Does the Post-2015 Development Agenda convey an ambition for transformation or is it a charter for forging partnerships?

zeroThe Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the United Nations recently released the “Zero draft of the outcome document for the UN Summit to adopt the Post-2015 Development Agenda” (click HERE to download). It is proposed to be adopted at the UN General Assembly session, scheduled to meet on September 25-27, 2015, when the organization celebrates its 70th anniversary. Beyond 2015, an apex body of more than 1000 civil society organisations in over 130 countries around the world pushing for a strong and legitimate successor framework to the Millennium Development Goals. Beyond 2015, has responded to it (click HERE for detailed response and HERE for summary of the response).  Now, a draft has been prepared by Pooja Parvati  from Oxfam India,  in coordination with Amitabh Behar and team from Wada Na Todo Abhiyan, for circulation and approval/suggestions, for submission on behalf of Indian civil society. Text of the draft:

The recently-released revised zero draft of the outcome document for the UN Summit to adopt the post-2015 development agenda provides for a clear call to action to work together to bring in change to the new set of proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While the Indian civil society welcomes the focus on “call to action”, we also reiterate the need to ensure that the ambition and commitments necessary to accomplish a “transformative” agenda for the next fifteen years is well-established and central to the global development goals.

With an aspiration to define the agenda for global action for the next fifteen years, the revised zero draft presents the proposed set of SDGs and attendant targets along with a theoretical underpinning to have a set of universal, transformative goals aiming to „leave no one behind‟. The revised draft document attempts to address the longstanding criticism of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by foregrounding the proposed SDGs with a preamble, shared principles (paras 10 and 11) and a vision for transforming the world (para 15).

Five overall observations foreground our assessment of the revised zero draft:

1. While set within a largely rights-based frame, concerns around the broader political underpinnings in terms of the declining role of the state vis-à-vis the private sector and businesses continue to dominate. With increasing references to the necessary partnerships between the state and other stakeholders, primarily the businesses, the private sector and philanthropies, there is growing concern that the new framework will remain more about encouraging these partnerships without addressing the systemic, deep-rooted developmental challenges confronting most parts of the world today.

More so, with evidence of growing inequality within and across countries, and the increasing din of civil society voices to address this widening chasm between the handful of wealthy and the increasing majority of most marginalized, the new development agenda will need to focus most of all on the ambition to bring to centrestage the concerns of the most excluded, the most marginalized before cementing newer partnerships without elements of adequate regulation, scrutiny and accountability mechanisms.

For instance, under Means of Implementation and Global Partnership (para 5), there is a clear push towards promoting private finance without adequately recommending better, transparent and global systems of progressive taxation that revitalize the role of the state and ensure that financing for critical developmental needs is not dependent on the new partnerships alone.

2. When seen from a developing South perspective, the revised zero draft can be further strengthened to address specific concerns of the global South. Be it inclusion and active engagement in the global decision making processes such as reforms of the international financial institutions or shaping the global development agenda incorporating the lens of the most marginalized and the excluded.

While the principle of “leave no one behind” finds mention in the Preamble and the subsequent paras, the language of many of the targets has been significantly watered down. For instance, the mainstreamed Means of Implementation (MOI) targets within the 16 proposed SDGs remain mostly recommendatory in tenor and still do not spell out concrete commitments that the developed countries will adhere to.

The principle of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) that finds a solo mention under Our commitment and shared principles (para 11, page 3) and within Annex 3, remains critical as a principle for climate financing as well as for specific MOI for SDGs 1, 7, 10, 12 and 13. A significant bone of contention from the very start of the negotiations process, there is a need to elaborate on the application of the principle within specific goals and attendant targets and not restrict it to just a passing mention.

3. Within the standalone MOI goal (proposed SDG 17) to realize the post-2015 development agenda, while technology facilitation mechanism is being regarded as a key driver to re-balance the South-North dichotomy, there is a need to examine the mutually supporting elements (as mentioned in Annex 2) more closely. The emphasis on technocratic solutions for community-based challenges might be lopsided; solutions in terms of facilitation mechanism need to be embedded more at the community level than only limited to the scientific and technocratic community level.

Under Systemic issues (policy and institutional coherence) 17.13, the draft document would have been made more substantive by addressing challenges of global coordination around issues of fair and progressive taxation. There seems to be almost no reference to the need to address the challenges of tax havens, tax revenue foregone due to exemptions, tax holidays, tax evasion and avoidance, tax treaties and reporting of tax and beneficiary ownership that collectively create opaque systems that are already riddled with poor governance structures.

4. The previous few Inter-Governmental Negotiations focused more on providing adequate technical proofing of select targets on grounds of their lacking specificity or due to their inconsistency with international agreements. The revised zero draft retains these 21 targets that are being presented for further language corrections. While a more detailed assessment is needed, it has been seen, primarily by the developing countries, as a way to bypass the political endorsement that was arrived at for the set of proposed goals and attendant targets in the Open Working Group negotiations. Opening up select targets to further scrutiny runs the risk of unraveling the progress made and derailing the process substantially.

A related concern is that many of the targets identified for technical proofing are more Southern-focused while many of the specific MOI related targets that are recommendatory and rather ambiguous, have not been dealt with as part of this exercise. The one instance of a MOI target being included for technical proofing (target 17.2 on the 0.7% of Gross National Income commitment by developed countries) narrows down the focus on only the Low Developed Countries, leaving out fulfillment of the existing commitments to developing countries.

5. It is welcome to note a section devoted to identifying possible follow up and review mechanisms. In the present political context where we see the shrinking space for civil society engagement and leadership in shaping the developmental policies and national priorities, the treatise for the new development agenda must shoulder the role of chaperoning and firmly reinstating the role of civil society as a natural ally to promoting social policy change and a voice of dissent that is critical and enabling for more effective and meaningful democratic decision-making processes. In this regard, the note must more strongly push for the role of CSOs and other key stakeholders and rights-based activists in participation of the feedback mechanisms. If the role of monitoring is reduced to a cursory review conducted by the government, it would only ensure availability of regular updates on progress (based on questionable assessment metrics) without the actual insights from the communities that are most vital to mapping change.

In September 2015, 193 countries will commit to 17 proposed SDGs that have 169 targets to be realized within the next 15 years. These numbers might seem daunting but not when you weigh it against the growing numbers of those who are faced with extreme poverty and continue to challenged by lack of access to basic entitlements and bear the brunt of poor development policies and climate induced catastrophes.

The revised zero draft of the outcome document outlines a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom and seeks collaborative partnership to ensure that no one will be left behind.

As has been earlier presented, the Indian civil society demands that the post-2015 development discourse be defined by the following Five Principles:

1. The existing MDGs have largely ignored the universality, indivisibility, inter-dependence and inter-relatedness of human rights. If the post-2015 development agenda is to remain relevant, it must emphasize on the fundamental inalienability of human rights as the macro frame to locate within it specific goals and targets.

2. Inequalities, discrimination and social exclusion, particularly caste, ethnic and gender inequalities, have always been inadequately addressed. The evolving development agenda in the post-2015 frame needs to focus on diagnostic, i.e. structural reforms, rather than prescriptive measures. In this context, it becomes necessary to ensure that all prevalent macroeconomic policy directions that fosters and perpetuate inequalities and social exclusion be reviewed through the lens of intersectionalities including discrimination based on caste, religious, sexual and gender identities. Widely-accessible, non-discriminatory, participatory and quality basic public services including in health, water and sanitation, education and housing, comprehensive services for survivors of violence, among others must be ensured. Excluded communities, especially women, must be involved in planning and setting their agendas, engaged in budget formulations and also of development schemes that are of benefit to the community and focus on the most vulnerable – such as single women, survivors of violence and children.

3. A gender-transformative, gender-inclusive and gender-responsive policy frame guided by principles of gender equality and equity is essential to advance and achieve full potential of all women in all spheres of life, namely, economic, social and political. For this, generation of across-the-board gender-disaggregated data, fair representation of women on all decision-making platforms, equitable ownership and control over productive resources and a world free of violence and harassment against girls and women, where justice can be accessed and women claim their dignity, autonomy and bodily integrity, and where prevailing masculinity norms are challenged is sought.

4. The principle of a sustainable development pathway, when seen from the lens of the majority of the population of the globe, and the dangers of climate change, would mean in real terms year round access to basic necessities of food, shelter and livelihood for all men and women to survive with dignity and to secure these basic necessities even in the wake of climate variability. The goal must not be merely to alleviate poverty but to ensure “well-being”, where economic and environmental sustainability are simultaneously ensured and the world acts together to reverse global warming and deal adequately with its impacts. To achieve this would imply a bottom-up perspective to the development trajectory. The vision of a low carbon society is an opportunity for us to make development choices, especially since we have large populations in developing countries which have yet to have access to basic energy.

5. The principle of ‘just’ governance must translate into the government being responsive to the needs of the people. There is a need for greater transparency, accountability and participation in terms of economic policymaking. „Just governance should be the cornerstone of governance reform and adequate institutions, capacities and resources need to be allocated to ensure implementation. This principle needs to apply not only to public institutions but to the private sector, to global governance institutions and to the developed world to ensure a level playing field.

While we will also provide a detailed submission on the language for specific goals and targets articulation, the following outline our key observations for the goals (additions in red):

Sustainable Development Goals to be attained by 2030

  1. [Alternative SDG 1: End poverty and reduce inequality in all its forms everywhere]
  2. [Alternative SDG 2: End hunger, achieve food sovereignty and improved nutrition for all, and promote sustainable agriculture]
  3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all
  5. [Alternative SDG 5: Attain gender equality and empower all women and girls everywhere]
  6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  7. Ensure access to affordable, sustainable, and reliable modern energy for all
  8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation
  10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
  11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  12. Promote sustainable consumption and production patterns
  13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
  14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
  16. [Alternative SDG 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, rule of law, and build effective, accountable, responsive and inclusive institutions at all levels]
  17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

In conclusion, while we may continue to debate whether these new set of global goals will make any dent to addressing the global challenge of ending extreme and increasing inequality and holding policy-making institutions accountable to their commitments, it is inarguable that time is running out. Discussions on whether the seemingly long list of 17 goals and its bulky appendage of 169 targets will ever make the same impact as the previous set of easy-to-recall 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) might not be the most critical conversation at this juncture. Government, multilateral and other implementing agencies will need to find ways to adapt to the changed context and lexicon.

The ever-dynamic, multipolar global contexts demand adopting a radically new approach to addressing the development deficits (which could translate to identifying 17 broad areas that merit attention in the next 15 years) and while this cannot be done without forging the necessary partnerships, the focus must remain centrally on the most excluded. Thus, reclaiming voice of those in the fringe of any such agenda-setting process remains most critical for us. As Arundhati Roy in her 2004 Sydney Peace Prize acceptance speech noted, “…there’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” That would be the only way to realize the ambition of “leaving no one behind”.


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