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Sustainable development off-track without fundamental policy changes

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“The world is off-track in terms of achieving sustainable development and fundamental policy changes are necessary to unleash the transformative potential of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

This is the main message of the Spotlight Report 2018, the most comprehensive independent assessment of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, co-published by six international NGOs and networks including the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR).

The report is released today as the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) gets underway in New York. The HLPF is a global stock-taking of progress under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development agreed to in 2015.

When UN Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda, they signaled with the title “Transforming our World” that it should trigger fundamental changes in politics, policies and society. The agreement also explicitly grounded the commitments in human rights obligations. Yet, the Spotlight report confirms that “three years after its adoption, most governments have failed to turn the vision of the 2030 Agenda into real policies.”

Although next week’s Voluntary National Reviews will likely paint a generally rosy picture of governments’ commitments to sustainable development, the reality in most contexts is just more business-as-usual. The prevailing trends, systems and policy paradigms are contrary to the spirit and targets of the 2030 Agenda, and are indeed those that created the vast inequalities, environmental degradation and human rights deficits that ordinary people are bearing the brunt of now.

Tackling wealth concentration—a development imperative

CESR’s Kate Donald, co-authoring with Jens Martens of Global Policy Forum, explains in Chapter 1 of the report how the increasingly extreme concentration of wealth and economic power is dashing any hope for reaching any of the SDGs. For example, intense market concentration is a major obstacle to creating decent work for all and protecting workers’ rights (SDG 8), given that the power of large corporations vastly outweighs that of organized labor. Wealth inequality also perpetuates and worsens gender inequalities (Goal 5) and extremely unequal societies have proven to be bad for the environment (Goal 13, among others).

However, the 2018 edition of the Spotlight report focuses not just on the signs that we are going in the wrong direction, but also how to get back on track. CESR’s chapter therefore also outlines rights-based policy proposals for reversing the trend of wealth concentration, including fiscal, regulatory, financial market regulation and anti-trust policies—many of which have been tried and tested in particular contexts. CESR also highlights in the report how extra-territorial human rights obligations can be invoked strategically by advocates to help shift inequalities between countries, which is an important but often neglected dimension of Goal 10. 

Countering official narratives 

The Spotlight report is supported by a broad range of civil society organizations and trade unions, and informed by the experiences and analyses of national and regional groups and coalitions from all parts of the world. The contributions cover all the individual SDGs and they take an integrated approach to obstacles and opportunities that cut across the whole Agenda.

The Spotlight Report therefore provides an important complement and counterpoint to the official discussions at the UN headquarters. Speaking today at one of the HLPF opening sessions on “Better data for sustainable development” on behalf of the NGO Major Group, Kate Donald warned that the official Progress Report by the UN Secretary General contains huge gaps, leaves out many key targets and is almost entirely devoid of contextual analysis of global trends.

She urged participants to recognize that "all data has power dynamics embedded in it—even in the choice of what to measure in the first place.” While quality official data is critical, contextual analysis of relevant global policy trends and civil society shadow reporting—of the type exemplified by the Spotlight Report—is an essential complement.

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 Foundation.

Further resources

Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2018: Exploring new policy pathways - How to overcome obstacles and contradictions in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Report of the Civil Society Reflection Group on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, July 2018 

www.2030spotlight.org #SpotlightSDGs

Original source: Center for Economic and Social Rights

Image credit: Social Watch