The Sustainable Development Goals: Will they transform the world for the better by 2030?
Government leaders wrapped up the post-2015 intergovernmental negotiations in August and came out with the outcome document titled Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda For Sustainable Development. This agenda, that will set the path towards the achievement of sustainable development for all, without leaving anyone behind, will be adopted during the UN General Assembly in New York, on September 2015. It will mark the start of another decade and a half of global efforts to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals with their 169 targets.
During the two years of consultations and negotiations, Asia Pacific peoples raised their voices to demand for development justice. Eventually, peoples from the other regions joined the global call for the five transformative shifts for development justice (redistributive justice, gender and social justice, economic justice, environmental justice, and accountability to peoples) as the overarching framework for a sustainable development agenda that will address poverty, inequality within and between countries and between men and women, historical injustices, and over exploitation of the Earth’s resources which has already breached several of its planetary boundaries.
The resulting outcome document indeed has very important advances in the inclusion of positive aspirations such as gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, decent work and social protection, non-discrimination, and a new multi-stakeholder Technology Facilitation Mechanism. It even has elements of addressing inequality within and between countries. These issues were not properly addressed in the previous Millennium Development Goals or in any other global agenda.
However, these good aspirations will be extremely difficult to achieve because the document still falls short of key people’s demands that are very important to achieve development justice.
Peoples’ movements have demanded to end inequality within and between countries and address the historical injustices of colonialism and neocolonialism. Not having any reference to redistribution of wealth within and between countries vastly reduces the chances of decreasing inequality by maintaining the same order that allows the obscene over concentration of wealth in the pockets of an elite few, which in turn gives them power to sway policies in favor of their profit-making ventures at the expense of people’s rights. Instead of promoting measures such as progressive taxation, weak language on monitoring global financial markets and institutions is preferred.
Migration is still treated as a tool for reducing inequality, ignoring the fact that a good portion of migration is driven by existing inequalities and violence that prevent migrants from attaining decent jobs and living wages in their countries of origin. This can lead to instrumentalization of migration to meet goals, which are supposedly the responsibility of governments, such as providing for decent work and living wages for the people.
The positive potential results of enhanced representation of developing countries in decision-making in global international economic and financial institutions can be neutralized without effectively reigning in corporate power. Voices of developing countries and their people can continue to be drowned out by big corporates who can rally massive resources to lobby governments and institutions to bend public policy to their interests. At the same time, corporate driven free trade deals being negotiated alongside the SDGs, particularly the transpacific partnership (TPP) and the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP), have investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions, which give corporations undue influence over public policy making.
Despite calls to stop the outsourcing of development to the private sector, the outcome document still promotes private sector, business and private finance as the major drivers of productivity, growth, as well as job creation, without adequate accountability mechanisms that will put their operations into check. Public-private partnerships are being endorsed as modes of addressing needs for infrastructure and services without proper assessment of their effectiveness and their impacts on human rights especially those operating in developing countries and grassroots communities.
The principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) was reaffirmed in the outcome document. However, this key principle will be severely weakened if limited to environmental damage instead of encompassing the whole SDG agenda including the economic and social goals and targets.
Watered down language on foreign occupation remained despite the reality that the main driver of the violation of people rights and sovereignty in occupied territories is foreign occupation itself. Although the document called out to stop illicit financial and arms flows, it makes no calls whatsoever on supposedly legal, government-imposed militarist policies which lead to human rights violations especially of women and erodes democratic values including institutions. Militarism also diverts huge amounts of resources away from sustainable development spending towards military expenditures that enormously surpasses even the unambitious official development assistance (ODA) commitments of developed countries which up until this day are not yet fulfilled.
A very important element that TTIP and TPP have, which the Agenda 2030 does not, is enforceability. The document is not legally binding even after its adoptions by the 193 Member States in September. The outcome document also lacks a clear, enforceable accountability frameworks to hold governments to deliver on the their commitments on the one hand, and to address the human rights violations and environmental impacts of corporate activities on the other hand.
Perhaps, the greatest danger that can lead to the failure of the good aspirations spelled out in the SDGs is that the prevailing neoliberal development, which is premised sustained economic growth on a finite planet and allows the 1% to control more than half of the world’s resources, remains the overarching framework of achieving the path towards ‘transformation’.
Various challenges await people’s organizations and CSOs during the implementation at country level due to differing levels of capacity and priorities of governments. Enabling environment for people’s organizations is also one of those challenges because of the weak language on CSO participation in the implementation of the SDGs, and also because of laws and policies restricting CSO participation and actions especially in developing countries. Yet, people’s organizations and CSOs will be ever more vigilant in the struggle for the people’s democratic right to participate in the implementation of the Agenda and to make sure that the nationalization of the goals and targets are aligned with people’s demands.
The people have started traveling the path to achieve development justice and will not settle for anything less. ###