Sustainable Development Goals: A paradigm shift in United Nations' fund flow

A report cites the changing funding patterns of the UN and its reliance on corporate partners
Sustainable Development Goals: A paradigm shift in United Nations' fund flow

The day after Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted, discussions on the crucial question of funding these goals started. Business leaders pledged investments worth millions to boost gender equality as achieving it is one of the 17 SDGs that comprise the 2030 agenda. The funds would be used to close the deep financing gaps that hinder the progress of women and girls.

The pledges were made at a forum co-hosted with Alibaba Group and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that pledged $ 5 million and $1 million respectively.

Significant contributions were received from other institutions as well. Unilever, which has set for itself the goal of empowering five million women across the world by 2020, is extending support to promote economic opportunities for women, reduce unpaid care work and ensure the safety of women and girls.

“Gender equality also presents an enormous opportunity for economic and business growth. Addressing the barriers is not just the right thing to do; it must be a business priority,” said Paul Polman, the company’s CEO and recent winner of the UN’s top environmental prize for his role in advocating more sustainable business models.

Other organisations taking part in the event in support of UN Women are representatives of Coca-Cola, Cisco, Infosys, Itaipu, MasterCard, H&M, Citibank, State Bank of India, Ford Foundation, General Electric Foundation and Nigeria-based Dangote Foundation.

However, unfortunately involvement of the industry in the work of United Nations (UN) is looked at with suspicion.

United Nations, Manhattan      Credit: Christopher John/Flickr

UN and corporate funding

A new report published by the Global Policy Forum has warned that the UN is becoming increasingly dependent on corporate fundings and private partnerships in the face of inter-governmental policy impasse. This, according to authors of the report, obfuscates the UN’s model for public welfare and development.

The report cites changing funding patterns of the UN and its funds, programmes and agencies to demonstrate the inadequacy of UN’s financial capacity to undertake global problems, its increasing reliance on corporate partners and the trend of outsourcing funding and decision-making to exclusive global partnerships.

According to the report, “In contrast to the mounting global problems faced by the UN and its expanding responsibilities and mandates, public funding flowing to the organisation’s programmes, funds and specialised agencies has failed to keep (up) pace.” 

The report continues stating, “The UN has remained notoriously underfunded and has had to tackle repeated financial crises… In 2013, funding of all UN system-wide activities reached US $42.6 billion. While at first glance around US $40 billion per year may seem to be a substantial sum, in reality the overall budget of the whole UN system is smaller than the budget of New York City (US $68.5 bn in FY 2012–2013), less than a quarter of the budget of the European Union (US $180 bn in 2013), and only 2.3 per cent of the world’s military expenditures (US $1,747 bn in 2013). The structural underfunding of the UN system and its dependence on a limited number of donors has led the UN to search for new funding sources, particularly in the private and business sector.” 

It goes on to train the spotlight on financial underpinnings of UN funds such as the UN Fund for International Partnerships, UN Global Compact and the UN Capital Development Fund as well as agencies such as the World Health Organization to highlight the growing share of private wealth and the increasing corporate influence in the functioning of the UN and its affiliated bodies.

According to the report, “Along with the changing relationship of the UN with the business sector, private funding for UN-related activities has grown steadily. In 2012, specified voluntary contributions from foundations, corporations and civil society to the UN system amounted to some US $2.5 billion. These contributions increased to about US $3.3 billion in 2013, or 14 per cent of all specified voluntary contributions to the UN system.”

“Member States have failed to provide reliable funding to the UN system at a level sufficient to enable it to fulfill the mandates they have given it. Many Member States, particularly the large donors, pursue a dual approach of calling for greater coherence in UN development activities while at the same time increasing their use of earmarked funding, which furthers fragmentation. This pick-and-choose dynamic, together with ongoing financial constraints, has opened the space for corporate sector engagement. Increasingly the UN is promoting market-based approaches and multi-stakeholder partnerships as the business model for solving global problems. Driven by a belief that engaging the more economically powerful is essential to maintaining the relevance of the UN, this practice has harmful consequences for democratic governance and general public support, as it aligns more with power centres and away from the less powerful,” said Barbara Adams, a co-author of the study, in a news release.

The report provides extensive details of the UN’s current funding trends and concludes with a policy recommendations to challenge the UN’s current “business model” of global governance with one that is more democratic and inclusive.

Groups working on access to medicine provide another example of how the industry might not be the best partners for achieving SDGs. The Asia Pacific Network of People living with HIV/AIDS and Health GAP (Global Access Project) are demanding that the US stop putting pressure on India to change its pro-health patent and data protection laws. If payents were strengthened it would put realisation of health SDGs out of reach for much of the world and directly contradict the goals and targets being set at the UN.

“For millions of patients around the world, India is a life-line for medicines,” said Shiba Phurailatpam, regional co-ordinator of the Asia-Pacific Network of People living with HIV/AIDS. “US pressure on India’s generic manufacturing capacity has escalated alarmingly in the past few years threatening the lives and health of millions in the developing world.”

There is relentless pressure of big pharma and the resulting pressure from the US gvernment may push the Indian government to compromise on its long-held position on supporting and promoting generic production of medicines.

The Sustainable Development Goals, which will take over from the Millennium Development Goals after this year, will guide efforts to reduce poverty and improve well-being up to 2030, without destroying the earth. There are 17 goals, further broken down into 169 targets. Click through the infographic below to see how countries are progressing and what remains to be done.

This article was originally published in The Conversation

Food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture are key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva told world leaders during a plenary session at the United Nations' headquarters. 

“We have given ourselves an enormous task, that begins with the historic commitment of not only reducing, but also eradicating poverty, hunger in a sustainable way," he said. 

Fourteen of the 17 new SDGs are related to FAO's historic mission, the Director-General added. The second goal- which is “o end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”-must be urgently pursued as rapid progress on that front is the key to the other goals, he said.

Sustainable agriculture and zero hunger 

"We can only rest when we achieve zero hunger," Graziano da Silva said. 

The SDGs follow and expand on the Millennium Development Goals, established in 2001 and ending this year, which set a hunger reduction target that was met by more than half of the countries monitored by FAO. But nearly 800 million people still suffer from chronic undernourishment. 

A majority of the world's poor and hungry live in rural areas and improving their livelihoods is the core challenge, Graziano da Silva said. 

Doing so will require promoting inclusive growth and making responsible investments that address the needs of the world's poor, he said. 

"We need to build more sustainable agriculture and food systems, that are resilient to stresses and better able to cope with - and respond to - climate change impact," he added. 

The world has moved on to the Sustainable Development Goals. Member states at the United Nations General Assembly in New York have formally adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This has 17 goals and 169 targets to wipe out poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change over the next 15 years. With this the era of MDGs or the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) launched in September 2000 is over. 

“The new agenda is a promise by leaders to all people everywhere. It is an agenda for people, to end poverty in all its forms – an agenda for the planet, our common home,” declared UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the opening ceremony of the UN Sustainable Development Summit, in New York. Now, we must use the goals to transform the world. We will do that through partnership and through commitment. We must leave no one behind, he added.

The adoption ceremony was presided over by Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen and Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who stressed the successes of the MDGs and the need for the full implementation of the new Agenda.

General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft called the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development “ambitious” in confronting the injustices of poverty, marginalisation and discrimination. “We recognise the need to reduce inequalities and to protect our common home by changing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production. And, we identify the overwhelming need to address the politics of division, corruption and irresponsibility that fuel conflict and hold back development,” he said.

The adoption of the goals was preceded by an address by Pope Francis. He urged the global leaders to take action to protect the environment. This was the first time in the 70-year-long history of UN that a Pope has attended the General Assembly. 

The meeting also had responses from world leaders and NGOs. India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the SDG agenda chimes strongly with India’s own strategies for ensuring sustainable development and empowering the poor. The world must look beyond the public and private sector in its development thinking, he added, and think also of the “personal sector”. 

Salil Shetty of Amnesty International pointed out that the world could not claim to support sustainable development when it was reluctant to reduce the consumption of the rich or transfer technology. ActionAid’s chief executive, Adriano Campolina said," the sustainable development goals are a step forward as they identify the causes of poverty, but unless we change the rules that govern the global system, the same players will keep winning. We need to build a more just future for all people and the planet where it’s no longer just money that talks and the gaps in society are narrower.”

As the UN Sustainability Development Summit dawns, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) hosted a discussion on the importance of fast action to reduce short-lived climate pollutants (SCLP) and their contribution to Post-2015 development agenda, in New York on Thursday.

At the event, speakers from various spheres spoke on specific SLCP mitigation measures and their contribution to targets under the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

The speakers included dignitaries from various walks of life, including UNEP executive director Achim Steiner, Mexican environment minister Rafael Pacchiano Alamán, governor of California Kamal Uddin Ahmed,  permanent secretary at the Bangladesh environment ministry Hanne Bjurstrøm, among others.

According to studies, SCLPs, including black carbon, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), methane, and tropospheric ozone are contributing as much as 40 per cent to the current warming rate. Aggressive cuts to short-lived climate pollutants could avoid up to 0.6°C of warming by mid-century, a significant part of the mitigation needed to keep the planet from warming more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, say experts. According to recent research by Professor Ramanathan, aggressive cuts to SLCP can slow sea level rise by nearly a third by mid-century. “Cutting SLCPs is critical to staying below the 2°C guardrail. Over the next 40 years, 86 per cent of temperature mitigation will come from SLCPs,” said Ramanathan, adding that SLCPs will also have a disproportionally large impact on avoiding sea-level rise because they act quickly.

The discussion also saw some bold announcements by Californian governor Brown who said that the state will come up with an aggressive plan next week to cut methane and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) by 40 per cent and black carbon by 50 per cent in the next fifteen years.

“California Air Resources Board will cut quantified emissions of methane from 38 to 19 MtCO2e ((million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent) ) by 2030, black carbon from 118 to 71 MtCO2e by 2030, and HFCs from 40 to 24 MtCO2e by 2030. Since 1960, the state has already cut its black carbon emissions by 90 per cent. California set the pace for the US and the world in cleaning up its smog and other air pollution starting in the 1960s. We have decades of experience that has given us a unique capability to cut air pollution. We arguably have more scientists and engineers working to solve climate change than the federal government. A key element of climate success is the technical capacity to carry out mitigation,” said governor Brown.

Cuts to SLCPs will also provide huge benefits to global health and wellbeing. According to a CCAC report, “targeting methane and black carbon rich sources could prevent approximately 2.4 million deaths annually and avoid about 50 million tonnes of lost crop yields by reducing concentrations of ground level ozone.”

In his book “Tale of Two Cities”, Charles Dickens said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

While the binary contrasts still hold true in today’s times, in case of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) summit being held from September 25-27, it holds more so. This is because this meet, the mother of all summits, for determining the future of our world, our shared destinies and our children’s future is happening in the backdrop of some of the worst challenges of our times—the European refugee crisis, climate change-induced disasters, a world still reeling under the 2008 meltdown and the rise of religious fundamentalism. That Official Development Assistance (ODA) is still frozen at 0.7 per cent of the Gross National Income of the richest countries also begs the question. Not to forget, the season of black laws sweeping across the world with shrinking civic spaces and criminalising dissent!

But all is not lost. As various analysis of the previous set of global goals, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), have shown that the citizens’ energy around monitoring and holding their governments accountable, the new energy on international development finance, achieving impressive fall in maternal and infant mortality, and spurring education enrollment and environmental consciousness (be it around the inter-linked messes and disasters, or the centrality of human rights and dignity to global development discourse) were the major take aways.

Unlike MDGs, the SDGs are not an outcome of a bunch of technocrats in the United Nations basement
Credit: Thinkstock

Unlike MDGs, the SDGs are not an outcome of a bunch of technocrats in the United Nations (UN) basement. The SDGs drafting process itself holds out hope, though pragmatists would call it the ultimate triumph of dream over ambition! In an unprecedented consultation, unheard of in the UN’s history, spanning almost a year, the expectations were shaped for the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel of Experts. This was further sharpened at the Open Working Group in July in 2014 and later reinforced by the Secretary General in December. The zero draft, comprising 17 goals and 169 targets in May/June 2015, was the outcome of these shared efforts. While naysayers will point out that 17 goals are too many and 169 targets is a joke, the process of participation has been one of the main reason for this expansive, all-encompassing ambition.

Come September 25, 2015, New York will be the centre of the universe when the Pope, pop-stars and 160+ heads of states/governments will culminate together to officially sign on and launch the goals in the SDGs summit. Pope Francis will open the proceedings, where he is expected to exhort on the rich nations to pay their debt to the world and pay up fair finance for climate adaptation and sustainable consumption.

Pop stars, ranging from Shakira, Richard Curtis and Stephen Colbert to Salma Hayek, will engage with millions of public campaigners and civil society members to popularise the SDGs and kick-start popular engagement. And before the ink is dry, the statistical commission of the UN and country-governments will deliberate to finalise the list of indicators to tracks the SDGs by.

While hope rules, one cannot but be circumspect to remember the washout that happened in the recently-concluded Financing for Development Summit in Addis Ababa, which was supposed to finance the SDGs. And the challenges around means of implementation of the SDGs which is financing, institutional framework with all countries and citizens having a voice, is still continuing to be the Achilles Heel. Many citizens groups’ and thinkers’ scepticism notwithstanding, private finance has made a strong presence in UN processes. In what is an essentially sovereign states’ and their citizens’ platform, private sector has made inroads too.

That it is also the 70th anniversary of the founding of United Nations Organization is not just a matter of mere detail. The symbolism is high and so is the expectation. UN is meant to promote peace-keeping, human rights protection and promotion and development. And we are living in a world where, increasingly, these three strands are inter-linked. It is only befitting that global goals are being signed on in the midst of global hope and global fears!

Later this week, world leaders will gather at the United Nations in New York and adopt a set of Sustainable Development Goals to guide global development. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull won’t be there, but Foreign Minster Julie Bishop will sign Australia up to an ambitious set of goals and targets that will apply to all countries from January 1 next year until 2030.

After a long negotiation process, the 193 member states of the United Nations have agreed to 17 goals and 169 targets that seek to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, promote economic growth and prosperity, improve health and education and protect the planet.

If that sounds like a lot of targets, it is, because the goals represent a very big agenda and the culmination of extensive input from countries, non-government organisations, business and millions of ordinary citizens around the world. All countries including Australia are expected to use the goals in framing their agendas and policies.

What are they?

The Sustainable Development Goals aim to encourage countries and the private sector to focus simultaneously on the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic prosperity, social inclusion and environmental sustainability. Several countries, including Australia, argued during the negotiating process that peace and good governance are pre-conditions for sustainable development.

So there is also a goal (number 16) to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies”, and “build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions”.

Within each of the goals there are targets such as reducing by at least half the number of people living in poverty according to national definitions (goal 1.2) and reducing premature mortality from non-communicable diseases like diabetes by one-third by 2030 (goal 3.4).

Under the clean energy goal there is a target to double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030, and a specific goal to make cities more sustainable with targets to increase affordable housing and access to sustainable transport (goal 11).

Climate change, deforestation and environmental degradation now threaten to undermine future well-being and the development gains that have been achievedCredit: Arienne McCracken

Building on the Millennium Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals build on the Millennium Development Goals (or MDGs), which were agreed by governments in 2000 and expire this year. The MDGs focused on reducing poverty and hunger and improving health and education in developing countries.

The MDGs did not specifically address economic development or infrastructure and were not seen as relevant to developed countries. While one of the MDGs (goal 7) sought to ensure environmental sustainability, most of the focus under this goal has been on the target to halve the proportion of the population without safe drinking water or sanitation.

In some respects the MDGs have been phenomenally successful. They have helped focus the efforts of governments, aid organisations and philanthropists on reducing poverty and improving health and education in developing countries. The extreme poverty rate in developing countries has plummeted from 47 per cent in 1990 to 14 per cent in 2015.

Across the world, tremendous progress has been made in enrolling children in primary school, and even in Sub-Saharan Africa, primary school enrolment increased from 60 per cent in 2000 to 80 per cent in 2015. Real successes have been achieved in the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis and there has been substantial progress in reducing child and maternal mortality.

However the MDGs have been criticised as being too narrow and failing to link together the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental. Many of the challenges the world faces require a global effort from all countries, not just developing countries.

How far have we got to go?

Despite the great advances in poverty alleviation and development, there are still around 800 million people living in extreme poverty or suffering from hunger. In some areas the world has gone backwards. In most countries relative inequality has increased.

Climate change, deforestation and environmental degradation now threaten to undermine future well-being and the development gains that have been achieved. Global greenhouse gases are now more than 50 per cent higher than in 1990 and deforestation, desertification and collapsing fisheries threaten the livelihoods of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

The fact that all the world’s countries have been able to agree on a set of goals and targets for sustainable development – a sort of “to do list” for a better world is important in itself. As the Declaration accompanying the goals states: “Never before have world leaders pledged common action and endeavour across such a broad and universal policy agenda”.

The goals are a tremendous opportunity to spur government, civil society, academic and business action, and set benchmarks against which they will be held accountable. Hopefully the goals will also increase public awareness of the need for sustainable development and mobilise networks of expertise to focus on finding solutions to the world’s key sustainable development challenges.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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