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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”.

The post When one session closes, another one opens: Looking ahead to the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly appeared first on Global Policy Watch.

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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.

The post UN week of Summits: Are the winds of change beginning to blow across the UN? appeared first on Global Policy Watch.

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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.

The post Brussels Launch: Who’s paying the bill? appeared first on Global Policy Watch.

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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.

The post UN General Assembly Week of Summits: Q&A appeared first on Global Policy Watch.

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VNRs and Progress Measurement Beyond the HLPF

30. Juli 2019 - 15:40

By Elena Marmo

Download UN Monitor #05 (pdf version).

Since 2016, 142 countries worldwide have submitted Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) as part of the UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF), reporting on progress made towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the action plan of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The VNRs play a prominent role in the annual Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) HLPF with both criticism and acclaim. However, it’s important to consider how VNRs are taking hold beyond the formal sessions in the HLPF every year. The VNRs elucidate gaps in the global indicator framework and are appearing in discussions of UN Country Teams (UNCTs), the UN Statistical Commission and the Committee for Development Policy (CDP).

The UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF), a document used by the UNCTs to establish a coherent system-wide working plan with host governments, references the role VNR data can serve in establishing a development cooperation framework. The UNSDCF notes that it “is informed by Government prioritization, planning, implementation and reporting vis-à-vis the 2030 Agenda, including the preparation of evidence-based Voluntary National Reviews.” This places significant emphasis on the role of VNRs in shaping UNCT priorities and objectives.

UN Resident Coordinator (RC) in Costa Rica, Alice Shackelford, reiterated this thinking, speaking of her role as an RC in facilitating “a dialogue with the Member States and those countries in terms of national priorities but also using instruments like the Universal Periodic Review and others which are giving recommendations to the governments and to those countries to work together.” Mr. Philippe Lazzarini, RC for Lebanon, also noted that “the government submitted its first VNR last year and has committed to develop its first national vision on sustainable development, outlining its ambition on where it wants the country to be in 2030. Having this is a breakthrough in a context like Lebanon, a country where there hasn’t been any national development plan since the seventies”. Participation in the VNRs in the case of Lebanon aid the RC, along with the UNCT, in developing mutually agreed upon and coordinated plans for development action.

VNRs also can have a role at the regional level. In her statement at the ECOSOC Operational Activities Segment (OAS), Executive Secretary of Economic Commission of Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) Alicia Bárcena noted:

“Regional multilateral/intergovernmental and multi-stakeholder platforms —in particular the regional forums for sustainable development— have become the locus for peer learning, for preparing voluntary national reviews, for discussing gaps and barriers for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and for strengthening integration between the three dimensions: economic, social and environmental.”

Bárcena explained that not only are regional SDG fora seen as a space to prepare for VNRs, but they are also a space to share learnings from the VNR process to guide regional decision-making. This illustrates the role VNRs and country-level data could play in strengthening regional and national organizations’ ability to work effectively, share learnings and develop regional strategies.

This is essential, as without VNR data to guide national and regional priorities and planning, UN country-level programming can run the risk of being heavily influenced by donor interests, lacking sufficient regard for the country situation. This is not to ignore the challenges and flaws of the HLPF VNR process as a whole—often regarded as a “beauty contest” for Member States; there are certainly pitfalls in ensuring VNRs present a realistic development picture and ambitious plan in each country. Exploration of these pitfalls is taking hold beyond the HLPF as well.

The politics of indicators

The Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR), to be launched at the SDG Summit in September 2019, has been referenced alongside the Secretary-General’s Progress Report both within conversations related to the HLPF and beyond that, namely, at the ECOSOC Operational Activities Segment meant to track the progress made on UN Development System (UNDS) Reform. At a briefing on the report, the Deputy Secretary-General noted that “the many gaps in data and the requirements of the current indicator framework limit our ability to provide a detailed and through overview of progress”. This recognition of the limitations of the current global indicator framework highlights the danger that it will operate to reshape the 2030 Agenda and its goals and targets.  

The selection of global indicators is an inherently political process, not simply a technical one as often claimed. These dynamics were examined in some detail in a special issue of the journal Global Policy, “Knowledge and Politics in Setting and Measuring SDGs Numbers and Norms,” co-edited by Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and Desmond McNeill. In her commentary in this issue Barbara Adams highlights the fact that it shows how measurement of progress made towards the SDGs can shape global policies and the 2030 Agenda overall in a negative way. When weak or misleading indicators are agreed upon, she points out, especially without reference to clear trade-offs that exist between goals, two challenges present themselves: either goals are “met” while true progress has not taken place or developing countries are set up for failure, tracking progress against indicators they cannot meet.

Indicators can in turn shape the agenda, showing the need for greater action on certain goals or recognizing progress in others. A GPW briefing, “Who influences whom in the policy arena? Statisticians seek greater voice” explores this “tense interface between data and policy-making and the asymmetrical power dynamics that shape it”. This tension was noted as an important topic of conversation at the 50th Session of the UN Statistical Commission. If results are only measured against the global indicators, the true value of the 2030 Agenda is lost, especially when governments are held accountable to achieving the SDGs using indicators they haven’t had much (if any) say over. Using this critical lens to explore data places even more significance on the role of the Resident Coordinators, UN Country Teams and Regional Commissions. Their coordination, particularly around peer-learning as it relates to VNRs can not only identify strategies for tackling the SDGs but also gaps and faults in the indicators that exist.

Measuring progress in the VNRs

The Committee for Development Policy’s (CDP) 2019 review of the VNRs elucidates the point that the substantive content of the Voluntary National Reviews “could be significantly strengthened through the provision of more detailed information on strategies for achieving the 2030 Agenda”. With this in mind, it is important to recognize the constraints within which Member States are reporting: if the indicators themselves are weak and insufficient, it is nearly impossible for VNR reporting (and in turn national development plans) to present robust strategies for achieving the 2030 Agenda. With particular reference to Goal 10 which was reviewed this year, Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and Thea Smaavik Hegstad of CDP note:

“the inequality goal in fact has no target to reduce the unequal distribution of income and wealth, and it does not include an indicator that would show whether a country’s level of economic inequality declined over the period 2015-2030. There is also no target or indicator on reducing income inequality amongst countries.”

Again, without clear and participatory indicator settings, driven by policy and not politics, the VNRs will not be best placed to reflect progress made to date on the SDGs as well as strategies for their achievement. CDP’s 2019 report notes, “there is a risk that a narrow focus on indicators could lead to a reinterpretation of the Goals that does not reflect the fundamental concepts and spirit behind the Agenda.” It is precisely this threat that could destroy the vision and ambition of the 2030 Agenda.

On track for a new direction?

It is clear that voices at the national and regional levels are expressing interest in and value from the VNR process. While seen as an imperfect process by many, the imperative now remains for civil society to demand space for meaningful and impactful engagement at global, national and regional levels with VNRs, and for all civil society, Member States and UN entities to maximize the opportunity of the upcoming HLPF review in 2019-2020 to affect substantial changes to the HLPF, rather than allowing it to be solely about modalities.

The deadline of 2030 is fast approaching and as the Secretary-General, Deputy Secretary-General, President of the General Assembly, President of ECOSOC and many others have  reminded everyone, the global community is “off track” to achieve the SDGs. This means that now more than ever it is critical to shape the HLPF review and VNR processes to better serve the development challenges at present. As the United Nations is increasingly positioning and “repositioning” itself to serve the 2030 Agenda, there is the danger that without substantial changes to the HLPF, the organization runs the risk of losing widespread faith in itself as an institution and multilateralism as a means to affect change, further engendering the nationalist and individualistic world it, along with people worldwide, is fighting to change.

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Technocratic Fiddling While the Planet Burns: Towards a Higher Level of Ambition for the HLPF

29. Juli 2019 - 16:48

by Kate Donald, Director, Human Rights in Economic and Social Policy, Center for Economic and Social Rights

The 2019 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development—the global platform for reviewing progress on the SDGs—took place last week at the UN in New York, and in general terms, it was more of the same. Admirable rhetoric, but not much evidence of serious efforts at comprehensive implementation, and a host of major flaws and limitations to contend with. As CESR has observed at previous HLPFs (see 2017 and 2018), the space given to civil society is far too limited, most of the Voluntary National Reviews feel very disconnected from reality, and one leaves with the feeling that most governments are at best timidly tinkering around the edges, making minor adjustments to business-as-usual while the planet burns.

There were, however, three elements that made this year’s HLPF somewhat distinct. First, inequalities were under the spotlight, given that Goal 10 (“reduce inequality within and among countries”) was up for special review for the first time, and the overall theme was “Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.” Goal 10 had been given scant attention at the HLPFs so far—an analysis of the 2018 VNRs by the Committee on Development Policy confirmed that SDG10 received the fewest mentions, for example. So 2019 was an opportunity to bring inequalities to the forefront and honestly grapple with the implementation challenges. 

There was widespread acknowledgement that most countries are way off-track with regard to tackling inequality, and in many areas we are in fact moving backwards—with regard to wealth and income inequality, but also with the frightening growth of xenophobia and discriminatory attitudes towards migrants, as well as backlashes to the rights of women and LGBTQIA+ people. However, there was little insight in the official sessions as to the real obstacles to making progress on inequality—corporate and elite capture, vested interests, lack of political will and failures of global economic governance. As the Pathfinders “challenge paper” makes clear, we already know what policies work—the problem is that those measures are not politically palatable to those wielding power. For instance, in the official session on Goal 10, there was plenty of rhetorical agreement on the importance of progressive fiscal policy—but when States lined up to dutifully tell the world what they had done to tackle inequality, the word “tax” had somehow disappeared from their vocabulary. Meanwhile, Goal 10 commitments regarding human rights and discrimination were also largely overlooked in the discussion. 

Indeed, the most concrete, grounded and strategic discussions about the impacts of inequality, its drivers and remedies took place outside of UN premises, for example, at the launch of the civil society Spotlight Report, and CESR’s “Time to be Bold” event with Oxfam, Fight Inequality Alliance and others. Another event co-hosted by Civicus, CESR and others made brutally clear that the interconnected fights against extreme inequality and climate catastrophe cannot be won while human rights and environmental defenders are being silenced, threatened and jailed. Yineth Balanta, an Afro-descendant activist and environmental defender from Colombia whom CESR helped bring to the HLPF, spoke powerfully about her community’s experience of standing up to extractive industries. Meanwhile, governments such as Egypt were given UN space—and the legitimacy of co-hosting UN agencies—to hold forth on how they are tackling inequality, while arresting human rights defenders and other dissenting voices back at home. 

Second, this was the end of the initial four-year cycle of the HLPF, with “reform” of the HLPF and its modalities now on the table for discussion. In terms of quantity of engagement, the HLPF has been a big success—with over 140 VNRs presented, and large governmental and civil society delegations attending. However, the quality of engagement exhibits the same serious flaws as in 2017 and 2018. Different proposals are being floated now for meaningful reform. 

From CESR’s perspective, there are a number of indispensable measures to be taken if the HLPF is to grapple more seriously with the challenges of the SDGs. For example, not only should there be more time for VNRs (half an hour per country including questions is grossly inadequate), but there should also be a requirement to hear at least two civil society responses. Similarly, national civil society shadow or “spotlight” reports must be given formal status as official contributions to the HLPF, as in the UN human rights monitoring system.  The three-hour goal-specific panels reinforce unhelpful silos, so should be replaced with discussions that tackle major cross-cutting challenges affecting multiple SDGs and requiring transnational cooperation and solutions. Discussions around debt, the global tax system, conflict and militarism, migration, climate change mitigation and adaptation would be a far better use of time at the only global space designated for discussing progress and setbacks on the 2030 Agenda. However, given the vested interests in the status quo, and the preoccupation of key UN agencies with sheer volume of engagement from Member States, it unfortunately seems unlikely that the “reforms” will amount to anything very radical. 

A third observation from the 2019 HLPF is the increasing recognition of the intersections between human rights and the SDGs, at least by UN figures and civil society. The 2030 Agenda is formally underpinned by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other international human rights treaties. As CESR’s executive director, Ignacio Saiz, argues in the Spotlight Report, human rights obligations should therefore be indispensable guideposts to implementation. However, we are still seeing a very wide disconnect, despite the efforts and exhortations of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, her staff and civil society. For example, South Africa presented a VNR this year, but made no reference to the detailed SDG-related recommendations resulting from its review a few months ago by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), such as making fiscal policy more progressive and increasing spending on health, education and social protection. It fell to civil society to remind the government of the relevance of CESCR’s recommendations and the country’s human rights obligations, done with a powerful statement from the floor and a written submission from CESR, SECTION 27 and Institute for Economic Justice

Of course, integrating human rights in SDG implementation is about far more than just pointing out relevant treaty body recommendations. It cannot be reduced to a technocratic or depoliticized exercise of cross-referencing. Human rights should inform and enliven our understanding of SDG commitments like “Leave No One Behind”  and “policy coherence.” They should help draw normative red lines around governmental discretion and navigate trade-offs and competing interests. Human rights enable us to spell out the binding duties to which States, international institutions and powerful non-state actors should be held accountable in their sustainable development efforts. 

For advocates, there is a difficult balance to strike between pragmatism and integrity—as we try to convince States that their human rights obligations mean something very immediate to SDG plans and processes. However, the inconvenient truth is that meaningfully aligning sustainable development practice with human rights is not easy—if it is, you’re almost certainly doing it wrong. It should be awkward and challenging to those in power. Dismantling power hierarchies, systemic inequalities and structures of oppression are at the very heart of human rights law and practice. That is exactly why it is so crucial to embrace them if we want to see SDG implementation become truly transformative and move decisively away from the business-as-usual status that was so evident at this year’s HLPF. 

  All photos from the Ground Level People’s Forum, July 14, 2019, a counter-space to the UN HLPF bringing together civil society and peoples’ movements focused on resistance and holding governments accountable for sustainable development commitments. Courtesy of Sergio Chaparro.  

“Technocratic Fiddling While the Planet Burns: Towards a Higher Level of Ambition for the HLPF” was originally published 26 July 2019 by the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) at

Kategorien: english, Ticker

VNRs, National “Spotlight” Reports and the Future of the HLPF

24. Juli 2019 - 0:27

By Elena Marmo

Photo: Coordinadora ONGD.

Every year since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda in 2015, governments are invited to present Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) on their progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) of the UN. This process is heralded by some as a great opportunity to hold governments accountable to their actions and by others as a beauty contest riddled with misrepresentation and power imbalances. Civil society organizations in many countries produce their own alternative “spotlight reports,” playing with the name of “shadow reports” traditionally given to such independent voices in the Human Rights context.

An event titled “National Reports on 2030 Agenda: What do They (Not) Tell Us?,” jointly hosted by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Committee for Development Policy (CDP), Global Policy Forum (GPF) and Social Watch, explored these tensions and sought to identify opportunities to improve reporting, monitoring, follow-up and accountability in these national review processes.

Pedro Conceição, Director of the Human Development Report Office at UNDP served as moderator, framing the discussion—highlighting both the importance of national reporting (both by governments and civil society via spotlight or shadow reports) and voiced the challenges of a voluntary follow-up and review mechanism that some countries do not use, while others have reported more than once.. Putting aside quality of governmental presentations on the VNRs, how is it possible to ensure the VNRs are a productive process if no international mechanism exists to hold Member States accountable to what’s presented?

Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Professor for International Affairs at the New School and Vice-Chair of the CDP presented findings of the CDP’s Analysis on the VNRs presented in 2018. CDP is a subsidiary body of ECOSOC that provides independent advice on issues critical to the international development agenda. Fukuda-Parr’s analysis unveils areas, themes and concepts not adequately addressed in VNRs. These “orphan targets” as she calls them, juxtaposed against the greater rhetoric of the 2030 Agenda, present contradictions. With this in mind, she says, it is “Incumbent on those of us not writing the reports to put pressure on governments…to send meaningful reports.” When it comes to “leaving no one behind,” Fukuda-Parr notes that 41 of the 47 VNRs make reference to the idea, yet less than half address any commitment to giving priority to help those furthest behind first. Without clearer strategies, plans and analysis, VNRs don’t serve their follow-up and review purpose, and do little to encourage Member States who are “off-track” to switch trains and head in the right direction.

Roberto Bissio of Social Watch discussed findings from national and regional “spotlight reports” from civil society, quoting examples from Finland, Guatemala, the Philippines, Jordan, France and the regional report on the EU and its “externalities” among others. Highlighting the importance of independent reports in holding governments accountable to areas often omitted in VNRs (like inequalities, extra-territorial impacts and spillovers, tax havens, arms flows etc.), Bissio presented clear tensions in achieving the SDGs at a national level. These tensions are not receiving the level of discussion needed in the VNRs, but countries cannot meet the 2030 deadline without addressing them. He discussed the trade-off between economic growth and long-term sustainability, as well as the need for policy coherence and funding that reflects and respects such coherence. Bissio’s remarks reflect many frustrations that CSOs have with the VNR process, but also highlighted how ever-important it is to be involved in the national report process and to consider ways in which the HLPF Review process can be leveraged to reform the way in which the VNRs are structured at present.

Barbara Adams of Global Policy Forum highlighted findings from the 2019 Civil Society Reflection Group’s Spotlight Report with a focus on governance challenges for the 2030 Agenda and the HLPF. Commenting that although the HLPF aspires to be a mechanism for review and follow up, “it has become a marketplace for a lot of ideas and priorities.” This competition for space and attention proves challenging, particularly when the HLPF itself lacks the rules and framework for what is meant to be reviewed and followed-up on each year. This is particularly alarming, Adams argues, as the SDGs themselves seem to be on just about every agenda within the United Nations and beyond—and the mandatory HLPF review to take place in 2019/2020 needs to seriously reconsider changing the direction and configuration of the HLPF itself. An aspect needing review is the VNRs. For example, national reports could include an obligatory chapter that discusses extraterritorial influence of countries and iterates what an enabling global environment might look like to help governments achieve their national obligations. While governments are ultimately accountable to their citizens, a reformed HLPF might create a better space for countries to hold each other accountable for their global and extraterritorial impacts.

Pedro Conceição of UNDP synthesized the panelists remarks and opened discussion with questions to provoke participation and fuel fruitful dialogue. Conceição weighed in on the fragmentation of civil society and a need to unify action to affect change to the HLPF as well as the fact that “implementing 2030 doesn’t depend alone on what the countries do in their borders” and called for VNRs to include a section on cross-border issues.

A lively discussion in the room unveiled some interesting analysis and opportunities ranging from every day people’s data needs, the regional SDG fora as a potential space for shaping VNRs, the functional role of VNRs in building capacity at a national level to then translate into policymaking, and the role of civil society in holding governments accountable post-VNR process. Replies from the panelists addressed the areas with much enthusiasm. Sakiko Fukuda-Parr outlined the intent of CDP’s reporting to be provocative, recognizing that “what is important is that the process facilitates real debate within countries about what they are doing” and that policy work needs to take place outside of the VNR setting.

Roberto Bissio discussed the anti-development actions being undertaken by corporations and the fact that “countries that rank higher in the UNDP’s human development index also rank higher in damage by spillovers. We need to change the paradigm to do no harm.” Bissio suggests substantive engagement by civil society in the VNR process and on these issues is critical. Barbara Adams discussed the value of the VNRs as a process, rather than as an outcome and highlighted, “we need to be honest about the power asymmetries, some countries have more policy and fiscal space. Also we need to be honest about the UN’s policy space.” Also with the concerns about inadequate or badly used funding for the SDGs, the VNRs at the HLPF run the risk of looking more like a fundraising pitch than an earnest dialogue about progress and challenges. The panelists also discussed the importance of the HLPF Review—Adams warned against “the HLPF review being an exercise on working methods and tinkering and nothing more. As currently set up, the HLPF cannot measure up to the ambition of the 2030 Agenda.”

The presence of many cabinet ministers and other high level authorities and the attendance of hundreds of civil society participants express interest in and value from the VNR process. The 2030 Agenda organized the HLPF on a four-year cycle that ends with a summit-level session in September. The ensuing review should affect substantial changes to the HLPF, rather than allowing it to be solely about modalities.

Without substantial changes to the HLPF, the United Nations runs the risk of losing widespread faith in itself as an institution and multilateralism as a means to promote accountability and affect change, further engendering dangerous trends.

Interested in reading more on the HLPF, VNRs and Data policy?

On the HLPF and VNRs

“Democratic global governance: if it doesn’t challenge power it isn’t democratic” By Barbara Adams. Chapter from the 2019 Spotlight Report

“In the 2017 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development: Civil Society plays key role in voluntary national reviews and coherence” By Sarah Dayringer, Global Policy Watch

On the SDG Indicators and Data

“The Ups and Downs of Tiers: Measuring SDG Progress” By Barbara Adams and Karen Judd, Global Policy Watch

“Who influences whom in the policy arena? Statisticians seek greater voice” By Barbara Adams and Karen Judd, Global Policy Watch

“Measuring the SDGs: Who controls the process, who owns the results?” By Barbara Adams and Karen Judd

“’You say you want a [data] Revolution’: A proposal to use unofficial statistics for the SDG Global Indicator Framework” Guest working paper by authors Steve MacFeely and Bojan Nastav

“UN SDG progress reports: how statistics play favorites” By Roberto Bissio, Social Watch

Kategorien: english, Ticker

Reshaping Governance for Sustainability: 2019 “Spotlight” Report Launched at the UN HLPF

17. Juli 2019 - 4:21

By Elena Marmo and Sophia McCarron

Photo: FES

“There needs to be an examination of the hardware of the 2030 Agenda, rather than an upgrade of its software” concludes the 2019 Spotlight Report launched on Thursday, 11 July during the High Level Political Forum that reviews the United Nations 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. Under the title of “Reshaping governance for sustainability”, the civil society report explores transforming institutions, shifting power and strengthening rights. The launch event showcased the ideas presented by a variety of the report’s authors. Barbara Adams, Moderator and Chair of the Board at Global Policy Forum, opened the discussion with a call for “serious shifts in major policy, a real re-thinking of the public sector.” The report and its authors demands governments live up to their responsibilities in public finance and provides recommendations for strong institutions, and adequate regulations of markets have been found ineffective. All of the panelists’ presentations highlighted the need to re-think the development hegemony.

Kate Donald of the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) explored this thinking through a lens of the austerity policies promoted or endorsed by the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) that are resulting in increased inequalities in Egypt and Brazil. While the IMF acknowledges that inequality is macro-critical, traditional orthodoxy of austerity and structural adjustment work counter to reducing inequality. For example, two years ago Brazil introduced a radical freeze on public spending for 20 years, seeking to reduce fiscal deficit and regain the country’s investment grade rating. The IMF supported these cuts, that have resulted in a 20% reduction in public spending in health and education The IMF rhetoric on reducing inequalities does not prevent it from favouring policies that increase them and work counter to the SDGs. Her chapter can be downloaded here.

Antonia Wulff of Education International spoke on the changing power imbalances in the education field which has seen influence move away from UNESCO and towards the private sector. UNESCO’s 22% budget deficit upon the withdrawal of United States government funding weakens the multilateral agency for education while the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Education Commission and the GEMS Foundation are actively promoting their own views on education. The Education Commission and GEMS Foundation are organized around private interests and offer a market-driven education model and the OECD and World Bank have created different standardization schemes to make countries globally comparable. Both models hinder vulnerable groups’ access to education and their governance models run counter the transformative change needed to achieve the SDGs. Her chapter can be downloaded here.

Photo: FES

Roberto Bissio of Social Watch spoke on the need to end gentlemen’s agreements in international governance. These agreements are antithetical to the spirit of the 2030 Agenda because they solidify inequality between states and reinforce structures of patriarchy and gender inequity. For example, in spite of their universal membership, the Bretton Woods institutions are invariable led by an American in the case of the World Bank and an European for the IMF. This non-written “club governance” maintains old power imbalances and undermines SDG 10 on reducing inequality, that explicitly request for a bigger developing country representation in these institutions. His chapter can be read in full here.

Abigail Ruane of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) examined the intersection between gender and conflict resolution. She argued that by siloing peacebuilding, gender, and development, the international community creates the basis for unstable post-conflict societies. Militaries have often been considered the solution to conflict situations, but in practice, traditional military masculinity can worsen gender inequality and undermine global security. Interlinking gender, development and peacebuilding can foster more effective peacebuilding solutions that would reduce extraterritorial conflict spillovers and promote 2030 Agenda implementation. Her chapter can be downloaded here.

Photo: FES

Lastly, Jens Martens of Global Policy Forum offered a summary of the main themes of the 2019 Spotlight Report. Gaps in SDG implementation need to be closed in a bottom-up approach by starting at the local and national levels to include marginal groups. Institutionally, Adams recommends the HLPF 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. Other institutions need effective political and legal instruments in order to encourage binding indicators. To check business interests at the international level, there must be a binding treaty linking business and human rights in order to secure public funding for the 2030 Agenda and bring it away from the whims of private donors. The HLPF reform offers an opportunity to accomplish some of these suggestions, however, without political will, little can change. His chapter can be downloaded here.

Discussion on Governance, Power and Institutions

Following the panelists’ presentations, there was plenty of energy and enthusiasm for debate in the crowded room, provided by the Baha’i International Community in New York. The issues raised covered trade agreements and power asymmetries, democratizing governance of the global macro-economy, the role of the IMF, of parliamentarians and of national action (both by governments and civil society), shifting power and tackling structures like patriarchy, and the need for civil society organizations to be more inclusive and to focus on creating a wider strategy to connect all the dots and collectively advocate for the governance changes needed.

Kate Donald from CESR spoke about how “challenging macroeconomic policy is key to challenging patriarchy and authoritarianism.”Mahinour El-Badrawi, co-author of the Spotlight Chapter on SDG 10  spoke on regressive policies approved by the IMF in Egypt despite the IMF  rhetoric in support of the SDGs. Jens Martens from Global Policy Forum referenced  chapters in Spotlight Reports from previous years that look at the role of trade agreements in hindering the SDGs and also stressed the importance of building new coalitions and breaking sector silos within Civil Society. Antonia Wulff of Education International stressed the need to hold governments accountable at national levels and globally as duty bearers. She noted, “we are nearing a tipping point where public authorities will have lost so much of the perceived power that we are really fundamentally messing with what should be a social contract.” It is clear that increasingly, governments are turning to civil society and the private sector as not only “partners” in implementation but as co-pilots. It’s important to consider how to best hold governments accountable to their commitments, as they’ve signed up to achieve the SDGs and how other actors can unintentionally undermine the multilateral importance of the agenda.

Abigail Ruane of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) reiterated how vital it is for governance mechanisms to create cohesion between action on peace and justice and action on development, particularly to avoid both streams from working in a gender-blind way. Roberto Bissio of Social Watch emphasized the “complete disassociation” between UN resolutions and trade and investment agreements—many governments are shouting rhetoric in support of the SDGs while also engaging in trade agreements that work counter to the 2030 Agenda. What he calls for, is an examination of where and how power is vested, and for civil society organizations to tow the line, acknowledging that power is necessary to affect change but those who possess it need to be controlled.

Barbara Adams of Global Policy Forum closed the meeting, synthesizing the panelists’ remarks and the discussion—highlighting the productivity of the conversation in outlining “what we’re up against” and stressing that it’s important for civil society to work collectively to address the power asymmetries and governance challenges ahead.

The entire 2019 Spotlight and reports from years prior can be found online here:


Kategorien: english, Ticker

Warum sich Wohlstand und Nachhaltigkeit nicht mit einer Zahl messen lassen

16. Juli 2019 - 20:32

versión en español. English version.

Der Nachhaltigkeitsindex der Bertelsmann-Stiftung soll Aufschluss darüber geben, wie einzelne Länder bei der Umsetzung der Agenda 2030 vorankommen. Doch die hohen Kosten des westlichen Entwicklungsmodells gehen dabei unter.

Im Juni haben die Bertelsmann-Stiftung und das Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDNS) mit Sitz in New York und Paris ihren Sustainable Development Report für das Jahr 2019 veröffentlicht. Die Autoren „messen“ darin anhand ausgewählter Indikatoren, wie die Staaten bei den 17 Nachhaltigkeitszielen abschneiden, und fassen die Ergebnisse in einer Rangliste von 162 Ländern zusammen, für die ausreichend Daten verfügbar sind.

Erstaunlich dabei ist: Die Werte des SDG-Index ähneln stark denen des Human Development Index (HDI), den das Entwicklungsprogramm der Vereinten Nationen (UNDP) jährlich veröffentlicht. Der Korrelationskoeffizient beträgt 0,91, was bedeutet: Wenn man den Wert eines Landes im HDI kennt, kann man mit einer 91-prozentigen Genauigkeit die Position des Landes in der SDG-Rangliste vorhersagen. Der neue Index bietet also kaum neue Informationen.

Das überrascht, weil der HDI lediglich drei Faktoren berücksichtigt (Einkommen, Gesundheit und Bildung), der SDG-Index aber das Abschneiden eines Landes in allen 17 Zielen abbilden will – von Armut, Hunger, Gesundheit und Bildung (Ziele ein bis fünf) über Umwelt (Ziele 12 bis 15), Regierungsführung (Ziel 16) und der Umsetzung (Ziel 17).

Die Grafik zeigt, wie stark der SDG-Index und der HDI korrelieren.Roberto Bissio

Die Agenda 2030 als Rahmen der Nachhaltigkeitsziele versteht sich als „transformativ“. Sollte sich das nicht auch in einem Index spiegeln, der die Fortschritte einer solchen Transformation messen will?

Entwicklung wurde lange Zeit mit Wirtschaftswachstum gleichgesetzt. In den 1990er Jahren erweiterte der HDI dieses Verständnis und ergänzte das Pro-Kopf-Bruttoinlandsprodukt um Indikatoren des Wohlbefindens. Der Index zeigte, dass Länder mit ähnlichem Einkommensniveau sehr unterschiedliche Erfolge bei der „menschlichen Entwicklung“ erzielen. Die Nachhaltigkeitsziele gehen nun noch einen Schritt weiter, indem sie Ungleichheit, Regierungsführung und die Umwelt in den Blick nehmen.

Eine solche Erweiterung müsste eigentlich Folgen für das Gesamtergebnis haben. Doch das ist nicht der Fall und die Ursache liegt darin, wie der Index gebildet wird. Ein Beispiel: Ein Indikator, der in den SDGs anders als in früheren Indizes enthalten ist, ist die Zahl der Mordfälle pro 100.000 Einwohner eines Landes. Die Rangliste der Länder nach diesem Indikator korreliert in keiner Weise mit dem Pro-Kopf-Einkommen oder dem HDI: Unter den zehn Ländern mit niedrigster Mordrate finden sich einige der reichsten und einige der ärmsten Länder der Welt.

Teilweise willkürliche Auswahl der Indikatoren

Und obwohl Burkina Faso und Indonesien hier besser abschneiden als Großbritannien oder die Schweiz, landen sie auf dem SDG-Index weiter hinter diesen auf den Plätzen 141 und 101. Der Grund dafür ist, dass die niedrige Mordrate sozusagen weggemittelt wird: Sie verschwindet im Durchschnitt der anderen Indikatoren für Ziel 16 wie der Qualität der Eigentumsrechte (ermittelt vom Weltwirtschaftsforum) und der Pressefreiheit (gemessen von Reporter ohne Grenzen).

Der SDG-Index kommt zustande, indem die Mittelwerte der für jedes Ziel ausgewählten Indikatoren gebildet werden und dann aus diesen insgesamt 17 Mittelwerten der Durchschnitt berechnet wird. Dabei werden jeder Indikator innerhalb der Ziele sowie die Ziele untereinander gleich gewichtet. Die Auswahl der Indikatoren ergibt sich zum einen aus der Verfügbarkeit von Daten, folgt aber auch der willkürlichen Entscheidung der Autoren.

So sind bei der Berechnung des Indexwertes des ersten Nachhaltigkeitsziels drei Armutsindikatoren maßgebend: Der Anteil der Bevölkerung, der mit weniger als 1,90 beziehungsweise 3,20 US-Dollar auskommen muss, sowie für OECD-Länder der Anteil der Bevölkerung, dessen Einkommen 50 Prozent unter dem Median liegt. Die Abdeckung sozialer Sicherung fließt dagegen nicht in die Berechnung ein, obwohl sie eines der Unterziele ist und die Internationale Arbeitsorganisation (ILO) dazu ausreichend Daten bereitstellt.

Die Zentralafrikanische Republik steht beim Klimaschutz auf dem zweiten Platz

Als unabhängigen Forschungseinrichtungen steht es Bertelsmann und dem SDSN natürlich frei, die Auswahl zu bestimmen. Aber die Berechnung des Indexes reflektiert damit eben nur teilweise die Stoßrichtung der Agenda 2030.

Das belegt eine statistische Prüfung des SDGs-Berichts durch die Gemeinsame Forschungsstelle der Europäischen Kommission: Sie zeigt, dass manche Länder, die bei SDG 12 zu nachhaltigem Konsum und nachhaltiger Produktion und bei SDG 13 zum Klimaschutz schlecht abschneiden, bei allen anderen Zielen hohe Werte erzielen – und umgekehrt. Die fünf Länder, die den Gesamtindex anführen, landen bei den Zielen 12 und 13 auf den hinteren Plätzen. Schweden beispielsweise steht auf dem zweiten Platz des Index, bei nachhaltigem Konsum und nachhaltiger Produktion aber auf Position 138. Die Zentralafrikanische Republik wiederum, die auf dem Gesamtindex ganz unten steht, landet beim Klimaschutz auf dem zweiten Platz.

Diese Beobachtung bestätigt, was die von den Nobelpreisgewinnern Amartya Sen und Joseph Stiglitz angeführte Kommission zur Erforschung eines neuen Maßstabs für Wohlstand schon 2009 geschrieben hat: Die Bewertung nachhaltiger Entwicklung müsse getrennt vom Wohlstand und der Wirtschaftsleistung beurteilt werden. „Versucht man, aktuelles Wohlergehen und Nachhaltigkeit in einem einzelnen Indikator zusammenzufassen, führt das zu Verfälschungen. Oder anders ausgedrückt: Beim Autofahren würde ein Zähler, der die Geschwindigkeit des Fahrzeugs und den verbleibenden Benzinstand in einer einzigen Zahl zusammenfasst, dem Fahrer nichts nützen.“

Das Versagen der reichen Länder, die armen zu unterstützen

Genau das passiert im SGD-Index: Im abschließenden Durchschnittswert der Durchschnittswerte werden die zwei Ziele, bei denen die reichen Länder schlecht abschneiden, von den 15 anderen Zielen egalisiert, die dem gängigen Verständnis von wirtschaftlicher Entwicklung entsprechen. Der finale Indexwert wird zudem dadurch beeinflusst, dass das in jedem SDG enthaltene Unterziel der Umsetzung nicht berücksichtigt wird. Laut diesem Unterziel sollen die reichsten Länder ärmere Länder bei der Umsetzung unterstützen. Die Folge: Das schlechte Abschneiden der armen Länder bei den Wohlstandsindikatoren schlägt bei jedem einzelnen SDG durch und verschlechtert die Werte. Hingegen taucht das Versagen der reichen Länder, die armen bei der Umsetzung der Ziele zu unterstützen, nur einmal auf – im Wert für Ziel 17.

„Entwicklung“ wurde gemeinhin als linearer Anstieg verstanden, von niedrig zu hoch, von arm zu reich, gemessen an einer einzigen Zahl, dem Pro-Kopf-Einkommen oder dem HDI. Die Bertelsmann-Stiftung macht es in ihrem Bericht ähnlich, indem sie Fortschritte bei den SDGs als eine Art olympischen Wettbewerb darstellt, bei dem die Länder Medaillen in verschiedenen Disziplinen sammeln können. Wie bei einem Marathon werden manche Läufer das Ziel schneller erreichen als andere, aber mit etwas Mühe werden letztlich alle ankommen, wobei die etwas Fitteren die Nachzügler mit Rat und Ermutigungen unterstützen und mit guten Beispielen vorangehen.

Der SDG-Index ist dem Human Development Index so ähnlich, dass er wie dieser letztlich die vorherrschende Entwicklungsstrategie legitimiert. Die Botschaft lautet: Wenn wir nicht auf Kurs sind, die Ziele zu erreichen, dann müssen wir eben einfach nur etwas schneller werden in dem, was wir tun.

Aber was wäre, wenn wir anstelle des Strebens nach mehr Medaillen die Wechselbeziehungen, die Kosten und Umweltfolgen unseres Entwicklungsmodells in den Mittelpunkt rückten? Mit dieser Frage sollten sich die Regierungen und das internationale Entwicklungssystem bei der Überprüfung der Agenda 2030 auseinandersetzen. Denn ein „Weiter so wie bisher“ wird uns nicht die erhofften Fortschritte bringen.

Aus dem Englischen von Sebastian Drescher.

Roberto Bissio ist Koordinator von Social Watch, einem internationalen Netzwerk zivilgesellschaftlicher Organisationen, die sich für nachhaltige Entwicklung einsetzen.

Eine längere englische Version dieses Beitrags ist bei erschienen.


Kategorien: english, Ticker

Governance of data and artificial intelligence

15. Juli 2019 - 14:45

Analyses from the many global civil society organisations which contributed to the Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2019 make it clear that to meaningfully tackle the obstacles and contradictions in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals needs more sweeping, holistic shifts in how and where power is vested.

The current status of Artificial Intelligence governance must be reshaped or it will contribute to more being left behind. The risks and shifts are outlined by Cecilia Alemany of Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) and Anita Gurumurthy of IT For Change (ITFC) in a chapter on Governance of Data and Artificial Intelligence.

They propose the United Nations as the forum where AI must be understood and governed as a crucial condition for human rights, democracy, peace and sustainable development. But it has to be led by governments with broader participation, ensuring that it is not directed by platform companies’ interests, and that it is not regulated only as a matter of e-commerce or trade as currently seems to be the case. Digital intelligence, generated from social interactions data (of people and things in a networked data environment) to produce profit marks a shift in the foundational structures of society and economy, requiring a new governance model.

Concerns about the inherent biases in AI and consequences for fundamental rights, including the right to equality and non-discrimination, are being widely flagged today by civil rights groups. Employees of big digital corporations have also raised their voices against the weaponization of cyberspace through a state-corporate nexus. Alemany and Gurumurthy flag that it is vital to recognise that data and AI Governance needs a more comprehensive approach that addresses the individual and structural underpinnings of equality and justice.

Many public policy decisions that shape citizens’ everyday experience are found not in legislative norms but in software codes and AI made by scientists and innovators in private (and monopolistic) settings. Policy-makers have not yet grasped of the risks of delegating public and private decision-making to AI and ML. All countries need to understand the impact of deep learning and intelligent prediction models in public policy design and response to get the benefits and reduce risks. Good policy can ensure that this can be the beginning of a ‘golden age’ of social sciences, a coming together of contextual complexities and statistical interpretations at a new level.

IT for Change calls for “an agile legal and policy framework to curb platform excess”, to govern the new economy and its effects on the society, citizens, institutions and politics in this digital era. States should mandate “that private platforms in key sectors share critical data they collect with state agencies, with safeguards for protecting user and citizen privacy. To support essential public services, like city transport or health care, companies must be obligated to open up such public data for the public interest”.

The UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation is led by two chairs (common practice), but, uncommonly, both of them come from two of the most important transnational corporations of the digital economy. However public leadership has not been ensured. If the international community continues to merely observe how monopolies are owning people’s data and using AI without any correction to their abusive practices and biases, existing structural asymmetries will be reproduced also in the way data and AI will be governed or ungoverned.

The international community needs to work towards an overall paradigm shift where there is a convergence of the liberal paradigm (open AI, open internet, etc.) with a more progressive paradigm (communitization of the digital world) based on human rights and a clear norm setting on digital rights and obligations.

Go to the article

Go to the full report

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The HLPF review has to match the ambition of the 2030 Agenda

11. Juli 2019 - 23:28

This discussion paper features content extracted from a chapter in the 2019 Spotlight Report titled, “Democratic global governance: if it doesn’t challenge power it isn’t democratic,” by Barbara Adams, Global Policy Forum. The 2019 Spotlight Report is available for download at

Download this briefing (pdf version).

The High-level Political Forum (HLPF) for monitoring the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development was mandated by the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in 2012, and the details were negotiated by Member States in 2013. Proposals for a robust accountability body were resisted and   the result was a forum/talk shop, removing an accountability voice in favour of follow-up and review.

Its founding resolution (A/RES/67/290) also mandated a review process, which will be formally initiated in September 2019 and conducted during the 74th session of the UN General Assembly. The response to the 2030 Agenda and assessment of its progress has been concentrated on the HLPF almost exclusively, which as currently configured is patently inadequate for the task.

Due to the high interest from the Member States, civil society, academia and the private sector, the already limited timeframe of the HLPF becomes overloaded by bite-size snapshots.

The 2030 Agenda and the SDGs have also captured the attention of many parts of the UN system, which are slowly restructuring their work plans towards their achievement. This fact can be seen in negotiations on UN development system (UNDS) reform and country-level reporting; on the push for a Data Revolution as well as Information and Technology. The VNRs are being analysed by civil society groups as well as the UN Committee on Development Policy to see the extent to which they are focused on leaving no one behind, and tackling the furthest behind first, as well as the extent to which they address trade-offs between the goals and especially spillover effects from global policies that impede their achievement.

A number of countries have reported on adapting or adjusting their national plans and to some extent budgets to reflect achieving the SDGs.

The HLPF review 2019-2020

All these developments place even more pressure on the HLPF review process, which will be ‘launched’ at the SDG Summit in September 2019, to break out of its time management, coordination and working methods mindset to pioneer a new generation of governance. Such a breakthrough is essential for it to catch-up with the new generation of global economic practice that has been established over the last few decades.

The review process is a barometer of the potential of the broader UN reform process, the focus on which is gaining momentum to replace a perfunctory 75 year anniversary at the UN commemoration ceremony in 2020.

Can the HLPF review lead the way to a new generation of global governance or will it be relegated to minimalist and lowest common denominator outcomes, sometimes guaranteed by big power politics, going it alone when convenient and insisting on consensus when it suits their interests?

Shifting tides: can the HLPF capture the momentum or it is in over its head?

While honouring the Rio+20 agreement that it would be universal and high-level, the HLPF started its life lacking an official identity and with fewer working days and a smaller UN budget allocation than the Commission on Sustainable Development, the body it replaced.

This was clearly an attempt by a few States to minimize and ‘invisibilize’ the 2030 Agenda, particularly with regard to monitoring and accountability of the HLPF.

Even so, the HLPF has become the go-to forum for the last four years. It has a global constituency among Member States, UN agencies, civil society and the private sector. Member States have taken ownership of the SDGs and many have integrated them into their national planning and budgets. The up-take among countries has begun to break the mold of the programme country / donor relationship that prevails elsewhere in the UN system.

So many countries have volunteered to report on their progress through the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) at the annual HLPF session (some for the second and even third time) that the session is staggering under the weight of not enough time – and not enough substance, too much talk and not enough (inter)action.

With one third of the SDG implementation period to 2030 already over, 2019 is the time for serious ‘lessons learned’ from this first phase. The final decade must build on the evident and abundant interest to inject urgency, action and accountability.

Addressing the governance challenge

The next phase of implementation should bring the HLPF away from the ECOSOC orbit and the scramble of UN agencies to stake a claim to specific goals. The SDG Summit in September 2019 and the

HLPF review process that will take place in 2019-2020 are opportunities to reposition the HLPF and the 2030 Agenda more firmly in the General Assembly machinery, similar to the direction taken by Member States for the Human Rights Council (HRC) and the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) in 2005. With an agenda of equal importance and intimately connected to those of the HRC and PBC, the General Assembly should establish a third such body, a Sustainable Development Council, supported with complementary machinery at regional and thematic levels. Furthermore it should convene, on a regular basis, inter-council/commission meetings. As part of broader UN reform efforts these councils could refresh (and replace) much of the work of the General Assembly Second and Third Committees, which includes economic and social development, gender equality and human rights.

While the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs have propelled the drive to break out of the existing siloes of thinking and programming, this has not been matched at the governance level, with a disproportionate focus on a single body, the HLPF. The HLPF as currently configured is only a global forum and the review process threatens to go no further than tinkering with working methods. The need for   integration, prevention and addressing root causes in policy-making demands a new role for the UN General Assembly, that of adjudicator across policies, across sectors and across institutions. The SDGs, collectively and by design, embody cross-cutting, cross-border and intersecting policy demands.

The growing tensions between trade and investment regimes and human rights obligations, between tax avoidance and illicit financial flows and the vital role of public finance throw into sharp relief massive governance failures at the national and global levels. Trade-offs between policies and across borders cannot continue to be ignored. The UN’s highest political body needs to exert leadership and position itself as the cross-cutting governance space.

The UN General Assembly would also benefit from reconfigured Member State representation (the prerogative of each Member State to decide) to close the gap between global presence and country priorities and plans. Representatives in global arenas and delegates to intergovernmental processes should be drawn not only from the executive branch but also from the legislature and sub-national bodies. This is essential to put the brakes on the trend towards replacing democratically accountable country representation with ‘stakeholders’ – legislation and regulation with ‘partnerships’. Such representation will also contribute to transparency and coherence across line ministries and enhance country ownership.

Upgrading – and re-constituting – the SDG Summit

In establishing the HLPF, the Rio+20 conference mandated that it be held at Summit level every four years. In 2019 this will take place in September in conjunction with the annual UN General Assembly high-level debate. This is inadequate to the task; rather, it should follow the pattern of other UN major bodies that convene for a two to three-day conference every four or five years (such as the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), or the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty), not a day tagged on in September for speeches. Furthermore, Summit leadership should be charged not to reflect and put a stamp on earlier meetings and declarations, but to drive the agendas forward, flag major concerns and emerging issues, and kick-start related action plans.

The first phase of SDG monitoring has concentrated on quantity – of countries reporting, on processes and institutions and constituencies hitching their flags and futures to the 2030 Agenda. The second phase must show quality as well as seriousness in addressing the obstacles to achieving the SDGs. It must break the ’domestication only’ approach currently dominating the reporting in the VNRs and address the trade-offs across goals and spill-over effects across borders. Many goals cannot be achieved in country isolation, but are dependent on international cooperation. There are enormous differences among countries and governments in their policy space to influence and shape global regimes and rules. A new reporting framework needs to be developed to measure the power imbalances and be an obligatory chapter in VNR reporting.

For the HLPF, as for other UN governance forums, Member States face the challenge of shifting gears from tinkering to transformative change.

The 2030 Agenda – an accountability challenge

The adoption of the 2030 Agenda has pried open the lid on many stubbornly resistant dynamics and approaches prevalent in the UN system and its inter-governmental processes. It has been a major driver for reform efforts and spurred attention to strengthening the science-policy interface and deepening capacity for data collection and analysis.

The 2030 Agenda has been in many ways a game changer. Its universal application requires all countries to report on their progress in achieving the SDGs, not only programme countries or development assistance recipients. It has also driven long-overdue UN development system reform  and given impetus to the need to address root causes in the pursuit of sustainable development and sustainable peace. UN human rights experts have offered high-quality analyses and recommendations to reach the vision for 2030. The human rights machinery demonstrates a comprehensive set of quality standards, from poverty elimination to housing, water and sanitation to debt and trade agreements.

These are available to all Member States and their residents, although they are severely underutilized.

Civil society organizations (CSOs) have maintained the commitment many demonstrated during the drafting of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs into the tasks of monitoring and contributing to their implementation. Throughout, they have shown an impressive range of self-organizing and diverse ways of working from community to global level, often demonstrating a unique blend of experience and expertise. Their autonomy is recognized by the rights of participation spelled out in the HLPF resolution (A/RES/67/290), which set the minimum standard for the UN as a whole including the General Assembly.

The challenge of the 2030 Agenda has been taken up across the UN expert bodies including the Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA). Addressing the need for effective, accountable and inclusive institutions (E/RES/2018/12), CEPA elaborated a set of governance principles on each of these which were adopted by Member States in 2018.

It has also been taken up by many of the UN human rights experts and rapporteurs. In an unusual joint letter to the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) addressing Working Group III (Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) Reform) in April 2019, seven human rights experts addressed the urgency to “remedy the power imbalance between investors and States” calling for systemic reform in their submission to consideration of the architecture of the ISDS system (OL ARM 1/2019).1 Their letter addressed many aspects that go to the heart of the governance responsibilities of states and their ability and willingness to meet their commitments in the 2030 Agenda.

The signatories pointed out the contradictions and incoherence between human rights law and the   rule of law, contradictions of particular concern for the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs, which reaffirm the importance of “an enabling international economic environment, including coherent and mutually supporting world trade, monetary and financial systems, and strengthened and enhanced global economic governance”. There is a critical need to fundamentally reform international investment agreements, “so that they foster international investments that effectively contribute to the realization of all human rights and the SDGs, rather than hindering their achievement.” The ISDS also address the limitations on policy space, fiscal space and reality of regulatory chill that illuminate the multiple barriers faced by public servants and public sector advocates at all levels of government.

Implementation gaps – accountability failures

The SDG implementation phase since 2016 has certainly spun off many initiatives, studies, meetings and reports. At the HLPF alone there have been a total of 158 VNRs over four years. The UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) administers a platform for partnerships that currently hosts 4,361 “partnerships/commitments” and there are frequent business and investor events co-organized or facilitated by UN agencies and programmes.2 The international financial institutions (IFIs) and multilateral development banks have all called for moving from billions to trillions.

While the UN ‘family’ has embraced the profile of the SDGs and is campaigning to increase awareness of them at all levels, there is concern that much has been characterized by cherry picking, self-promotion and self-positioning, apparent in abundance from all players – governments, UN agencies, corporations and CSOs alike. All players are understandably presenting themselves as committed to and vital for the achievement of the SDGs. But presence, persuasion and numbers are still the limited and inadequate currency for measuring impact.

The remaining decade to 2030 needs to build in cycles of quality and independent oversight, and robust accountability. This will require a dramatic shift from the win-win, pay-to-play dynamic prevalent around the UN.

A first step would be to incorporate benchmarks, not only indicators but also actions, to delineate SDG- washing by governments and corporations that highlight best practices while hiding domestic and extraterritorial impacts such as emissions and pollution, lack of labour standards and so on. To overcome piecemeal and inadequate responses and support genuinely transformative actions, not only is a change of mindset essential, but also a change of financing strategies, of measurement, of incentives and of reporting and monitoring by public institutions, including the UN. These must highlight obstacles to achieving the SDGs with the same attention as actions to advance them.

The HLPF as currently set up and practicing cannot do this. It is a platform that welcomes all and challenges none.


1 Letter transmitted to all Members of the Working Group III and a copy of it to the secretariat of the UNCITRAL, REFERENCE: OL ARM 1/2019, 7 March 2019,

2 The “Partnerships for SDGs online platform”:

Kategorien: english, Ticker

SDG 13 Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

11. Juli 2019 - 23:19

This discussion paper provides an overview from a chapter in the 2019 Spotlight Report titled, “Climate finance support to developing countries imperative for ambitious climate action” by Indrajit Bose, Third World Network (TWN). The 2019 Spotlight Report is available for download at

The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)), which governments adopted in September 2015, has been described as a “supremely ambitious and transformational vision”. Since 2015, the Civil Society Reflection Group (CSRG) has been monitoring how governments and international organizations have been implementing the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda.

In his assessment of progress on SDG 13 – taking urgent action to combat climate change— Indrajit Bose, from the Third World Network, reminds us that Cyclone Idai, which devastated Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in March is just the most recent example of the catastrophic impacts of climate change on developing countries. He calls on developed countries, which are largely responsible for causing climate change, to stand by their commitments to provide the promised finance so that developing countries can implement mitigation and adaptation measures to ensure their survival.

Global temperatures could rise by 1.5 in just 11 years

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) special Report in 2018, if temperatures increase at the current level, global warming could reach 1.5 °C in just 11 years, heralding sea-level rises, and temperatures in the Tropics seeing up to 3°C warming. We are already beginning to see the implications of this—water shortages and food insecurity are leading to civil unrest (Sudan/South Sudan) and millions of climate refugees in Africa, and this will only intensify. Indrajit Bose insists that:

  • Developed countries must recognize that sustainable development supports and enables the fundamental societal and systems transitions and transformations that help limit global warming to 1.5°C.

A history of empty promises

Since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, developed countries have reluctantly acknowledged their responsibility for creating climate change and its effects on developing countries. Some have pledged billions of dollars to support developing countries’ measures to adapt and mitigate the effects but sadly these are mainly empty promises. The Global Environment Facility (GEF), which was established in 1992 experienced an aggregate 37% decrease in its seventh replenishment compared to GEF’s sixth replenishment since 1992.

At the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2010, developed countries again committed themselves to addressing the needs of developing countries, and the Green Climate Fund (GCF) was launched to a big fanfare in 2011. The GCF took four years to operationalise and at the 2015 Paris Climate Summit, governments agreed to mobilise US$100 billion a year by 2020 for the GCF. It was decided that there would be a floor 50% of funds for adaption for Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and African States. The funds earmarked for mitigation are to support developing countries reduce emissions from energy generation and access.

The funds and pledges from developed countries fell well below expectations. Actual contributions amounted to US$33 billion in 2015 and US$ 38 billion in 2016, with an additional US$10.3 billion in pledges between 2015 and 2018. Of these pledges, US$10.2 billion were agreements between the governments and the GCF, and as such do not reflect the amount likely to be received.

For example, the United States said it intended to pay US$ 3 billion, but so far has only paid $1 billion. Under the Trump Administration, the US will certainly not pay more, particularly as he is likely to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, and at the June 2019 G20, tried – unsuccessfully – to persuade others to follow his lead. Given exchange rate fluctuations, in July 2018, the GCF Secretariat said it was only likely to receive US$ 7.2 billion of the overall pledges.

Demands for climate justice

The question now is whether developed countries will be prepared to make their agreed commitments for the GCF’s first formal replenishment in 2019. They are trying to insist that they will only replenish funds to match finance that developing countries have accessed from other sources. In another sleight of hand, developed countries wanted to link their voting rights to the funds they agreed to put in – the GCF Board at present has 24 members, composed of an equal number of members from developing and developed countries. What might be the implications of a shift like this?

Indrajit Bose emphasises that developed countries:

  • Must fulfil their obligations on climate finance to deliver climate justice for developing countries and future generations.
  • Must recognise there is a critical need to help developing countries increase capacity to implement low-emissions and climate-resilient projects and programmes.
  • Must stick to the Paris Agreement to agree to a new collective quantified finance goal before 2025 to take developing countries’ needs into account.
  • Financial support should be channelled through institutions such as the GCF to help developing countries to transform their energy programmes.
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Press release: Sustainable development needs fundamental governance changes

8. Juli 2019 - 11:00

Press release

Sustainable development needs fundamental governance changes

Global civil society report assesses structural obstacles and institutional gaps in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda

New York, 8 July 2019: “the world is off-track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Most governments have failed to turn the transformational vision of the 2030 Agenda into real transformational policies. Even worse, xenophobia and authoritarianism are on the rise in a growing number of countries.”

“The implementation of the 2030 Agenda is not just a matter of better policies. It requires more holistic and more sweeping shifts in how power is vested, including through institutional and governance reforms.”

“A simple software update is not enough – we have to revisit and reshape the hardware of sustainable development, i.e. governance and institutions at all levels.”

This is the main message of the Spotlight Report 2019, one of the most comprehensive independent assessments of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The report is launched on the day before the opening of the High Level Political Forum at the United Nations in New York by a global coalition of civil society organizations and trade unions.

“The Spotlight Report 2019 shows, that structural transformation is more needed than ever before. It has to start at the local and national level and requires strengthening bottom-up governance and governance coherence.”

“At global level the upcoming review of the High-Level Political Forum should be used to overcoming the weakness of this body and transform it to a Sustainable Development Council of the United Nations.”

“The SDG Summit in September, and even more the year 2020 with the 75th anniversary of the United Nations will provide important opportunities to translate the calls of the emerging global movements for social and environmental justice into political steps towards a new democratic multilateralism.”

The 190-page report is supported by a broad range of civil society organizations and trade unions, and informed by the experiences and reports of national and regional groups and coalitions from many parts of the world. The contributions cover most aspects of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs (and beyond), and reflect the rich geographic and cultural diversity of their authors.

The Spotlight Report is published by the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), Global Policy Forum (GPF), Public Services International (PSI), Social Watch, Society for International Development (SID), and Third World Network (TWN), supported by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2019
Reshaping governance for sustainability: Transforming institutions – shifting power – strengthening rights
Global Civil Society Report on the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs

Beirut / Bonn / Ferney-Voltaire / Montevideo / New York / Penang / Rome / Suva, July 2019

Contact in New York

Barbara Adams, Global Policy Forum (GPF):
Jens Martens, Global Policy Forum (GPF):
Kate Donald, Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR):
Roberto Bissio, Social Watch:
Stefano Prato, Society for International Development (SID):
Ziad Abdel Samad, Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND):

Contributing partners of the Spotlight Report 2019

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The Battle for the Right to Education

5. Juli 2019 - 10:02

Sustainable Development Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

This article references content included in the 2019 Spotlight Report, available for download at There will also be a side-event at the HLPF on 11 July, 9:30am-11:30pm at Baha’i International Community, 866 UN Plaza, New York. See the invitation here.

The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which governments adopted in September 2015, have been described as a “supremely ambitious and transformational vision … of unprecedented scope and significance”.

Civil society organisations are important watchdogs to assess if governments are fulfilling the ambitions of international treaties. Since 2015 the Civil Society Reflection Group (CSRG) has been monitoring how governments and international organizations have been implementing Agenda 2030 and working to achieve SDG 4: Ensuring quality education and lifelong learning for all.

A battle for the soul of education

In her commentary on progress so far, Antonia Wulff, from Education International describes how the growth in global inequality and cuts in government services, are putting education in danger of becoming a commodity that can be bought and sold.

Since Agenda 2030 was passed in 2015 there has been a sharp drop in state funding for education, and an accompanying global funding shortage for UNESCO, the UN lead agency on education. As a result education is increasingly vulnerable to influence and pressure from donors and other players, contributing to an ideological shift that posits that private investment is the solution.

There are four global players in the education field: the World Bank, the OECD, the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (Education Commission), and the Varkey Foundation. They are carving up the way education is promoted: the battle for the soul of education has begun. The World Bank, which has a history of undermining public education and discouraging governments from regulating private providers, now advocates an ‘instrumentalist view’ of education that gauges success by the economic growth it yields.

The OECD promotes evidence-based policy-making and champions its assessment data as a prime indicator of education quality. This includes its Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) initiative, which it currently markets as a tool for tracking progress towards SDG 4.

This has resulted in using data systems to assess progress. However, there are strong arguments against this. Firstly, the costs could be prohibitive. Secondly, this cannot measure the quality of education, and fails the transformational vision of Agenda 2030 and the SDGs. For example, how could data measure: SDG 4.7 Target, that education should “promote sustainable development”.

To measure educational successes in keeping with SDG4, Wulff suggests:

  • Incorporate benchmarks that emphasise actions as well as indicators and highlight best practices.
  • Develop a set of proxy indicators or indices that display a wider view of education as described in SDG Target 4.7. “developing skills to promote sustainable development, and global citizenship”.

Taking other factors into account for successful education

In addition, when assessing the level of state funding for education, household expenditure on items such as school fees, books and uniforms must be factored in. In poorer countries this can amount to about half of total educational expenditure, so this needs to be taken into account when drawing up educational budgets.

  • In assessing figures on education spending and results, include financing of public goods and services, and social care.

 State education under threat

The two other organisations: the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (Education Commission), and the Varkey Foundation both wield considerable clout. The Education Commission comprises the International Finance Facility for Education (IFFEd) – that unlocks finance through a development bank investment mechanism, and the Education Outcomes Fund (EOF) that promotes privatisation and results-based financing by applying impact bonds for private actors.

The Varkey Foundation is the philanthropic branch of GEMS Education, the world’s largest for-profit private school system. Each year it holds a Global Education and Skills Forum that brings together high-level private actors with government ministers and education stakeholders, which is contrary to formal SDG 4 structures.

The way in which the education debate and fulfilling Agenda 2030 is shaping up shows that responsibility for education for all is being taken out of state hands. The implementation of the SDGs depends on all actors and actions being equally important and legitimate, but current developments undermine public, quality education.

  • Governments must uphold the principle that Member-States and UNESCO take the lead in SDG 4 implementation and governance.

Daphne Davies for Global Policy Watch

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SDG 5 – Advancing women’s rights and strengthening global governance: the synergies

3. Juli 2019 - 23:31

This article references content included in the 2019 Spotlight Report, available for download at There will also be a side-event at the HLPF on 11 July, 9:30am-11:30pm at Baha’i International Community, 866 UN Plaza, New York. See the invitation here.

Analyses from the many global civil society organisations which contributed to the Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2019 make it clear that to meaningfully tackle the obstacles and contradictions in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals needs more sweeping, holistic shifts in how and where power is vested.

Cecilia Alemany and Gita Sen of Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) Spotlight SDG5: Advancing women’s rights and strengthening global governance: the synergies

Taking gender equality seriously in global governance is essential to advancing gender equality and women’s human rights at both global and national levels. Equally important, advancing gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s human rights are critical to strengthening global governance, particularly with regard to debt relief, global trade, technology transfer and institutional coherence.

 The pervasiveness of gender inequality and violations of girls’ and women’s human rights, despite variations across countries and regions, co-exists with national level governance systems that are highly uneven in how they tackle this challenge. Half of the world’s people cannot be left to the vagaries of national governance systems without clear commitments, institutional mechanisms and funding at the level of global governance. Such central elements of women’s human rights as the recognition and valuation of unpaid care work, and the rights of informal sector workers including in global production and value chains where women predominate cannot be adequately addressed at the national level alone.

Without substantive advances in SDG 17 that take seriously trans-boundary effects such as migrant workers and refugee women, sexual violence in conflict situations and responsibility for family survival in climate change, existing efforts to advance SDG 5 could be undermined. The incorporation of women’s rights and gender equality in global institutional frameworks, structures, rules and regulations, and effective participation by feminist and women’s rights groups in international bodies governing development are essential.

Alemany and Sen acknowledged that the global ‘bully pulpit’ of the SDGs and greater global visibility through other campaigns and governments, as well as real changes in global governance, give institutional positioning and importance to respecting, protecting, promoting and fulfilling women’s human rights and can encourage similar changes at national levels. But many forms of gender discrimination remain unrecognised, much potential for change remains hidden while some women’s mobilisation has generated vicious backlash. The global governance picture for gender equality and women’s human rights remains decidedly mixed.

Substantive changes in global governance content requires changes in its institutions. But power is still very masculine everywhere, for instance it is hard to find women’s rights activists in international financial institutions. The advance of some international organisations to have more women at the table is no guarantee on its own but does push towards transforming the culture of all-male panels and bodies that remains in many spaces.

On funding, there were efforts including so-called feminist foreign policies involving funding for women’s organisations by some governments that have potential for engendering significant shifts in policies and participation, but they have not yet change the ways some governments hold their own corporations to account for abuses of human rights and negative impacts on women’s livelihoods.

Feminist and women’s rights organizations are not necessarily the preferred partners of funders, even when they mark their funding is a contribution to gender equality. Traditional funders or donors, and even UN agencies in the field, increasingly tend to partner with and fund women’s business organizations. In sum, many of the ‘innovative financial tools’ respond to a reductionist vision of gender equality as smart investments that eschew attention to how macroeconomic policies, trade rules and global value chains amongst other effects harm women.

The insignificant funding allocated to entities of the UN system, including UN Women, is a signal of weak political will to support multilateral institutions committed to and leading on women’s empowerment and gender equality. It also undermines the UN system’s capacity to partner and fund women’s human rights and feminist groups in the global South, and drives the pressure to partner with the private sector.

Strengthening participation and voice for women’s rights in global governance requires direct participation by women’s rights and feminist organizations in governance fora and bodies so they speak for and by themselves.

María Graciela Cuervo, DAWN

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BS/SDG Index: Can progress on sustainable development be reduced to a single number?

3. Juli 2019 - 17:53

by Roberto Bissio

Denmark, Sweden and Finland are the top ranking countries in terms of sustainable development, while Niger, Chad and the Central African Republic are the worse performers, according to the recently launched Sustainable Development Report 2019, by the Bertelsmann Foundation of Germany and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, based in New York and Paris.*

The Bertelsmann-SDSN report includes 17 “dashboards” with indicators selected by the authors for each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and a Global SDG Index that summarizes them in a single number and allows for the ranking of the 162 countries for which enough data are available.

The numbers of the BS/SDG Index are surprisingly similar to those of the Human Development Index (HDI) that UNDP publishes every year (see graph below) with a correlation coefficient of 0.91 (where 1.0 indicates perfect correlation and 0.0 means no relation at all). In other words, if you know a country’s HDI value, you can forecast its BS/SDG ranking with 91 percent precision. Thus, the new index only adds minor details to what we already know.

BS/SDG index and HDI are highly correlated

Source: Graph by the author with data from the BS/SDG Index and UNDP’s HDI.

This high correlation was not to be expected if we remember that the HDI reflects only three factors (income, health and education), while the BS/SDG index intends to reflect all of the goals, from the well-being and gender dimensions of poverty, hunger, health and education (Goals 1 to 5) to environment (SDGs 12 to 15), governance (SDG 16) and implementation (SDG 17).

The 2030 Agenda that frames the SDGs calls itself “transformational” in its very title and has been hailed as a “paradigm change”. Shouldn’t that be reflected in an index that claims to measure progress towards achieving it?

Development used to be conceived as a synonym of economic growth and the OECD still “graduates” countries out of their condition of potential recipients of ODA based on the World Bank threshold between high middle income and high income countries.

In the nineties, the HDI nuanced per capita GDP by adding well-being considerations and showing that countries with similar income levels could have very different “human development” results. Now “sustainable development” further expands the concept, introducing inequalities, governance and the environment into the picture.

For example, one of the new indicators incorporated in the SDGs and not previously considered in development indexes is the number of homicides per 100,000 deaths. The ranking of countries in that indicator does not correlate at all with per capita income or HDI and among the ten best ‘performers’ we find some of the richest and some of the poorest countries in the world. Among the “bottom ten”, the countries with the highest proportion of homicides, mostly middle income countries are found, with extreme inequalities being the only obvious common denominator.

Source: UNODC United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

Yet, even when they perform better than the UK or Switzerland in this indicator, Burkina Faso and Indonesia end up ranked 141 and 102 respectively, out of 162 countries in the BS/SDG Index. This is due to their non-violence being averaged away, within SDG 16, by other indicators such as property rights (as assessed by the World Economic Forum) or press freedom (as evaluated by Reporters Sans Frontières).

The Index is built, precisely, by averaging first all the indicators for each SDG and then averaging those averages, giving the same value to each indicator within a goal and to each of the 17 SDGs in the total. This method seems logical in the case of health (SDG 3), where 13 basic health-related indicators, ranging from maternal mortality to the percentage of smokers in the population are computed, as ultimately all of them relate to health policies or service delivery. It is less obvious what the meaning of the cocktail is in the case of Goal 16, which averages the three indicators mentioned (homicides, press freedom and property rights) with the corruption perception index of Transparency International, child labour (measured by UNICEF), arms exports (reported by the Stockholm Peace Research Institute) and the Gallup poll about how safe people feel when walking alone at night.

The selection of which indicators to include or not is conditioned, obviously by the availability of data, but it is also an arbitrary choice of the authors. Thus, for example, three poverty indicators form the index for SDG1 (population under the US$1,90 and US$3.20 poverty lines and, for OECD countries, 50% below the median income). But the coverage of social security is not in the list, even when it is an explicit target of SDG1 and abundant data are provided by the ILO.

As independent research institutions, Bertelsmann and SDSN are free to make any choices they want. The BS/SDG Index and Report are not official UN documents, but some confusion is unavoidable when the SDSN, one of the two institutional authors, calls itself “a global initiative for the UN” (emphasis added) and claims to operate “under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General” and adds the UN acronym to its name on its website:

But the way in which the BS/SDGs Index accounts for the goals only partially reflect the official 2030 Agenda.

For SDG 10, for example, only one indicator for domestic inequalities is used, the Gini index of income for each country, ignoring that this goal requires to “reduce inequalities within and among countries” (emphasis added).

In the case of climate change (SDG 13), the CO2 emissions indicator is supplemented with an indicator on imported CO2 emissions embedded in traded goods (carbon footprint), but fossil fuel exporters are penalized with the carbon equivalent of their exports, thus double counting the emissions (in the country of production and in the country of consumption) and under counting the damage produced by countries that consume their own fossil fuels. Further, all these indicators are expressed on a per capita basis, and as a result the US, which is the largest fossil fuel producer of the world is listed with per capìta exports of less than one tonne per year, while Ecuador, who is a marginal producer, exports four times more fossil fuels per capita due to its small population and very low local consumption.

To make matters worse, the climate indicators cocktail also includes as an indicator the number of people affected by climate-related disasters. The Philippines, which has low emissions and moderate fossil fuel exports gets an orange colour average on climate traffic light ranking because of the millions of victims of climate-related disasters… caused by the emissions of other countries.

The statistical audit of the SDG report by the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission’s science and knowledge service, finds out that “some countries that have poor performance on SDG12 (on sustainable production and consumption patters) and SDG13 (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 on 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.”

This observation reaffirms what the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, led by Nobel Prize winners Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz had said already in 2009: “The assessment of sustainability is complementary to the question of current well-being or economic performance, and must be examined separately. (…) For instance, confusion may arise when one tries to combine current well-being and sustainability into a single indicator. To make an analogy, when driving a car, a meter that added up in one single number the current speed of the vehicle and the remaining level of gasoline would not be of any help to the driver. Both pieces of information are critical and need to be displayed in distinct, clearly visible areas of the dashboard.”

The BS/SDG Index uses the term “dashboards” to name each of the 17 averages. In the final average of averages, the two SDGs where rich countries perform poorly are outnumbered by 15 others that are shaped to correlate with conventional development rankings. The final ranking is affected both by the decision to weight each of the 17 goals equally in the average, but also by the decision to not include in each goal’s score the implementation targets that usually require from the richest support for those left behind. While the poor performance in well-being indicators of poorer countries is counted on each goal’s average, the failure of rich countries to support them, as required in the implementation target of every one of the SDGs, is only counted only once, in the average for SDG17. Within the many indicators within the SDG 17 “dashboard”, a bad cooperation performance can be compensated by higher domestic spending in health and education.

The SDG Index has no space for the notion of limited “stocks” (of air, water, biodiversity or minerals) that are being depleted in unsustainable ways by a few while the majorities lack the minimum resources for a decent life. But the Index does acknowledge that there are “spillovers”, negative or positive, of national activities over other countries and it creates a country by country “spillover score” averaging indicators that range from tax havens (based on Oxfam data) and financial secrecy (based on Tax Justice Network data) to the amount of accidents at work embodied in imported goods to arms exports. Official Development Assistance is counted for as “positive spillover” as well as contributions to peacekeeping.

Even acknowledging that “environmental spillovers can be generated in two ways: i) transboundary effects embodied in trade; ii) direct cross-border flows in air and water,” the 2019 report “only includes indicators on environmental spillovers into trade” because “generating global measures of cross-border flows available at the country level remains an important research agenda”.

This leaves out problems of cross-border water appropriation or contamination, but also greenhouse gas emissions, which is an issue of enormous international concern. This option by the authors is difficult to understand, since data about emissions are abundant. An indicator on “imported biodiversity threats” is included under SDG15, one on “imported water depletion” is part of the average for SDG6 and one on “imported fatal work accidents” in SDG8, but climate change related deaths are attributed in SDG13 to the countries where they happen, and not to those responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions?

Spillover Score: The worst offenders and the good planetary neighbours

Source: Online database for the BS/Sustainable Development Report 2019

The author of this blog computed a negative correlation factor of -0.5 between the GSI and the spillover score, a number which can be considered as a “relatively strong inverse correlation” in social sciences. The higher a country is ranked in GSI, the worse its negative spillovers, as defined by the very same SDG report. Yet, instead of pointing to that negative correlation, which leads to uncomfortable questions of causality, the authors prefer to comment that “there is high variation in spillovers among countries with a similar per capita income. This suggests that countries can reduce their negative spillover effects without reducing their per capita incomes.”

Thus, the problem is portrayed as one of policy options by each country, ignoring the notion of trade-offs between, for example, economic growth and environmental protection and downplaying the role of multilateral agreements, like the conventions on climate change or on biodiversity in defending the global commons.

Further, the spillover “score” that averages a complex mix of economic, environmental and security indicators is expressed on a per capita basis, and the emphasis on trade and non-inclusion of climate produces a table (see above) where “on a per capita basis, small countries with large trade intensity – such as Luxembourg, Singapore and Switzerland – generate the highest negative spillover effects.” This seems to suggest that trade itself is to blame for the spillover, instead of explaining that this is the result of only computing, for example, the water depletion, without accounting for the domestic depletion, that tends to be larger in larger countries, less dependent on foreign trade.

Similarly, the per capita computation of spillovers can be very useful to attribute comparable moral responsibilities. Yet, whatever the faults of a small country like Cyprus, its global impact is limited by size. The report does not make any attempt to measure the absolute spillovers, which would not exempt the small-sized culprits from their sins but could help to better understand the global problems and where to start tackling them.

“Development” used to be understood as a linear progression from low to high, from poor to rich, judged by a single number, be that per cápita GDP or HDI. The Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress strongly warned against using a single number to measure sustainability, as that could create “confusion”, even when recognizing that “ there are strong demands to develop a single summary measure”. The SDG report ignores the warning and tries to satisfy such demand by picturing the achievement of the SDGs as a kind of Olympic games, where countries accumulate medals in different disciplines. As in the Marathon, some runners will reach the goal faster than others, but eventually with some effort all will get there and the more advantageous might give some advice, encouragement and good example to those following behind.

The GSI as a summary measure ends up being so similar in its ranking to what we already know from the Human Development Index, that it can only support the continuation of the existing development strategy. Rich countries are encouraged to contribute more ODA and more peacekeeping and given a gentle slap on the wrist for their insistence on some bad practices like exporting arms or attracting illicit financial flows, making it harder for poor countries to become like the Nordics. But, ultimately, if we are not “on track” to reach all goals what we need to do is “accelerate” what we are already doing.

But, what if instead of a quest for more medals, the trade-offs were addressed? As the evidence mounts that “business as usual” is not delivering the expected results by 2030, this is the question that country leaders and the international development system need to address in their review of the 2030 Agenda.


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


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Side Event on Reduced Inequalities (SDG 10)

3. Juli 2019 - 5:51

Reducing inequalities (SDG10) is essential for overcoming extreme poverty (SDG 1) and a successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda as a whole. Many countries experience high and increasing inequalities. A reversal of this trend is not in sight. Therefore, it is paramount to take political action towards reaching this central goal of the 2030 Agenda. Strong social protection and redistributive policies significantly reduce inequality within countries. Therefore, it is essential to develop overarching strategies, build universal social protection systems as well as assess and increase redistributive capacities. These measures have to ensure that no one is left behind and equitable access to protection against risks and against poverty for all people is guaranteed.

The panel will discuss the most persistent barriers to a sustained reduction of inequalities and the contribution of fiscal and social protection policies to overcome inequalities worldwide.


Side Event on Reduced Inequalities (SDG 10)

Overcoming barriers to reduce inequalities: Policies to leave no one behind and achieve greater equality
July 15, 2019, 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations | Auditorium


Dr Maria Flachsbarth
Parliamentary State Secretary
German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)

Dr Luise Steinwachs
Deputy Chair
Association of German Development and Humanitarian Aid NGOs (VENRO)


Pedro Conceição
Office of the Human Development Report, United Nations Development Program (UNDP)

Dr Chiara Mariotti
Inequality Policy Manager
Oxfam Great Britain

Wolfgang Schiefer
Senior Multilateral Cooperation Specialist
International Labour Organization (ILO)

Roberto Bissio
Social Watch and Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors

Esther Lusepani (tbc)
Permanent Secretary
Namibian Ministry of Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare

Host: Dr Minu Hemmati

Refreshments and snacks will be served.

Please confirm your participation by July 11 to Ms. Johanna Hauf (, stating your name, position and affiliation.
For further questions, please contact Ms. Johanna Hauf or Ms. Sonja Grigat (

The side event on Reducing Inequalities within and among countries (SDG 10) is hosted by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Association of German Development and Humanitarian Aid NGOs (VENRO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Download the invitation here.

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The HLPF – a blueprint for more democratic global governance? Not yet.

1. Juli 2019 - 23:45

This article references content included in the 2019 Spotlight Report, available for download at There will also be a side-event at the HLPF on 11 July, 9:30am-11:30pm at Baha’i International Community, 866 UN Plaza, New York. See the invitation here.

The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)), which governments adopted in September 2015, have been announced as a “supremely ambitious and transformational vision … of unprecedented scope and significance”.

Since 2015 the Civil Society Reflection Group (CSRG) has been monitoring how governments and international organizations have been implementing the 2030 Agenda. As part of this role the CSRG is presenting a series of papers at the 2019 High-level Political Forum, all of which identify obstacles and suggest solutions, as well as the Spotlight Report on Reshaping Governance for Sustainability.

People still believe in the UN

People still turn to the UN as the arbiter of peace and justice, but recent years have seen calls for its workings to be brought up to date. Barbara Adams from Global Policy Forum, argues that work on the 2030 Agenda, could set in train a new generation of global governance.

Part of the thinking behind the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs was to bring together the UN’s different programming strands to foster real change. Adams believes the 2030 Agenda can be the UN game-changer, by addressing the root causes of poverty and conflict and confronting how UN policy space is being held hostage to powerful interests, public and private. She writes to:

  • Use the 2030 Agenda as the impetus for the UN General Assembly to reassert its role as adjudicator across policies, sectors and institutions.

The next phase of SDG monitoring: moving from quantitative to qualitative assessment

The first phase of the HLPF monitoring of the SDGs has concentrated on quantity, with countries reporting on progress in achieving SDG targets. Monitoring now needs to concentrate on quality, says Adams.

  • Monitoring should look at quality of SDGs results. This may require the need for ‘trade-offs’ between targets, and to transcend national boundaries, as solutions can be regional and global.
  • Monitoring should adopt a ‘rights-based approach’ for poverty elimination, and providing housing, sanitation, etc., and for trade and debt agreements.

While the UN family has embraced the SDGs and is working to raise awareness, implementation has been over-dependent on a win-win, ‘pay-to-play’ dynamic that is prevalent around the UN and ignores negative impacts such as inequalities, greenhouse gas emissions, or lack of labour standards. Instead,

  • Monitoring should incorporate benchmarks, and actions to prevent governments or corporations glossing over negative impacts and must highlight obstacles and include democratic financing strategies.

The 2030 Agenda – the promise of new global governance hampered by a power imbalance in the UN

For UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres the 2030 Agenda has the potential to “overcome the deficit of trust” that people have in the UN by creating multilateral governance forms that bring the UN closer to people’s everyday lives.

This aspiration is thwarted by the current form of the UN, where most influence is in the hands of the Security Council, which itself is dominated by five veto-wielding permanent members (P5). The major UN funders, which overlap with the P5, have leveraged their power and influence to keep the UN out of their policy priorities, particularly in trade and investment, undermining not only the ability to achieve the SDGs but also the democratic multilateralism the UN represents.

This is compounded by the severe lack of UN funding – in 2017 it received US$48.3 billion (compared to global military expenditure of US$1.7 trillion). These financial strictures impact its human rights work in particular: while the 2030 Agenda takes a strong human rights perspective, the UN human rights’ work receives a mere 3.7% of the total UN regular budget.

  • Essential to democratic multilateralism is a thorough restructuring of how the UN is funded.

Economic dominance should be answerable to human rights principles

Another block to change within the UN has been the decision-making power that some countries or corporations have. Time after time financial deregulation or lowering environmental protection has restricted populations’ human rights. When countries sign trade and investment policies with stronger economies, this often restricts that freedom for action in the domestic sphere. In addition, there are two economic mechanisms: the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) and the International Investor Agreements (IIAs), in which States de facto sign away human rights in return for investment, that make it more difficult to achieve the SDGs.

  • There is an urgent need for a systemic reform of the ISDS and the IIAs, to protect communities’ rights to seek remedies to protect their economic, environmental and human rights interests.
  • Additionally, the ability of investors to sue States should be removed.

Changing UN thinking

Many echo Guterres’ belief that now is the time the UN could change. While in the 2030 Agenda Member States committed themselves to addressing “disparities of opportunity, wealth and power”, it has often been difficult to get the stronger players to do so. The UN has tried many approaches – adopting ‘win-win’ partnerships between stakeholders, or associating with power centres, such as big business, regionalism, or South-South cooperation – but often finds itself the looser.

There are concerns about the inherent power imbalance within the UN, where outside economic interests determine or disproportionately influence policy, and that by adopting the rubric “doing good business is doing good” the UN is veering too strongly towards a market-based approach. Trying to correct power imbalances by persuading the most powerful to share their power is not a long-term solution, and fails to address “those left behind”, a key tenet of the 2030 Agenda.

To remedy this

  • Economic policymaking must be anchored in, and guided by human rights’ standards, and economic reforms must advance, not inhibit human rights. Governments, International Financial Institutions, and private actors must adhere to UN Human Rights Council Principles 13: International assistance and cooperation; 14: External influence and policy space; 15: Obligation of public creditors and donors; and 16: Obligations of private creditors.
  • A primary task of a revitalized General Assembly should be to examine the impact of the current investor preference view on the GA and on UN work. This could begin to unravel the systematic asymmetry of control by the big private and public powers.
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The scale of the employment challenge for Africa

1. Juli 2019 - 12:22

SDG 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

This article references content included in the 2019 Spotlight Report, available for download at There will also be a side-event at the HLPF on 11 July, 9:30am-11:30pm at Baha’i International Community, 866 UN Plaza, New York. See the invitation here.


The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)), which governments adopted in September 2015, has been described as a “supremely ambitious and transformational vision”. Since 2015 the Civil Society Reflection Group (CSRG) has been monitoring how governments and international organizations have been implementing these.

In his assessment of progress on SDG 8: Trywell Kalusopa of the African Labour Research Network argues that the current capitalist global financial and economic production system needs to undergo radical change before it will be possible to promote sustainable growth, full employment and decent work.

Reclaiming the socio- economic space for realizing SDG 8 in Africa

It had been assumed that Africa’s economic growth spurt, with countries recording rates of more than 7%, would help make SDG 8 in Africa a done deal. However, so far this growth has failed to bring about any concrete employment gains as 80% of the population continue to work in the vulnerable informal sector, and only 19% of the working population (excluding North Africa) are covered by social protection systems, and therefore cannot be described as enjoying decent work.

Some African economists have suggested this employment picture is a hangover from colonial capitalism, where the formal sector only constituted a small segment of the economy, with the rest under pre-capitalist modes of production; something which post-independence policies have failed to remedy. At present Africa’s dominant development economic model reflects an unbalanced production system, unable to absorb the vast numbers of the unemployed/ underemployed into the mainstream economy. This will hinder progress on SDG 8.

Finding out the scale of the problem

The 2017 Africa regional report on Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) stresses that in order to make inroads into changing the current system, policy-makers need a clear picture of the continent’s employment perimeters. Kalusopa says that the continent’s entire data collection and statistical systems need strengthening and to meld with SDG 8 targets in order to move forward on SDG8:

  • Governments need to collect disaggregated data by age, gender, income and geographical location so they can focus on groups that risk being left behind in the development process.
  • Employment-to-population ratios; vulnerable employment; the share of working poor (US$ 1 a day) in total employment; growth in labour productivity; gender equality, the future of work.

SMEs are a section of the economy with the potential to generate industrialization, entrepreneur revival and job creation, and thus contribute to SDG 8. More information is needed to assess this potential.

  • Governments should set up national data bases on the size and structure of the SME sector, including output, product range, employment and exports, and a competitiveness observatory.

Using all this data, governments, trade unions and business must join forces at national and regional levels to develop common methodologies for national labour market information systems. They must also draw up and assess national plans, all within the context of the SDGs.

Governments must then introduce:

  • Inclusive social protection for formal and informal workers; collective worker and employer representation and social dialogue; health and safety protection; environmental sustainability and equality at the workplace and beyond.

The informal economy and social protection mechanisms

The very high proportion of those in the informal sector in Sub-Saharan Africa means that most of the workforce, are exposed to unsafe working conditions, longer working hours, and uncertain, irregular and lower incomes. They are not protected by social security schemes or health and safety, and, maternity or other labour legislation, and as most are not unionised cannot bargain for better employment terms or protection from unscrupulous employers.

  • Governments should take immediate measures to formalise the informal economy and as a corollary should introduce social protection legislation for all workers, as this is crucial to achieve SDG 8.

New Social Contract

As a final demonstration of the aspiration to fulfil SDG 8, workers, communities, employers and governments should draw up a Social Contract:

  • This should include a universal labour guarantee for all workers, the respect for workers’ rights, decent jobs with minimum living wages and collective bargaining, universal social protection coverage, due diligence and accountability and transition measures for climate and technology.

Daphne Davies for Global Policy Watch

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Event: Spotlight Report Sustainability in Europe

1. Juli 2019 - 5:32

The EU is still lacking a comprehensive strategy on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its ambitious commitments to action. On average, the EU has one of the world’s worst environmental footprint per capita, with our unsustainable lifestyles based on resource and labour exploitation in other parts of the world. The economy of the future needs to take into account the environmental and social impact beyond our borders rather than living in the illusion of a low-carbon, resource efficient Europe that exports resource-intensive production to other parts of the world. At the launching event on July 15th in New York authors of the Spotlight Report Sustainability in Europe will present in some important policy areas where there is an urgent need for action, because the external effects of European policies are not sufficiently taken into account.

Launch Spotlight Report Sustainability in Europe

Who is paying the Bill ? (Negative) impacts of EU policies and practices in the World

MONDAY 15TH OF JULY – 16.30-18.00H

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted unanimously at the United Nations in September 2015 is highly ambitious. If taken seriously it has the potential to change the prevailing development paradigm by re-emphasizing the multidimensional and interrelated nature of sustainable development and its universal applicability. Consequently, it should also form the basis for all policies of the European Union.

The 2030 Agenda is universal, not just because the SDGs are global in scope, but also because all countries have to do something to achieve them. No country can deem itself to be sustainably developed and having already done its part to meet the SDGs. The 2030 Agenda offers the opportunity to challenge the idea that development is a phenomenon that occurs only in countries of the Global South while the North is already ‘developed’. This is especially true for the European Union.

But four years after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda the world is off-track to achieve the SDGs. Most governments have failed to turn the transformational vision of the 2030 Agenda into real transformational policies. Even worse, xenophobia and authoritarianism are on the rise in a growing number of countries.

In January of 2019 the European Commission presented a “Reflection Paper” on how to deal with the 2030 Agenda. The paper, however, limits itself to outlining options for the Commission and the European Parliament to come after the European elections in May 2019. The EU is still lacking a comprehensive strategy on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its ambitious commitments to action.

On average, the EU has one of the world’s worst environmental footprint per capita, with our unsustainable lifestyles based on resource and labour exploitation in other parts of the world. The economy of the future needs to take into account the environmental and social impact beyond our borders rather than living in the illusion of a low-carbon, resource efficient Europe that exports resource-intensive production to other parts of the world. Policy coherence for sustainable development requires to fully take into account the externalities and spill-over effects of European policies, production and consumption patterns.

Taking policy coherence into account means also a monitoring of the spill-over effects and set goals to limit them. Eurostat is not including externalities in their reporting, as indicators are (still) not existing.

This report shows in some important policy areas where there is an urgent need for action, because the external effects of European policies are not sufficiently taken into account.


  • Mr. Jens Martens – Global Policy Forum
  • Ms. Lonne Poissonier – CONCORD Europe
  • Ms Thao Hoang Phuong – ActionAid Vietnam,
  • Mr. Roberto Bissio – Social Watch
  • Mr. Gabor Figeczky- IFOAM
  • Repr of EC (tbc)

Moderated by Ms. Leida Rijnhout – SDG Watch Europe

Download the invitation here.

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