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.

New York, 15 July 2019: 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

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

The third edition of the civil society report Spotlight on Sustainable Development states that unpaid care work represents the largest subsidy to the global economy and the main obstacle for women´s economic participation. Care public policies are needed to transform the social organization of care and narrow gender gaps.

New York, 9 July 2018: “The world is off-track in terms of achieving sustainable development and fundamental policy changes are necessary to unleash the transformative potential of the SDGs.” This is the main message of the Spotlight Report 2018, the most comprehensive independent assessment of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The report is launched on the opening day of the High Level Political Forum at the United Nations in New York by a global coalition of civil society organizations and trade unions.

When UN Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda, they signaled with the title 'Transforming our World' that it should trigger fundamental changes in politics and society, argues the report.

Yet, “three years after its adoption, most governments have failed to turn the vision of the 2030 Agenda into real policies. Even worse, policies in a growing number of countries are moving in the opposite direction, seriously undermining the spirit and the goals of the 2030 Agenda.”

The Spotlight 2018 report focuses on policies that are needed and, as the authors underline, “possible”:

“There is a need for more coherent fiscal and regulatory policies and a whole-of-government approach towards sustainability.”

“Governments should promote policies that are genuinely coherent in the interest of sustainable development, human rights and gender justice.”

“The implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs must not be hidden in the niche of environment and development policies but must be declared a top priority by all heads of government.”

“The national strategies for sustainable development should not be regarded as one among many but constitute the overarching framework for all policies.”

The 160-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 all parts of the world. The contributions cover many 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 2018

Exploring new policy pathways

How to overcome obstacles and contradictions in

New York, 19 July 2017: Despite soaring rhetoric, glossy reports and slick presentations, the fact remains that implementation on the ground is “stalled”, as highlighted in a series of civil society national reports as part of the global Spotlight Report initiative.

Increasingly, civil society is expressing concern that the SDGs are being used not as a roadmap for social, economic and environmental transformation, but as a vehicle to entrench inequitable power relations. In particular, as exhibited in many speeches at the HLPF over the last week and official national reports, much energy is invested in high-profile ‘partnerships’ with the private sector. This bias is illustrated by the fact that the UN General Assembly Hall was dedicated to the ‘SDG Business Forum’ on Tuesday, while Voluntary National Reviews were entertained in an overflowing room, and the majority of civil society requests to hold events within the UN were turned down.

As Spotlight on Sustainable Development, a concise report by a broad coalition of civil society organizations around the globe, exposes, many of these partnerships are profoundly problematic concerning transparency, equality and human rights impacts. We are stuck in a cycle of inequality: wealthy elites and rich multinational corporations are able to translate their economic power into political access and influence government decisions, further entrenching their advantage.  As Iara Pietricovsky of Brazilian organization INESC stated in a civil society event on Tuesday, “we are living a privatization of our democracy.” Tax breaks, deregulation, and lucrative contracts for public-private partnerships are all symptoms of this corporate capture, at people’s expense. As another example of this phenomenon, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing Leilani Farha explains in the Spotlight Report how “the unprecedented dominance of financial corporations in the housing sector” is undermining human rights and SDG 11.

One of the great strengths of the 2030 Agenda, which civil society fought hard for, was the inclusion of pledges to tackle inequalities. But dependence on private sector financing will only exacerbate existing inequalities of all kinds, therefore risking the failure of the whole agenda. As Kate Donald of the Center for Economic and Social Rights writes in the Spotlight Report: “The problem of inequality simply cannot be solved by market-based solutions or attention-grabbing private sector initiatives; it requires serious efforts to transform power relations and resource distribution to stand any chance of success.”

Contact in New York

  • Barbara Adams, Global Policy Forum

New York, 18 July 2017: During the Voluntary National Reviews (VNR) of 44 countries at the 2017 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, many civil society activists raised questions, criticizing government (in-)action as well as crippling framework conditions that slow down implementation of the 2030 Agenda at the national level.

Ziad Abdel Samad, Director of Arab NGO Network for Development, highlighted the situation in his region: “Foreign occupation, armed conflicts and wars are key challenges, even before talking about stability and essential political reforms. It is obvious that there is no development without peace and no peace without development. Moreover, systemic challenges, which are the result of persisting neoliberal authoritarianism after the Arab uprisings, are going side by side with austerity measures and neoliberal economic policies imposed and promoted mainly by the International Financial Institutions and other partners

“Conditionalities imposed by lenders and demanded by foreign investors, together with a lack of genuine political will and an ignorance towards rights based approaches at national level, decrease policy space which in turn increases tensions between decision makers and societies at large. Additional restrictions are imposed on civil society and social actors, limiting participation and civic engagement in public policy making.”

In a different part of the world, Brazil, a deep economic recession – aggravated by political uncertainty in the wake of a corruption scandal rooted in PPPs – is being used as an excuse for further privatization.  Dramatic cuts in social security and government spending, as well as a reform of the pension system have had no immediate positive economic effect. The logical conclusion is that “in this context it is highly unlikely for Brazil to achieve proper implementation of the SDGs,” as a civil society report from Brazil explains. To make things worse, the country is left with an acting president charged with corruption, as are several of his ministers and parliamentarians. All this after the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff in what many have called a “legislative coup”, as no criminal charges have been brought against her.

Brazil is not the only country hit by the scandal of PPP-related bribes that emerged after a pattern of systematic corruption by infrastructure giant Odebrecht was revealed across Latin America. In Peru, ex-president Humala joins the list of former leaders under legal prosecution or in exile. All political parties are implied in the Odebrecht scanal. To add a

New York, 17 July 2017: On Monday, 17 July, the sponsors of the High-Level Panel report on Women’s Economic Empowerment are presenting a panel on “Accelerating women’s economic empowerment to achieve the 2030 Agenda”, head-lined by the Secretary-General. They will be joined by a diverse Member State ‘group of champions for women’s economic empowerment’. Given the knowledge and expertise of the High-Level Panel and the national level experience of the group of champions, they will have many examples of opportunities, but will they highlight the risks?  

The High-Level Panel report brought together a wide range of stakeholders to identify drivers of transformation and focus on expanding women’s economic opportunities in the world of work, emphasizing the essential role of the private sector. Despite the benefits such partnership opportunities may bring, the danger in prioritizing them is to neglect the structural and regulatory responsibilities of the state – thereby risking undermining its power to realize women’s human rights – for which it is ultimately responsible.

Will the July 17 panelists examine the risks of using public monies to subsidize private corporations, which would not invest in development projects otherwise? Would this not only divert public resources from strengthening the decent work agenda, anti-violence legislation and service delivery, among other things, but also undermine the ability of the state to honor commitments to the 2030 Agenda, including women’s empowerment? Will they provide examples of how the global tax system, through the erosion of tax bases and continuing existence of secrecy jurisdictions, drain the public purse of the resources needed to promote women’s rights? Will they show how trade and investment agreements, which empower corporations to sue governments that seek to regulate public health or the environment for lost future profits?

These constraints are a key issues for participants in the 2017 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development currently taking place at the UN in New York. They were also a key part of the analysis of women’s empowerment in the UN Women flagship report, Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016—Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights. Will the High-Level Panel experts take the opportunity to broaden its framework to benefit from this report?

Contact in New York:

New York City, 14 July 2017: With the first week of deliberations at the 2017 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development coming to a close this Friday at the UN in New York, civil society activists are criticizing a piecemeal approach to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Especially worrisome to activists is a growing gap between aspirational goals and a lack of proper and comprehensive means of implementation.

On many occasions – during side-events as well as in official sessions – civil society experts pointed out that relying on financial means alone to implement the SDGs represented a reductionist view. “It is important to question whether ‘trillions’ are really needed to achieve the goals. More fundamental are the policy and regulatory challenges,” explained Stefano Prato, Managing Director at Society for International Development.

Rather than looking for ever-new financial products to pay for ‘sustainable investments’, he added, there was the need to challenge production models, with their “externalities” and ossification of gender inequalities in the division of labor. Furthermore, the excessive focus on national level implementation – with the subliminal message that implementation primarily was a job for developing countries – diverted attention away from international economic, environmental and political circumstances. These central pillars in means of implementation for the SDGs continue to restrain the policy and fiscal space of developing countries and provide structural obstacles to their development efforts.

Chee Yoke Ling, Director of Programmes at Third World Network, reiterated: “The HLPF should not just be a space for presenting ever-new schemes for how to funnel money into the place perceived to be the right one”. She added: “Rather, the Forum should give space to a debate around what normative framework is needed to create the necessary policy and political space for countries, particularly in the global South. Only in this way will the renewed global Partnership be able to avoid PPPs increasing costs and worsening inequalities, or trade rules that impede the abilities of smallholder farmers to produce food locally.”

“The rates of return promised on some of the proposed ‘innovative’ financing mechanisms just don’t make any sense. In fact, rather than showing sensible ways of tapping into much needed long-term financing instruments, the suggested ‘bundling’ of risky loans into AAA packages to be sold to pension funds reminds me of practices that are proven to have led us into the latest global financial crisis.”

New York 13 July 2017: As the SDG 17 is under review today at the HLPF 2017, civil society groups express their concern for the inadequacy of the combined MoI/AAAA framework to match the ambition of the 2030 Agenda. The worrying slogan of ‘making the business case for sustainable development’, clearly exemplifies how private finance, rather than public policies and investments, is being portrayed as the fundamental key to SDG implementation, says the Spotlight Report, a comprehensive independent assessment released in New York on the opening day of the High Level Political Forum 2017.