will review the proposals for “revision, replacement, addition and deletion” to the global indicator framework which currently includes 104 Tier I indicators, 89 Tier II indicators, and 23 Tier III indicators.

Also on the agenda is a session on integrating statistical and geospatial information for SDG monitoring and an IAEG-SDGs working meeting on data disaggregation, “by invitation and other meeting participants may attend as observers”.

The next steps in the process will depend on how much is agreed in Addis. Once a new indicator is approved, monitoring begins immediately in order to allow for all of the approved changes to be incorporated into the process of reporting on progress on the SDGs.

CSOs share perspectives on the process going forward

Sarah Long advised, “The IAEG-SDGs wants to consider proposals on technical grounds only and does not want to take up conceptual issues.” She added that they will also not respond advocacy pressure, so it is important to submit the five most important technical points.

Marianne Haslegrave of the Commonwealth Medical Trust, stated: “The role of the custodial agencies is critical – if you can engage separately with them it is useful. It had not been clear to CSOs that everything had to go through custodial agencies.”

This observation echoed the detailed accounts of several participants in the IAEG-SDGs process, many of which are collected in a special edition of Global Policy, called Knowledge and Politics in Setting and Measuring the SDGs, edited by Sakiko Fukada-Parr and Desmond McNeill.

Throughout the process, CSOs have made clear that opportunities to make inputs and to be present at some meetings do not constitute meaningful consultation and participation in contributing with technical and policy relevant expertise and experience. Furthermore accountability extends beyond transparency of documentation and timetables to transparency of and access to key decision-making processes and players.

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Sustainable Development, Debt and Human Rights

9. Oktober 2019 - 14:29

By Elena Marmo

Download UN Monitor #08 (pdf version).

As the dust of the UN General Assembly High-level week settles, the General Assembly and its committees continue their annual work on a myriad of issues. Across the upcoming meetings, the many themes discussed at the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Summit, High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development and High-level meeting on the SAMOA Pathway are salient and pivotal to shaping discussions on macroeconomic conditions for development and human rights.

Looking behind: outcomes of the High-level week

The High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development (FfD) on 26 September 2019 featured inspired discussions on combatting illicit financial flows, financing the SDGs and climate action against rising debt burdens, highlighting the need for structural, macroeconomic changes to lending and trade in order to best equip countries to achieve the SDGs.

At the opening of the High-level dialogue, Secretary-General António Guterres noted that “collaboration is crucial in cracking down on tax avoidance, tax evasion, corruption and illicit financial flows that deprive developing countries of tens of billions of dollars of potential resources for their development every year”. With Domestic Resource Mobilization (DRM) posed as a crucial element to financing the SDGs, the High-level dialogue on FfD afternoon session’s focus on mobilizing and attracting private sector financing could be a danger, should  increased private financing further crowd out the public sector and their role as service providers. Additionally, the President of the General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad Bande stated: “We are again seeing alarming signs of debt accumulation and distress in many places…Debt sustainability must be addressed so that recent history does not repeat itself.”

The concern for debt sustainability was also present in the High-level meeting on the SAMOA Pathway, where keynote speaker Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados urgently reminded Member States that climate change’s disproportionate effects on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have implications for debt burdens as well. She noted, “I refer once again to the plight of Barbuda whose cost of recovery was 10 times that which was pledged and who have still not collected even that which was pledged”, adding that for SIDS, vulnerable to natural disaster and climate risks, debts incurred for development are washed away quickly, leaving countries with high levels of debt and little development to show for it. On this, the Secretary-General said, many SIDS are “trapped in an accelerating and unsustainable cycle of disaster and debt”.

Looking forward: UNGA Second Committee

After the High-level week, the topics of debt and financing contine on the agendas of two General Assembly committees:  the Committee on Economic and Financial affairs (Second) and Committee on Social, Humanitarian & Cultural Issues (Third). These committees will meet for the remainder of 2019 at UN Headquarters in New York City and will be Webcast for those not able to attend in-person. The discussions will see presentations of reports by the Secretary-General as well as UN Independent Experts and Special Rapporteurs, urging action on various fronts.

On 10 October the Second Committee will discuss macroeconomic issues including:  international trade and development. international financial system and development. external debt sustainability and development, commodities, financial inclusion for sustainable development, promotion of international cooperation to combat illicit financial flows and strengthen good practices on assets return to foster sustainable development.

The committee has before it the Secretary-General’s Report on “External debt sustainability and development”.

The report highlights, the “ratio of total external debt to GDP has worsened, increasing to 29.1 per cent in 2018” (p. 5). Figure II below illustrates this upward trend, and its sharp increase since 2015.

The Secretary-General’s report also makes note of the “cycle of disaster and debt” the Secretary-General mentioned at the SAMOA Pathway meeting—calling upon an UNCTAD study on the impact of 21 natural disasters in developing countries between 1980 and 2008. The report recognizes that “such large-scale shocks can add, on average, 24 percentage points to the debt-to-GDP ratio of affected countries in the three years that follow the event. If the event does not lead to a rapid increase in foreign aid, that number could reach 43 percentage points” (p. 8).

While the report explores the increase of private creditors and subsequent shorter-term debt, it omits concerns many have with the role of International Finance Institutions (IFIs) and Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). The report does acknowledge the SDG financing gap (see Figure IV) and calls for “enhanced debt data transparency” as it “is undoubtedly critical to improved future policy designs to address financial and debt distress” and because “meeting the Sustainable Development Goals over the next decade will require more drastic action to mitigate debt vulnerabilities in developing countries and improve debt sustainability now” (p.13).

Finally, although the report offers basic observations about debt trends, it omits comments on a comprehensive debt workout mechanism as presented by civil society organizations at September’s High-level meeting on FfD.

Looking forward: UNGA Third Committee

In its consideration of the foreign debt, the Third Committee will broaden the approach with a thorough investigation on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights. On 21 October, the Independent Expert, Mr. Juan Bohoslavsky, will brief the Member States on his 13th annual report to the General Assembly.

In his report, Bohoslavsky highlights the many ways in which foreign debt actively impedes the realization of human rights. Using the human rights framework as a guide, he argues, “the introduction of austerity measures does not contribute to economic recovery, but instead has negative consequences in terms of economic growth, debt ratios and equality, and routinely results in a series of negative human rights impacts” (p. 2). This holds implications for all lending, but particularly for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.

In taking stock of the global debt crisis, Bohoslavsky notes the “coercive nature” of preconditions and the way in which the growth in number and scope of conditionalities have “reduce[d] the national legal and policymaking space considerably” (p. 7). Despite wide recognition of the pivotal role of the public sector and social services in implementing the SDGs, IFI loans continue to impose conditionalities that include slashing public spending, privatizing public services and regressive tax reforms. Bohoslavsky cites various examples, from the privatization of state-owned enterprises in Ukraine to regressive taxes (value-added taxes) in Colombia and Costa Rica.

The implementation of such conditionalities has a disproportionate effect on already marginalized and vulnerable populations—including lower class individuals and women. Bohoslavsky cites, “mandated cuts to public sector jobs have contributed to rising informality, diminished unemployment benefits, the deterioration of social protections and increased burdens in terms of unpaid care work on women” (p.13). It is clear that such processes not only violate human rights but also result in an increase in inequality and a “threat to social cohesion”.

In response, Bohoslavky’s report includes a demonstration of IFI complicity in the violation of human rights as well as justification for “cessation, non-repetition and reparation”. Key to his argument, Bohoslavsky notes that IFIs can be deemed complicit when “aid or assistance provided by an international organization in question would be considered internationally wrongful, that this element was known by international organization, and the existence of a causal link between the goods or services provided and the harm caused (violations of human rights, in this case)” (p. 15).

It is precisely because Member States often view the IMF as the lender of last resort, that it leverages bargaining power to “exercise influence on the borrower so that the borrower is not fully free to choose its own economic policies” (p.18). This power imbalance inherent to the debt-accumulation process is what makes IFIs complicit in the resulting human rights violations. If human rights impact assessments were carried out to assess potential impacts of lending agreements, rather than a continuation of structural adjustment and austerity measures, there would be positive implications for human rights. This rights-based framework provides grounding in international law to approach deliberations on debt in various fora, in order to uncover and address the injustices and violations inherent to the debt crisis.

Opportunities ahead

The Third Committee’s rights-based mandate enables a myriad of Special Rapporteurs and UN Independent Experts to bring their expertise to bear to close the gap between economic policies and human rights. In the Second Committee’s work on macroeconomic affairs and sustainable development there exists considerable complementarity and some overlap with the Third Committee’s programme of work, and many reports, like Bohoslavsky’s, hold implications for wider discussions not only on macroeconomics, but also sustainable development, gender equality and institutional reform for equity.

The September’s High-level week of summits demonstrated the clear need for comprehensive measures to address the issue of debt, and the complex challenges to be considered within it. As the UN General Assembly continues its work in the Second and Third Committees, opportunities must not be missed to present concrete next steps and actions to remedy the debt crisis.

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People’s Assembly Debates UN Reform and HLPF Review

1. Oktober 2019 - 15:14

By Elena Marmo

Download UN Monitor #07 (pdf version).

Last week, the UN General Assembly 74th Session’s first full week in New York City met amid High-level meetings on climate, health, the SDGs, financing for development, and Small Island Developing States. Over 90 Heads of State or Government convened at UN Headquarters for this political moment, described by the outgoing President of the General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés as “inextricably linked strands of DNA that make up our ‘blueprint’ for the world”.

Integral to this year’s session has been the heightened participation of corporate, philanthropic and financial actors in both the official, High-level meetings themselves and a variety of concurrent meetings including the SDG Business Forum, the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact Summit, UN Global Compact events, the Bloomberg Global Business Forum and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Goalkeepers event.

On 24-25 September, parallel to these High-level UN meetings and closed-door or invitation only business meetings, civil society organisations convened at the Church Center just across the street, not having been awarded meeting space in the UN premises. From here, overlooking the various security checkpoints and motorcades pulling into the United Nations, members of civil society engaged in critical discussions on the future of sustainable development and reforms needed to ensure a just and equitable future for all.

The People’s Assembly, organised by the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), hosted a session on “High level political forum (HLPF) Reform Including the Role of Private Sector in the UN”. The conversation, moderated by Jens Martens of Global Policy Forum, featured panelists Oli Henman of Action 4 Sustainable Development (A4SD), John Romano of the Transparency, Accountability, Participation (TAP) Network, Kate Donald of the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) and Barbara Adams of the Global Policy Forum. Their remarks and the subsequent interactive conversation touched on challenges and opportunities ahead regarding reform to the wider UN, proposals to reconstitute the HLPF, and immediate opportunities to reform the HLPF.

Big-picture thinking

Wider UN system reform concerns and core principles such as participation and multilateralism were at the forefront of the discussion. Kate Donald of CESR raised the challenge of holding actors outside the UN, like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, to account, while Barbara Adams of GPF identified the trend of “multi-stakeholderism” and its potential for crowding out the public sector as also requiring accountability. These concerns hold implications not only for the SDGs and 2030 Agenda, but more broadly for the future of global governance and multilateralism.

Donald discussed the IMF’s largely unaccountable role in influencing both SDG implementation and wider UN norms and policies. She noted that the IMF has been “positioning itself as an actor on the SDGs and exercises a lot of financial, intellectual, ideological power over how countries implement the SDGs”. And in the cases of Egypt and Brazil, which she discusses in her 2019 Spotlight Report chapter with colleague Grazielle David, the countries saw adverse effects for SDGs when implementing IMF-supported (or sanctioned) austerity measures and public spending freezes. She points out that the IMF therefore “has influence on fiscal and policy space outside of the UN” and in turn has implications for not only achievement of the SDGs but the authority and relevance of global governance as well.

Adams highlighted concerns regarding the UN system-widetrend toward “multi-stakeholderism”, recognising that while it may create room for civil society participation, along with it comes an increased role for the unaccountable private sector and a crowding out of the fundamental role of the public sector in governance. Donald points out a critical distinction, saying multi-stakeholderism is different than participation” and that the “problem with multi-stakeholderism is it obscures power dynamics”. Adams notes that the “challenges we are facing won’t be solved with win-win approaches, there are conflicts of interests” and “solutions that don’t tackle power asymmetries aren’t going to do it”. This point is particularly resonant in her recent 2019 Spotlight Report contribution, “Democratic global governance: if it doesn’t challenge power it isn’t democratic”.

It is through this enhanced multi-stakeholderism that the UN is promoting what is now called “shared value partnerships” and effectively reducing the responsibility and role of governments and the public sector while also stalling the much-needed systemic changes in the realms of wealth distribution, corporate and elite accountability, and old models of economic development. Adams elaborated on this idea, stating, “We are not going to be protecting and advancing human rights and stopping ecological destruction through shared-value partnerships if we allow the UN to become just another stakeholder.”

With panelists and participants raising questions around the 75th Anniversary of the UN, the session encouraged all to think about their vision of the UN and their corresponding theories of change. In what ways can the 75th Anniversary be the start of a conversation on the future of the United Nations and an opportunity to begin a more robust reform process, rather than a simple tinkering of methods and process?

An HLPF Reconstituted 

The panelists and participants also raised questions and suggestions on means to reconstitute the HLPF, focusing on a medium-term approach with questions on the role the HLPF and SDGs play in the broader UN. The same bigger-picture concerns raised around outside actors and multi-stakeholderism also apply here—reform to the HLPF can have wider reverberations across the UN System.

A key challenge to the HLPF’s effectiveness is its heritage and purpose. As participants highlighted, the HLPF was established to be a forum rather than an intergovernmental body. Romano of TAP Network said that as “it’s not a decision-making body, how do we maybe upgrade” the HLPF? Henman of A4SD describes the HLPF as “lacking real teeth and doesn’t inspire action on behalf of government”.

In this context, Barbara Adams of GPF suggests a serious restructuring of the HLPF, advocating it be brought under the General Assembly and given a status similar to the Human Rights Council so that it has the capacity to set norms and overcome governance weakness at a global level.

On the topic of reconstituting the HLPF, there exists an opportunity to leverage the human rights system—both in terms of learning and of coordinating. Kate Donald of CESR notes calls to give “the human rights system more credence, more teeth, and strength within the SDGs accountability sphere”. Perhaps what she called the ‘accountability by design’ of the human rights system can lend itself to the accountability gap the HLPF is facing.

The panelists and participants also raised the lack of coherence feeding the accountability gap and impeding the 2030 Agenda from realisation its full potential. After the panelists’ remarks, participants likened the challenges of coherence to “taping a new crown jewel on the old crown…inviting more and more people to an old framework”. Because of the universality of the 2030 Agenda, actors across the UN System and beyond can certainly make links to their work and support implementation. And as the Secretary-General and UN Leadership continuously position the SDGs as the guiding force and preventive tool for global safety and prosperity, the more the HLPF seems entirely inadequate for the task.

Kate Donald of CESR notes the “SDGs are everywhere and nowhere” which results in a “fundamental lack of coherence”. Because as Donald says, there is a “lack of accountability around who is talking about them and isn’t,” the SDGs become talking points and ambitious goals to “get behind” without any accountability regarding implementation and follow-through. This “SDG-washing” can be seen by actors such as the World Bank, IMF and major companies outside of the UN as well as across the UN System. Most recently, UN entity executive boards met in September to discuss the implementation of A/RES/72/279 to reposition the United Nations to serve the 2030 Agenda and each of them highlighted their successes on SDG progress.

HLPF Immediate

As part of the HLPF mandate, every four years the forum must carry out a “follow-up and review” process to assess progress and effectiveness of the HLPF and make necessary changes. The same bigger-picture concerns were raised around outside actors, multi-stakeholderism and progress of the 2030 Agenda. John Romano of the TAP Network notes, “HLPF reform is the beginning of the conversation” and presents an opportunity to “bring colleagues from national and local level” to make immediate changes. Hence, he focused on reform to the Voluntary National Review (VNR) process, along with panelist Oli Henman of A4SD. Henman describes the VNR process as an opportunity for governments, featuring a “showing of tourism videos, a pick and mix of SDGs they want to report on.”

Henman and Romano discussed various proposals to lengthen the VNR portion of the HLPF to address the problem that “accountability and real change are still not happening” as noted by Henman. Romano highlighted the need to address the role national and local civil society can play in holding governments accountable to the SDGs and VNRs they’ve committed to. Participants reiterated this need for accountability of Member States and suggested incentives like access to special appointments within the UN and disincentives like real-time fact checkers, rating the authenticity of statements made in session.

Romano also raised the relevance of the Regional SDG Fora as “more honest and in-depth”. An immediate action could very well include increased participation and investment in these fora, which also presents an opportunity for local and grassroots civil society to participate in a setting with a lower barrier to entry. And perhaps the goal-by-goal thematic review portion of the HLPF might be scrapped altogether, which Kate Donald of CESR supported. With proposals to divide the HLPF into two or more distinct sessions, she pointed out that this could prevent colleagues and Member States with limited means from participating to the fullest.


While this prospect of reform to the HLPF in the short and long term amid broader reform to the UN System can appear daunting and discouraging, the current political moment—the HLPF review, the 75th Anniversary, and growing discontent in the status quo among civil society—presents a real opportunity to shape the international development architecture and create a fairer, more equitable world where human rights and sustainable development can be realised.

From immediate changes to the VNR process, enhanced accountability action and regional participation to a medium-term reconstituting of the HLPF and a long-term shaping of the United Nations, the People’s Assembly served as a space to convene and discuss the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.

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Major action must be taken to access ‘hidden’ finance to fulfil SDGs

26. September 2019 - 16:39

UN High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development – 26 Sept

Civil society groups call for urgent reforms to combat illicit financial flows, abolish tax havens, introduce a global wealth tax and an intergovernmental body on tax cooperation.

New York, 26 September: The High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development which follows the SDG Summit, must urgently find ways to access the funds governments need to achieve the SDGs, say members of the Reflection Group*.

“The 2030 Agenda cites the enormous disparities of opportunity, wealth and power as one of the immense challenges to sustainable development. And yet governments are not doing nearly enough to tackle these challenges, despite a plethora of robust policy proposals emanating from civil society, academics and others”, say Kate Donald from the Center for Economic and Social Rights and Jens Martens from the Global Policy Forum.

Growing accumulation of private wealth while governments become poorer

Since 2015, the growth in global inequality has accelerated, with a small group of individuals and companies getting richer and richer. This concentration of economic power and wealth buys political influence, and may explain the adoption of regressive tax policies: since the 1980s, statutory corporation income tax rates have declined from an average 45% to 25-30%.

“At the same time governments are become poorer, so are forced to cut state services, adding to this wealth inequality, and hampering the achievement of the SDGs”, says Martens. The irony is that governments are now calling on those same private actors that have accumulated such wealth to run the public services they need to keep their countries afloat.

The rich have a much bigger ecological footprint as they consume more, and can influence decision makers to prevent robust action to fight climate change which would contradict their interests.

Urgent action needed to combat illicit financial flows

The scale of tax evasion and tax avoidance has ballooned, and the way wealthy private individuals and multinational companies stash their money in tax havens is being singled out for urgent action during the Financing for Development High Level Dialogue. Donald and Martens suggest the following measures:

  • institute a serious crack-down against illicit financial flows, including through mandatory country-by-country reporting for transnational corporations, effective measures against the manipulation of transfer pricing and taking action against tax havens;
  • move decisively towards the introduction of a Global Asset Register to record ownership of equity, bonds and other financial and non-financial assets;
  • introduce a globally coordinated wealth tax, along the lines suggested by economist Thomas Piketty, such as a 1% tax on wealth of $1–5 million, and 2% tax above $5 million.
  • establishing an intergovernmental body on tax cooperation under UN auspices in which all countries participate equally.

“The policies we suggest are practical and doable, if the political will can be mustered”, say Donald and Martens. “We believe they could be the prerequisite to unleash the transformative potential of the SDGs, and fulfil their ambition to realise the human rights of all”.

For more information or to talk to Jens Martens or Kate Donald, please contact: Daphne Davies: Tel/WhatsApp:US: +1 917 291 3560; UK: +447770230251,

* The Reflection Group on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a joint initiative by a number of leading global civil society organisations including economic and social policy organisations, human rights organisations, feminist organisations and trade unions. It is supported by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

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Another view of the Climate Action Summit

25. September 2019 - 22:19

The so-called ‘Climate Action Summit’ was an odd affair. It began with a youth dialogue, including a speech from Greta Thunberg, who called out the audience of heads of state and CEOs of some of the companies known for their inaction in the face of the climate emergency.

“How dare you say it is business as usual”, “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth, how dare you”, she said. This public telling off was greeted with tumultuous applause – perhaps showing that it was going to be business as usual after all.

Continuing the business of the day: the aim of the Summit was to “boost ambition and rapidly accelerate action to implement the Paris Agreement”, something some of the richest countries on earth have resolutely chosen to ignore or to obstruct.

Countries show off their achievements

The day was arranged into a series of sessions, during which we heard from a number of countries of the plans they had put, or were putting in place, with some positive results.

The Colombian speaker described how a coalition of eight Latin American countries, including Colombia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Haiti were working together so that by 2030, 70% of regional energy will come from renewable sources.

The Chinese state counsellor said that the country was mobilising stakeholders and resources to scale up pre 2020 actions, while its neighbour India is devising low carbon pathways for industry.

Germany plans to phase out coal by 2038.

The New Zealand Prime Minister recounted how on a visit to Tokelau she learnt that the sea is invading the seaside burial grounds, so there will be a zero carbon bill in Parliament to ensure the country keeps to its 1.5 degree limit.

Perhaps the most moving presentation – apart from Thunberg – was that by the Marshall Islands, one of the countries most likely to suffer from the climate emergency, who’s President described it as “representative of the most climate-vulnerable people on earth.

Business – turns from bad to good fairy

This time around business is showing that it is a full-time actor – and perhaps will make a full-time take-over of the UN. Each of the sessions – except the last one on Small Island Developing States – had a presentation from a business CEO, financial institution, or philantrocapitalist (billionaires who have turned over a new leaf).

It was edifying to see how positive they all were about the changes they were planning to bring about. Almost as if, having finally made it to ‘the good side’, they wanted to prove how well they were behaving and collect their gold stars.

Willis Towers Watson CEO and Board Director, John Haley talked about investment to low and middle income countries to build infrastructure to withstand climatic risks. The Chairman of Danone spoke on working to build a 1% coalition of food and agri-based businesses around the world, which are committed to putting nature-based solutions at the heart of their businesses.

Bill Gates, who is now co-chair of the Global Commission of Adaptation described how the Commission will focus on scaling up support to farmers, with services such as digital advisory services, farmer finance, and implementing policies that incentivise resilience. Strangely there was an emphasis on how big the returns could be on investment – almost as if this were a company presentation.

All in all, another day at the new-style UN.

By Daphne Davies.

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Gender Equality: a thread running through the Sustainable Development Goals

25. September 2019 - 18:49

UN SDG Summit: 24-25 September

The need for gender equality is being referred to throughout discussions on the SDGs as an important prerequisite to achieving the goals

25 September New York: “There is simply no way we can achieve the 17 SDGs without achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls”. Who said this? A feminist polemicist? No, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pointing out that gender equality is the thread running through the 2030 Agenda.

“We need to understand that gender equality does not depend only on national efforts to implement the SDGs – it requires new international governance arrangements” says Cecilia Alemany from DAWN, a contributor to Spotlight 2019*, a Civil Society Reflection Group publication that analyses annual progress on the 17 SDGs.

A central plank of achieving women’s human rights is the recognition and validation of unpaid care work, and the rights of informal sector workers including in global production chains where women predominate. None of this can be adequately addressed at the national level alone.

The feminization of poverty is a continuing global challenge and, at the same time as fighting structural inequalities, women play a central role in reducing poverty and hunger (SDG1), achieving food security and sustainable agriculture (SDG2) and eliminating violence and conflict (SDG16).

Women’s position – a barometer of achieving the SDGs

A country cannot be said to have achieved equal access to quality education (SDG4) if girls don’t go to secondary school or if those who have reached high levels of education continue to work in the low productive sectors. A population isn’t healthy (SDG3) if women continue to die in childbirth, or gender violence is considered as a normal practice against teenage girls and women. Decent work and social protection (SDG8) aren’t achieved until women’s unpaid work and their lack of social protection is addressed.

Providing public services is a state obligation, a human right and a policy tool to fight women’s inequality. “The SDGs aren’t going to be achieved if social services are cut to reduce deficits and women are forced to take over state responsibilities in the face of budget cuts”, says Gita Sen from DAWN.

It is important to fight to prevent increased privatisation of public services, as there is clear evidence that free access to public services reduces poverty – in OECD countries this has reduced poverty by 20%. Current decisions on what appear to be very attractive public-private partnerships will impact future policy space and states’ capacity to decide and own their social services provision.

More power-sharing in supra-national organisations

Without a change “at the top” in international governance, women’s concerns will never be addressed. ”Power is still very masculine everywhere, and it is hard to find women’s rights activists in international financial institutions”, says Alemany. If discussions for achieving SDGs at the SDG Summit are going to lead anywhere, among the measures needed for women’s equality are:

  • Avoid the increasing reductionist vision that gender equality is a smart investment. This ignores how macroeconomic policies, global value chains and reduced policy space for developing countries harm women;
  • strengthen human rights, including women’s rights in existing policy and funding initiatives and implement all SDGs nationally and internationally;
  • ensure gender parity in international organisations and national governments;
  • secure direct participation by women’s rights and feminist organizations in governance fora and bodies. Enable women from the global South, rather than northern female philanthropists or entrepreneurs, to make their views known;
  • promote gender equality and real partnerships with local feminist and women’s rights organisations to support their work, influence and advocacy;
  • recognise that violence against women, and femicide, particularly in the global South, is an emergency that can only be stopped through budget allocation and policy efforts.
  • Secure full funding for the UN human rights’ treaties system and ensure that their sessions are implemented; and that they incorporate women’s organizations’ voices and recommendations, as has not always been the practice.

To find out more, please contact: Daphne Davies: Tel/WhatsApp:US: +1 917 291 3560; UK: +447770230251,

* To see Spotlight 2019 report on all 17 SDG:

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It is not possible to implement the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals without quality public services

24. September 2019 - 18:19

SDG Summit: 24-25 September 2019

SDG 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation

24 September, New York: “Public infrastructure is the bedrock of our societies: it helps families thrive, and allows communities and businesses to grow”, says David Boys, from global trade union federation Public Services International.

For this reason it is impossible to build a resilient infrastructure, an aspect of SDG 9, without a firm foundation of human rights and universal access to quality public services, says David Boys, writing in Spotlight 2019*, published by the Civil Society Reflection Group, which analyses annual progress on the 17 SDGs.

Under-investment in public services results in lower growth and a rise in right-wing populism, where austerity and cuts in public services contribute to feelings of alienation and an increase in nationalism and xenophobia.

If big business paid their taxes, this would fund public services

“If corporations and the super-rich paid their fair share of taxes, rather than siphoning off this money, there would be enough to fund quality public services, end poverty and achieve the SDGs”, said Boys.

One stated reason for privatising state services is the shortage of public funds, but this has partly been the result of those companies which are now private ‘partners’ in state services stashing away the money they should have paid in tax havens – US$20 trillion is being held offshore.

Many failed privatised services brought back into public ownership – (remunicipalised)

Privatisation (also known as public-private partnerships) has been the Bretton Woods institutions’ official policy since the Thatcher-Reagan years. Multinational corporations have been able to capture monopoly public services as a condition of loans, imposed by the IMF, the World Bank and the regional development banks. This corporate capture has spread beyond governments to include the UN. Companies which provide services and financial and data management expertise are all lining up to profit from public services and public policies.

Despite the well-documented failures of austerity and privatisation in meeting the needs of the poor, the IMF continues to insist that countries cut public services and public spending, says Boys.

The UK has witnessed recent massive failures of privatisation. Global privateer Carillion collapsed in 2018, holding hundreds of privatisation contracts in the UK and overseas, forcing national and local governments to step in to save services and jobs. UK water utilities are well known to overcharge users, using the money to pay hefty profits to their overseas private equity owners, sheltered in tax havens. Rail transport is a mess, requiring billions in public bailouts.

The failures of privatisation are leading governments of all stripes to bring services back under public management, as shown by a report from Transnational Institute where from 2000 to 2017 at least 835 services such as water energy and health care were brought back in 45 countries.

Public services strengthen democracy

An under-appreciated aspect of strong public services is their ability to reinforce the link between people and their communities, says Boys. “When services are in the public domain, people have a closer link to how their money is spent and which services are provided, particularly at local level. Engaging people in democracy is part of the 2030 Agenda’s transformational vision”.

During the week of the UN Summits: 24-27 September, the Reflection Group will be commenting on progress to the SDGs. To find out more, please contact: Daphne Davies: Tel/WhatsApp (US) +1 917 291 3560 (UK) +447770230251,

To talk to David Boys of Public Service International, please contact: Marcelo Netto,

* To see Spotlight 2019 report on all 17 SDG:

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UN Health Summit must stop philanthrocapitalism taking over the WHO

23. September 2019 - 17:54

23 September: UN High-Level meeting on Universal Health Coverage

Global UN Watchdog warns that while big donors bridge the gap in WHO funding they are also shaping health programmes according to business norms, and marginalising public health programmes. The writers suggest measures to reinstate the WHO at the centre of Universal Health Coverage

New York, 22 September: When the Global Health Summit opens on Monday, its morning session will focus on using the campaign for Universal Health Coverage as a driver of the Sustainable Development Goal 3: Ensuring healthy lives.

“The debate today must start from the principle that global health is a public good, and the aim of Primary Health Care for people-centred health services has to be applied”, emphasised Karolin Seitz, from Global Policy Forum, a member of the Reflection Group.*

Writing in Spotlight2019**, Karolin Seitz and Nicoletta Dentico, from Health Innovation in Practice, say the creeping trend of philanthrocapitalism in health is changing the way the WHO builds and executes its programmes.

Philanthrocapitalism is a trend in which wealthy, motivated donors give millions of dollars to the United Nations, often to support development work. The OECD estimates that between 2013 and 2015 private foundations gave US$7.8 billion a year, mainly for health, education and nutrition.

Applying a business model to solving health problems may mean quick fixes

The Gates Foundation has provided the cash-starved UN World Health Organisation much-needed funds. While lauding the generosity, critics say this forces the WHO to adopt its donor’s business models in programme execution and design, which is inappropriate for a ‘rights-based solution’ to health provision, envisaged in the 2030 Agenda.

Donors often push for technological quick-fixes or choose to support problems with the quickest solutions, veering away from longer-term needs like strengthening health systems or changing the social reasons for poor health.

“In the discussion, any attempt to place the market at the centre of health provision should be avoided”, says Seitz.

The lack of democratic responsibility

There is also concern that these global foundations are taking over the remit of intra-governmental institutions like the WHO in health, shaping the global development agenda and setting priorities for international institutions and national governments.

They also lack democratic responsibility. They not accountable to anyone: not to the UN, nor to governments, nor to the communities with which they are working.

The growing use of public-private partnerships

One popular philanthrocapitalism move is to suggest public-private partnerships, making private sector involvement a prerequisite for cooperation and funding. This is reflected in Panel 2 at the Health Summit: ‘Accelerating multi-sectoral and multi-stake-holder action and investment for achieving UHC’. The presence of different stakeholders frequently results in the fragmentation of health provision and governance.

Multi-stakeholder partnerships implicitly devalue governments and the public sector, and overvalue the status of private actors in providing public goods and services.

Putting health provision and governance back into public hands

Dentico and Seitz argue that this trend needs to be reversed, and WHO restored to centre-stage in overseeing global health provision, via the following measures:

  • Undertake independent assessments of cooperation with philanthropists at national and international levels. This should cover cost/benefit analysis, conflict of interests, and long-term impacts on the chain of responsibilities.
  • Design fiscal policies for raising income and for fair wealth distribution.
  • Identify measures to bind Member States to contribute financially to common goods’ delivery in health, which will increase state funding to WHO.
  • Devise regulations for interaction with private actors, including philanthropic foundations at the UN. These should legislate against conflict of interest and the revolving-door phenomenon.
  • Devise measures to clarify the rules that dictate philanthropic organisations’ roles in implementing the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.

For more information, please contact: Daphne Davies: Tel/WhatsApp:US: + 1 917 291 3560, US: +44 7770230251,


* The Reflection Group on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a joint initiative by a number of leading global civil society organisations including economic and social policy organisations, feminist organisations and trade unions. It is supported by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

** Its publication Spotlight2019 can be found at:

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UN Climate Summit: 23 September

20. September 2019 - 12:30

Will world leaders at the Climate Summit match the courage of the school students who strike around the world against the climate emergency, or will they be put to shame?

20 September, New York: Will the tone of Monday’s UN Climate Summit pale in contrast with the courage of striking students who are taking a day off school in 120 countries,  to march for action to confront the climate emergency, though many know they could face severe penalties?

“We demand and expect the UN and leaders around the world to lead. With young people taking that role, now they have to show us they can catch up”, said Barbara Adams, from Global Policy Watch, a UN watchdog.

The climate emergency comes nearer every day, with the total devastation of the Bahamian Island of Abaco by Cyclone Dorian as the most recent example of the catastrophic effects of climate change. With temperatures predicted to rise by 1.5℃ in 10 years, ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option.

Developed countries must fulfil commitments to address the climate emergency

In the lead-up to the Climate Summit UN Secretary-General António Guterres has asked governments to promote action to address the climate emergency.

Writing in the Reflection Group’s Spotlight 2019, a report on the status of the 2030 Agenda,* Indrajit Bose, senior researcher with Third World Network, calls on developed country governments, which are responsible for causing the climate emergency, to uphold their commitments to support developing countries, which are already experiencing the effects.

Developed countries have – grudgingly – acknowledged their responsibility for the climate emergency, and pledged billions of dollars to support developing countries.

At the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2010, they agreed to address the needs of developing countries, and at the 2015 Paris Climate Summit, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) was operationalised. It was agreed to mobilise US$100 billion a year by 2020 for the most vulnerable developing countries to take adaptation and mitigation measures.

Will developed countries step up to the plate at the Climate Summit?

“Those who have benefitted the most, must accept they need to change the most, and to make reparations”, says Barbara Adams. ”We wait to see if developed countries will use the occasion of the Climate Summit to agree to make good on their commitments for the GCF’s first formal replenishment in 2019”.

Unfortunately, the prospects are not good. Developed countries have tried to cut down on their financial commitments on the grounds that they will only give funds to match money that developing countries have accessed from other sources. In another sleight of hand, in order to increase their power on the Green Climate Fund Finance Board, they have tried to link their voting rights to the level of funds they agreed to put in, thus changing the current balance of 12 members from developing and 12 members from developed countries.

In his Spotlight contribution, Indrajit Bose emphasises that developed countries must:

  • fulfil their obligations on climate finance;.
  • recognise the critical need to help developing countries increase capacity to implement low-emissions and climate-resilient projects and programmes;.
  • stick to the Paris Agreement on a new collective, quantified finance goal before 2025 to take developing countries’ needs into account.

Will world leaders take the lead from the world’s children in pushing for stronger action on the climate emergency and on climate finance, or will they be put to shame?

For more information, or to talk to Barbara Adams or Indrajit Bose, please contact: Daphne Davies: Tel/WhatsApp +447770230251, * The Reflection Group on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a joint initiative by a number of leading global civil society organisations including economic and social policy organisations, women’s groups and trade unions. It is supported by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

Its publication Spotlight 2019 can be found here.

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When one session closes, another one opens: Looking ahead to the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly

19. September 2019 - 1:37

By Elena Marmo

With the focus firmly on preparations for the UN General Assembly (UNGA) High-Level Week (23-27 September), the Presidents of the General Assembly (PGAs) and the UN Secretary-General expressed their concerns and ambitions in closing the 73rd Session and opening the 74th Session.

While the UNGA High-Level Week will feature high-level meetings on climate, universal health coverage, financing for development, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and solutions for Small Island Developing States (SIDS), the UNGA’s remit goes far beyond that week, with meetings spanning the entire year, and a new session beginning each September.

The closing of the 73rd Session sees the departure of UNGA President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés of Ecuador while the opening of the 74th sees the arrival of new President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande of Nigeria.

At the closing of the 73rd Session on 16 September, Secretary-General António Guterres and outgoing President Espinosa Garcés reflected on the work of the 73rd session, imploring Member State delegates to continue to pursue the many challenges the multilateral body is designed to address, with particular emphasis on the significance of the forthcoming 75th UN Anniversary. At the opening of the 74th Session on 17 September, incoming President Muhammad-Bande closed this loop, highlighting his plans and vision for continuing the work thus far and bringing new themes to the attention of Member States.

Priorities of the UN General Assembly

In her remarks at the closing of the 73rd Session, Espinosa Garcés highlighted her work on seven priorities identified at the outset of her presidency–advancing gender equality, inclusive UN access, eradication of single-use plastics, the Global Compact on Migration, and dialogue on decent work for all with a focus on inclusion for women and youth, increasing dialogue on synergies, and strengthening multilateralism.

At the opening of the 74th Session, Muhammad-Bande outlined his priorities for the tenure of his presidency including conflict prevention, poverty reduction, zero-hunger, inclusive access to education, climate change and social inclusion across UN policies. In terms of conflict prevention, Muhammad-Bande noted he will be working closely with the Security Council to “advocate for effective early detection and warning systems, as well as mediation, negotiation and peaceful settlement of ongoing conflicts” and “to engender cooperation that will address drivers of conflicts such as poverty, exclusion and illiteracy”.

Strengthening Multilateralism

At the closing of the 73rd Session, Espinosa Garcés noted, “I am more convinced than ever that multilateralism and the United Nations are irreplaceable and that, when we work together, there is no goal we cannot reach. We have, literally the power to transform the world, to do better for all people, to do it more inclusively and sustainably.”

While multilateralism remains under attack and the increased corporate sector engagement at the UN has engendered growing discontent among civil society, the Secretary-General and outgoing PGA reaffirm the relevance and necessity of the UN as a multilateral forum. Espinosa Garcés stated: “Today, at the end of my mandate, I can affirm with absolute conviction that the General Assembly is the ideal space – and the only one – to reach agreements, to advance global solutions.”

Further, Guterres noted: “From the climate crisis to migration flows and rising inequality, from waves of intolerance to harnessing technology for good, one thing is certain: global issues require global solutions. The United Nations General Assembly is our universal platform to build consensus for the common good.”

And in his opening remarks at the 74th Session, Muhammad-Bande reiterated this thought, noting that, “we must never forget that the world looks up to the UN as a vehicle for attaining peace and security, sustainable development and universal human rights”. Guterres highlighted this at the opening of the 74th Session as well, recalling conversations with Muhammad-Bande on how “transparency, dialogue and greater understanding are essential to alleviating…the trust deficit between nations”.

Reform to the UN System (UNS)

Along with an emphasis on multilateralism, both the outgoing and incoming General Assembly presidents as well as the Secretary-General made note of the role of ongoing reform to the United Nations Development System (UNDS) in helping the multilateral institution deliver more effectively for all. The Secretary-General emphasized that, “the United Nations continued over the past year to advance its comprehensive reforms at an unprecedented pace and scale…to make our Organization more nimble, effective and efficient – and to better serve ‘we the peoples’ of the world”.

Espinosa Garcés remarked on the importance of building on reforms carried out thus far for the 75th UN Anniversary in 2020, which Guterres called “a crucial year…to convince people that the United Nations is relevant to all and that multilateralism offers real solutions to global challenges”.

Muhammad-Bande reiterated this in his remarks as well, stating, “in line with the far-sighted vision of its founders” the Assembly needs to “redouble its efforts to bridge gaps and act for the common good of the people we serve, particularly as we prepare for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Organization”. Muhammad-Bande has also gone on record highlighting hopes for reform to the Security Council.

UN General Assembly (UNGA) High-Level Week

As the High-Level Week will take place under the presidency of the 74th Session of the UNGA, in her closing remarks Espinosa Garcés noted that “next week’s meetings must not be treated as stand-alone events but as a package. Indeed, they are inextricably linked strands of DNA that make up our ‘blueprint’ for the world.” Muhammad-Bande has called the week a “key opportunity to demonstrate that multilateralism works”.

With the much anticipated High-Level Week as a start to the 74th Session of the UNGA, the eyes of the international community will be on the Heads of State or Government to address the Summits’ interlinked and complex issues. To read more on the challenges and opportunities these meetings present, read Global Policy Watch’s analysis here.

Muhammad-Bande has reminded Member States that “we will have to strive together, to deliver for all” and to “build trust with one another, deepen partnerships and show empathy” as “the only way to resolve the many challenges that confront us”.

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UN week of Summits: Are the winds of change beginning to blow across the UN?

13. September 2019 - 17:49

Civil Society watchdog says the UN week of summits 23-27 September could see more positive action on the climate emergency, on implementing the Sustainable Development Goals and could change the direction of financing for development.

New York, 13 September 2019: “In the four years since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) most governments have failed to turn the proclaimed transformational vision of the agenda into policies that bring about real change, but there are signs of push-back’”, says Jens Martens of the Global Policy Forum and the Civil Society Reflection Group in the run up to the Week of UN Summits (23-27 September).

Over 100 Heads of Government will to attend this unusual week of five UN Summits covering climate, health, finance, small island states and the Sustainable Development Goals. With so many key meetings piled on top of each other, the synergies between the different areas: climate, health, gender and finance are becoming clearer.

Global Policy Forum is hopeful this might indicate a shift from ‘business as usual’, as world leaders are increasingly aware that promises to improve life for billions of people are failing, inequalities are increasing, and the planet is heating up.

UN Climate Summit- faces up to the destruction wrought by climate change

The week opens with the “Climate Action Summit” (23 Sept). UN Secretary-General António Guterres has asked the Summit to promote action to address the climate crisis and both mitigate and adapt to its impacts.

With the destruction of the Bahamian Island of Abaco, the world is seeing the catastrophic consequences of ‘business as usual’.

Indrajit Bose of the Third World Network says “developed countries must stand by their commitments to cut emissions and provide the promised finance for developing countries to take mitigation and adaptation measures”.

Assessing progress on the Sustainable Development Goals

The SDG Summit takes place on 24-25 Sept, and the Reflection Group  has a track record of assessing governments and international organizations’ progress in attaining the SDGs*. Its members hope that governments will not waste the opportunity to turn away from deregulation, corporate voluntarism and self-regulation of ‘the markets’. They point out that the nuclear power plant melt-down in Fukushima, Japan, was a clear example of the effects of this policy.

“To avoid future calamities on this scale, governments must improve regulation for sustainability and human rights”, says Barbara Adams, from Global Policy Watch.

The end of the 1980’s mantra ‘There is no alternative’

The Financing for Development (FfD) Summit (26 Sept) will look at the state of development finance.

“An important and welcome change is that the 1980’s mantra that ‘There is No Alternative (TINA)’ to Neo-Liberalism is over”, says Roberto Bissio of Social Watch. “We are urging those at the Summits to strengthen public finance at all levels, and to draw up budgets that take into account the long-term effects of extracting and consuming non-renewable resources, or the rights and welfare of poor and low-income people”.

The Reflection Group welcomes the discussion at the FfD meeting on ‘Putting public resources to work for more equal sustainable societies, including combatting illicit financial flows’. It says the meeting must suggest measures to eliminate corporate tax incentives, and strengthen global tax cooperation to counter the tax race to the bottom and schemes of tax abuse.

Can the UN live up to the challenges?

All these reforms demand well-equipped and -resourced national and international public institutions. At the global level, the premier multilateral institution – the UN – must to be updated and strengthened to ensure it is adequately resourced and that decision-making is democratic, elements which have been missing in recent years, finishes the Reflection Group.

In the run-up and during the week of the UN Summits, members of the Reflection Group will be commenting and assessing progress on the Climate, SDG and Financing for Development Summits.

For more information, or to talk to any of those mentioned in the press release, please contact: Daphne Davies: Tel/WhatsApp +447770230251,

* To see the Reflection Group reports on the Sustainable Development Goals: Its publication Spotlight 2019 can be accessed here.

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Brussels Launch: Who’s paying the bill?

11. September 2019 - 17:19

Four years after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda the world is off-track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In order to turn the transformational vision of the 2030 Agenda into real transformational policies, there needs to be a shift towards more coherent fiscal and regulatory policies. In addition, policy coherence for sustainable development requires to fully take into account the externalities and spill-over effects of European policies, production and consumption patterns. With an emphasis on environmental and social impact beyond our borders, the “Spotlight Report Sustainability in Europe. Who is paying the Bill?” will be presented in Brussels on September 11, 2019.

Spotlight Report Launch Brussels

Who’s paying the bill? – Reshaping Governance for Sustainability


Four years after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda the world is off-track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In order to turn the transformational vision of the 2030 Agenda into real transformational policies, there needs to be a shift towards more coherent fiscal and regulatory policies.

The implementation of the 2030 Agenda is not just a matter of better policies. It requires more holistic and more sweeping shifts in how and where power is vested, including through institutional, legal, social, economic and political commitments to realising human rights and ecological justice. This is the key message of this year’s “Spotlight Report on Sustainable Development” that is co-authored by a network of international NGOs, human rights organisations, think tanks, and trade unions since 2016.

In addition, policy coherence for sustainable development requires to fully take into account the externalities and spill-over effects of European policies, production and consumption patterns. With an emphasis on environmental and social impact beyond our borders, the “Spotlight Report Sustainability in Europe. Who is paying the Bill?” was published this year

Draft programme

15:30 Registration

16:00 Welcome remarks – Jens Martens (Global Policy Forum) and Leida Rijnhout (SDG Watch Europe)

16:15 Presentation of the Global Report – Antonia Wulff (Education International)

16:25 Presentation of the European Report – Patrizia Heidegger (European Environmental Bureau) and Roberto Bissio (Social Watch)

16:45 Comments by Udo Bullmann MEP

17:00 Open discussion chaired by Elisabeth Bollrich (FES Berlin)

18:30 Light refreshments

Download the invitation and draft programme here.

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UN General Assembly Week of Summits: Q&A

28. August 2019 - 20:53

From Barbara Adams, Roberto Bissio, Karen Judd and Elena Marmo

Download UN Monitor #06 (pdf version).

Over a hundred Heads of State or Government are expected to arrive to New York in the last week of September for a series of back-to-back summit meetings at the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations. On top of the usual photo opportunities and a myriad of bilateral meetings between leaders, this High-level week provides an opportunity for multilateral action to shift away from ‘business as usual’ and address some enormous current challenges.

The calendar is certainly crowded: the Climate Action Summit and the High-level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage on 23 September, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Summit on 24-25 September, the High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development (FfD) on 26 September, and the High-level Midterm Review of the SAMOA Pathway on 27 September.

These multiple events enable world leaders to confront policy gaps, address interlinkages among these issues and design policies and actions in an interconnected way. Similar vested interests that resist regulation of the corporate sector to protect the largest greenhouse gas emitters also block increased access to affordable medicines and vaccinations. Further, the conversations on financing the SDGs, particularly on ecological and climate issues cannot be divorced from the programme on Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

The incoming President of the General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande of Nigeria, calls the High-level week a “key opportunity to demonstrate that multilateralism works”. Secretary-General (S-G) António Guterres notes that the summits hold the power to affect “transformative change that is fair and sustainable.” With such emphasis on the potential of the High-level week, civil society organizations (CSOs) are also emphasizing the urgency to address systemic and structural changes across all the meetings.

Climate Action Summit

The Climate Action Summit will see the presentation of specific “initiatives” as developed by a series of working groups, each assigned to a different “track.” These tracks include: mitigation strategy, social and political drivers, youth and mobilization, energy transition, resilience and adaptation, nature-based solutions, infrastructure, cities and local government, climate finance and carbon pricing and industry.

Closely linked to the issues faced by Small Island Developing States (SIDS), the S-G has requested the Climate Action Summit address systemic issues and promote action needed to slow global warming and both mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Central to climate discussions, even when not explicit, are the issues of extraterritorial impacts of national actions and the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) that point to larger responsibilities of high-emissions countries both within their borders and beyond.

Will the emphasis on accelerating action result in big corporations and large countries reducing their harmful activities or will the conflict with perceived short -term interests prevail?

Will the largest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG) reduce their emissions first, as agreed to in the 2030 Agenda?

Will priority be placed on climate change mitigation by the major emitters (both public and private) or will Small Island Developing States be burdened further with their need to adapt to survive?

High-level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage (UHC)

The High-level meeting on UHC will take place on 23 September with opening and closing segments and multi-stakeholder panels. The meeting will adopt a Political Declaration currently being negotiated, with consensus lacking on issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights. The panels will discuss health as a driver of equity as well as making the case for investment in UHC.

UHC is hindered by systemic inequalities that the mainstream indicators fail to acknowledge. Global health specialist Manjari Mahajan discusses the issue of statistics in her article on “The IHME in the Shifting Landscape of Global Health Metrics” recently published in the journal Global Policy, stating that an “emphasis on quantitative metrics has narrowly conceptualized development and erased complex social and political processes”. Her study examines how the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), a global health statistics institute founded (and primarily funded) by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has operated independently of the WHO and at times in competition with it in an effort to measure and monitor health information. IHME represents what Mahajan has called “a sidelining of international agencies” and an outsourcing of knowledge production. This in turn creates challenges in holding private actors accountable and creating regulations to ensure universal health coverage. Topics like this and intellectual property rights are missing from the proposed agenda of the High-level meeting on UHC. Further, the World Bank has been invited to deliver an opening statement, implicitly placing it at the same level as the WHO in the health field.

What does universal coverage mean and how is it measured—market access or a change to the market itself?

Where does responsibility for increasing access to public health goods (vaccinations, medicines, healthcare, etc.) lie? Governments or Big Pharma?

Does the international community turn to private donors—philanthropists and the private sector—to finance vaccinations and medications or will multilateral institutions establish regulations on Big Pharmaceuticals to reduce costs?

SDG Summit

The SDG Summit will include several panels discussing mega-trends, the Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) and its entry points and levers, local action to achieve the SDGs, and partnerships for sustainable development. The SDG Summit will also adopt a pre-negotiated Political Declaration, outlining the key challenges and commitments to the SDGs. The proposed programme places emphasis on Member States registering “SDG Acceleration Actions” prior to the Summit, where such actions “to contribute to a speeded up implementation of the 2030 Agenda” can be presented. However, beyond a presentation of acceleration actions at the Summit in September, it remains unclear whether any mechanisms exist to measure and assess the actions and their fulfillment.

The SDG Business Forum takes place on UN grounds parallel to the SDG Summit’s partnerships dialogue, highlighting the important role given by the UN to the corporate and business sectors. This partnership priority has been further spelled out by the recently signed agreement (MoU) between the UN and the World Economic Forum (WEF), about which many CSOs have expressed concern. The MoU provides for mutual access to global meetings organized by both parties, and also offers expanded (and privileged) access for members of the WEF to local UN offices and programmes, furthering private business influence on the sustainable development agenda. In “How the United Nations is quietly being turned into a public-private partnership,” global governance specialist Harris Gleckman explores how this could undermine preferential clauses in country procurement regulations that favour locally-owned small and medium enterprises. Notably, the WEF will be actively involved in the Climate Action Summit.

As the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) meets under the General Assembly only once every four years to review progress and implementation of the 2030 Agenda, this year presents a critical opportunity to address many of the concerns raised annually at the 2019 HLPF under the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Voices amongst CSOs raised important questions regarding corporate capture and impunity of the dominant players, public and private, debt sustainability and wealth redistribution, and questioned whether or not the HLPF as currently configured is fit for its purpose of overseeing the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

How can the HLPF be reformed to better address global obstacles to the SDGs? Would regional fora be a better place to discuss national reviews among peers, with the global meeting focusing on cross-border and extraterritorial responsibilities?

How can indicators of sustainability–material footprint, depletion of stocks of natural resources, natural ’budgets’ (e.g., emissions budgets) be incorporated into the global statistical framework for measuring progress on the SDGs?

Will the SDG Business Forum move beyond congratulating business for stop-gapping the financing gap to establish concrete means to hold the corporate sector accountable to the 2030 Agenda in not only their financing but also in their practices?

High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development

The proposed agenda for the dialogue has three interactive sessions, together called “putting public resources to work for more equal and sustainable societies”. These include: 1) combatting illicit financial flows, 2) financing the SDGs and climate action against rising debt burdens, and 3) moving the money to fill the climate action and SDG financing gap. While the first two panels raise important topics like illicit financial flows and debt burdens, the third panel has guiding questions that suggest a desire to increase private sector financing of the development agenda, potentially further de-linking the public sector from financing responsibilities.

Across the High-level meetings, the importance of extraterritorial obligations and the need for international cooperation as a means to address them is very clear. Issues of greenhouse gas emissions by donor countries and the private sector, illicit financial flows, arms sales, corporate and individual tax havens all relate to not only the Financing for Development dialogue, but also to the various meetings taking place during the week.

Is the governance trend shifting responsibility from the public sector and outsourcing financing to the private sector?

What has been the impact of leveraging private investment for the SDGS? Have there been significant results? Not only may it sideline the importance of public resources as opposed to private, it may also be a misuse of them. What are alternative strategies?

High-level Meeting on the implementation of the Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA) Pathway

This High-level meeting will take place on Friday, 27 September, the final day of the UNGA week. The event will see two roundtables followed by interactive dialogue, focused on “progress, gaps and challenges” and “priorities, solutions and the way forward”. The meeting will serve to review the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) priorities on the implementation of the SAMOA Pathway.

Throughout the 2019 High-level Political Forum (HLPF) review of SDG 13 on climate change it has become clear that SIDS are being asked to adapt to consequences they are not responsible for—while major emitters claim the funding doesn’t exist for serious mitigation to take place. Ambassador Courtenay Rattray of Haiti stated that “contrary to the Green Climate Fund’s 50/50 rule, 70 percent (US$ 30 billion) went to adaptation and only 30 percent (US $12 billion) to mitigation in 2018”. This tension around financing mitigation needs to be addressed.

Parallel and Civil Society Meetings

In parallel to the five Summits of the High-Level week at UN Headquarters, the Youth Climate Summit will take place on 21 September, the SDG Business Forum on 25 September, the SDG Action Zone on 21-27 September and the recently announced Civil Society SDG Forum on 24 September. Also taking place outside of UN Headquarters are various civil society initiatives including the Youth Climate Strike on 17 September, the Global Climate Strike 20-27 September, and the People’s Assembly 24-25 September.

UN DESA describes the Civil Society SDG Forum as “a dedicated space for stakeholders at the margins of the SDG Summit,” announcing the forum on 22 August, a mere month before the forum is scheduled to take place. The Civil Society SDG Forum will build on issues raised at the 2019 HLPF, ranging from a debt workout mechanism to tax justice and fundamental paradigms that produce and sustain inequality within and among countries.

The corporate sector has been accorded considerable space both in the official Summits and the SDG Business Forum and present will be many CEOs that oversee yearly incomes greater than the whole economy of many UN Member States. CSOs will be monitoring this engagement for concrete commitments to solve the finance gap for sustainable development and abandoning questionable business practices that undermine human rights and sustainability.

The Youth Climate Summit will take place on Saturday 21 September, and while participation by Member States is neither confirmed nor unconfirmed, the Summit is described as “a platform for young leaders who are driving climate action to showcase their solutions”. How will the content of presentations at the Youth Climate Summit find its way into the Climate Summit on 23 September? Many youth leaders, notably Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Our Future movement have spectacularly raised complex and difficult conversations related to climate change in multilateral arenas before, will this continue at the Climate Summit?

Looking ahead to September

The September Summits (UN General Assembly High-level Week) and the global problems to be discussed present an unprecedented opportunity to raise critical cross-cutting issues that necessitate multilateral action. Across the High-level week, Member States are confronted with opportunities to address the urgency of ecological devastation and of securing all human rights for all.

Many assessments in the preparation of High-level week demonstrate that the global community is off-track to achieving the SDGs. UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed has stressed, “through High-level week 2019, leaders from government and beyond can send a clear signal to the world: we are taking the decisions that will get us back on track.” To take the decisions needed in that extraordinary week, the political conversations must be happening now. The future of people and planet requires urgent and far-reaching action at all levels of government.

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