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It’s Not Just Kudos For Sustainable Development Goals

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By J R Nastranis | IDN-InDepthNews Analysis


NEW YORK (IDN) - The 193-Member United Nations General Assembly formally adopted on September 25 the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, along with a set of what the UN called “bold” new Global Goals. These have however received a mixed response.

While Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed the SDGs as a universal, integrated and transformative vision for a better world, Friends of the Earth International and Global Justice Now faulted these. However, the Global Financial Integrity welcomed the official adoption of goals.

“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 Ban as he opened the three-day UN Sustainable Development Summit, which concludes on September 27.

Ban’s address came ahead of the Assembly’s formal adoption of the new framework, ‘Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,’ which is composed of 17 goals and 169 targets to wipe out poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change over the next 15 years.

Official UN circles say the Goals aim to build on the work of the historic Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which in September 2000 rallied the world around a common 15-year agenda to tackle the indignity of poverty.

The new agenda, they say, recognizes that the world is facing immense challenges, ranging from widespread poverty, rising inequalities and enormous disparities of opportunity, wealth and power to environmental degradation and the risks posed by climate change.

“Never before have world leaders pledged common action and endeavor across such a broad and universal policy agenda,” states the Declaration adopted by the leaders. “We are setting out together on the path towards sustainable development, devoting ourselves collectively to the pursuit of global development and of ’win-win‘ cooperation which can bring huge gains to all countries and all parts of the world.”

Sam Cossar-Gilbert, Economic Justice and Resisting Neoliberalism coordinator at Friends of the Earth International, warned that as the UN announced goals to be achieved by 2030, a crucial but secret trade meeting was taking place to advance the Trans Pacific Partnership, which will set the economic rules for 40 percent of the world economy, and threatens to undermine the UN goals before they have even begun.

In a press release one day ahead of the official adoption of SDGs, Global Justice Now declared: “The SDGs miss the point: it’s about power, stupid.”

Nick Dearden, the director of Global Justice Now said: “Obviously we all want to get rid of poverty – but we can’t do that by continuing ‘business as usual’ or simply wishing poverty away. Some people are very poor because others are very rich. So challenging poverty also means challenging wealth, challenging power. And the SDGs aren’t up to the job.”

Dearden said: “The obscene levels of inequality and poverty that we see around the world have been driven by the imposition of a set of economic policies, which have benefited some and been disastrous for many others. The SDGs advocate more of the same.”

He added: “The so-called ‘development model’ being pushed in the SDGs is dangerously outdated – ‘trickle down’ economics has benefited tiny elites in the global south alongside western multinationals, while for most people poverty and inequality have gotten worse, rather better, since the free market surge of the 1980s.”

But development cannot be separated from any conception of politics or power. Global Justice Now warned. “Poverty isn’t simply the difference between living on USD1.20 and USD1.40 a day. It’s about lacking power over those resources that you need to live a decent life – food, water, shelter, access to healthcare, education. If one person – or corporation – controls them, that means others don’t. The SDGs stress the need to provide access to resources for the poor, but fail to mention the need to challenge power relations which allow the elite to monopolise global resources.”

Dearden said it seemed incredible that the New International Economic Order (NIEO) was really UN policy, but it passed the General Assembly in May 1974 and was regarded as much too moderate by many campaigners of the time. The NIEO declared that “the remaining vestiges of alien and colonial domination, foreign occupation, racial discrimination, apartheid and neo-colonialism in all its forms continue to be among the greatest obstacles to… full emancipation and progress”.

In an era when few people knew what a TNC (transnational corporation) was, Its recommendations included the “regulation and supervision of the activities of transnational corporations”, as well as radical reform of the global trade regime, said Dearden.

He added: “The world has changed and the NIEO is not a blueprint for a perfect planet. But it highlights the poverty of ‘development’ thinking, the pinnacle of which is represented by the SDGs. The answer to world poverty can’t be found among the development professional and celebrities in New York . . . Rather it will be found among the many thousands of activists, community organisations and social movements who are really confronting power in the world.”

In contrast, Global Financial Integrity applauded the official adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the UN General Assembly. This marks the first time that illicit financial flows – which are estimated at close to USD1 trillion per year – are considered a part of the development equation.

Previously, development planners counted money entering developing economies (aid, trade, foreign investment and remittances), but the impact of illicit money flowing out of those economies had never been considered.

“This is the goal Global Financial Integrity (GFI) set at its launch in 2006,” GFI President Raymond Baker said in reaction to the new global commitments. “The scourge that illicit financial flows (IFFs) inflict upon poverty alleviation efforts has become well known and now is addressed in the Sustainable Development Goals agenda (target 16.4). This is momentous day for development efforts around the globe,” he noted.

To put the problem in perspective, illicit financial outflows exceeded the total amount of official development aid and foreign direct investment flowing into developing countries in seven of the last ten years (2003-2012).

The next step for the international community is to address the largest component of IFFs, which is trade misinvoicing, GFI said in a media release.This is the intentional misrepresentation of the value of goods being imported or exported in order to move money offshore and to evade various taxes and duties in a developing country –essentially trade fraud.

GFI estimates that in 2012 alone some USD 730 billion in illicit flows due to trade misinvoicing exited developing economies. In the previous 10 years the value of trade misinvoicing is estimated at USD 5 trillion.

“GFI is prepared to work directly with governments to help meet the challenge of addressing trade misinvoicing,” Baker noted, given the UN’s recognition of the impact illicit flows have on development.

“By estimating the magnitude and nature of each country’s misinvoicing challenge, assessing their needs and working collaboratively we will continue to lead in this vitally important development space,” he added. [IDN-InDepthNews – 25 September 2015]

Photo: Ahead of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit, a 10-minute film introducing the sustainable development goals was projected onto the UN Headquarters in New York.

2015 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters
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