Publications

Lessons from the global COVID-19 crisis

This is the fifth edition of the report Spotlight on Sustainable Development. Since 2016, we have published this report annually to assess not only the implementation of the 2030 Agenda but also the structural obstacles in its realization.

When we started to plan for this year’s report in Autumn 2019, mass protests were shaking a growing number of countries in various regions of the world. In Ecuador, Brazil, Chile and Argentina, in Egypt, Lebanon, and in India, millions of people took to the streets to demonstrate against the prevailing policies.

The triggers were often transit fare increases, cuts in public services and other strict austerity policy measures, which in each country placed a particular burden on the poor and middle classes, particularly women. While the global debt crisis is real, such policies were applied even in countries where fiscal space had not reached a limit and before less damaging options -such as taxing the rich- had been exhausted. Thus, the Spotlight Report 2020 originally aimed to draw attention to the looming global economic and financial crisis, its possible consequences for the achievement of the SDGs and the resulting political consequences.

And then came the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic with its devastating effects in all parts of the world. Of course, we had to react to it in our report. But at the same time, it is important for us to point out that the global spread of the virus and its damages are not independent of “pre-existing conditions” of environmental destruction, climate change, erosion of public services and other symptoms of “maldevelopment”. The economic downturns following the lockdown are due to have dramatic effects.

Thus, the Spotlight Report 2020 aims to unpack the various features and amplifiers of the COVID-19 emergency and its interlinkages with other crises, including the economic lockdown, increased job loss, hunger and homelessness, increased disparities of opportunity, wealth and power both within and among countries, increasing instances of racial and gender violence, discrimination of all those perceived as “different” and escalating climate disasters.

The report consists of three parts: The first, based on national civil society reports, describes how COVID-19 and resulting lockdown has affected countries in different ways, depending on their social and economic circumstances. It also highlights examples of civil society responses to these crises and the various forms of social mobilization for transformational change.

The second

New York, 18 September 

The COVID-19 crisis and the worldwide measures to tackle it have deeply affected communities, societies and economies around the globe. The implementation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has been put at high risk in many countries. COVID-19 is a global wake-up call for enhanced international cooperation and solidarity.

But calls for “building back better” by just pushing the reset button will not change the game. We need structural changes in societies and economies that ensure the primacy of human rights, gender justice and sustainability.

This is the key message of the 2020 edition of the Spotlight Report on Sustainable Development “Shifting policies for a systemic change.” It is published by a broad range of civil society organizations today – on the eve of the Global Action Week for the SDGs and three days before UN`s 75th (virtual) anniversary summit.

The Spotlight Report 2020 unpacks various features and amplifiers of the COVID-19 emergency and its inter-linkages with other crises. The report points out that even before COVID-19, many countries – especially in the global South - were in an economic crisis, characterized by contractionary fiscal policy, growing debt and austerity measures that made these countries more vulnerable to future crises. They are results of a dysfunctional system that puts corporate profit above the rights and well-being of people and planet.

Governments and international organizations have responded to the COVID-19 crisis on a massive scale. The announced liquidity measures, rescue packages and recovery programmes total US$ 11 trillion worldwide. But overall, most measures were not sufficient to meet people’s real financial needs and did not take environmental justice into account.

A true alternative: the “8 R”- agenda for transformational recovery  

According to the Spotlight Report, it is therefore all the more important that longer-term reforms not only support economic recovery, but also promote necessary structural change which will decisively improve peoples’ lives, such as strengthened public social protection systems, improved remuneration and rights of workers in the care economy, and the transition to circular economies, which seek to decouple growth from consumption of finite planetary resources.

As an alternative to the “Great Reset” initiative launched by the World Economic Forum to supposedly rescue capitalism, the Spotlight Report offers the “8 R”- agenda for transformational recovery. It identifies 8 key political and social areas in which re-thinking and

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.

Transforming institutions – shifting power – strengthening rights Four years after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda 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. But there are signs of change. Social movements have emerged worldwide, many with young people and women in the lead. They not only challenge bad or inefficient government policies, but also share a fundamental critique of underlying social structures, power relations and governance arrangements.

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

How to overcome obstacles and contradictions in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda “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 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