The post 2015 development agenda adopted by the UN this year is presented as a strategy for transforming the world. This is understandable given the fact that the goals that it envisages to reach can only be achieved in a radically transformed world. It is a very comprehensive, well articulated document that covers almost all areas that matter for the well being of people everywhere: poverty, agriculture, health, education, gender, water, energy, growth and decent employment, industrialization, inequality, human settlement, consumption, climate change, seas, ecosystem, peace, justice and global cooperation. If all the issues in these areas are effectively addressed, the world would be a radically different place where everybody would be living happy, prosperous and peaceful lives.
Economic and political developments over the last several decades have produced mixed results. This is evident from political stability and economic growth leading to poverty alleviation and peace in some countries, while persisting Poverty and underdevelopment have been accompanied by growing political violence elsewhere. On the other hand, ideological and other factors continue to fuel conflicts both within and across countries, leading to the destruction of economic, social and physical infrastructure, making settled life in traditional habitats impossible for many people.
As regards the environment, developments in many countries are not very encouraging. Increasing pollution, degradation or depletion of natural resources and the effects of climate change are threatening livelihoods and habitats of many communities.
Up to now, what has been said is mostly descriptive. The question as to what factors cause the above developments remains to be answered. On the other hand, if we do not identify the reasons for the persisting economic, social, cultural and environmental problems, it would be virtually impossible to find effective strategies to solve them.
"When we look at the economic, social and environmental problems that we face in many countries around the world, neoliberal development agenda pursued by many Governments and international institutions has been a major factor."
When we look at the economic, social and environmental problems that we face in many countries around the world, neoliberal development agenda pursued by many Governments and international institutions has been a major factor. Moreover, the highly unequal global order that has emerged, in the absence of effective remedies, tends to reproduce itself, leading to the perpetuation of various problems and issues discussed.
The global transformation that is required to bring about sustainable development, peace and sociopolitical stability on a planetary scale demands a radical development and social policy shift. Are the present global institutions are ready or have the willingness and capacity to bring about such a transformation? On the one hand, the world continues to be segmented into independent nation States whose primary responsibility is to respond to internal pressures. How States deal with such pressures depends on a whole range of factors such as the nature of the political system and ideological and other divisions of the local population. Despite the articulation of a set of universal values and standards by the UN and other institutions, there is a wide variation in the way Governments conduct themselves in dealing with development, governance and other issues. This variation by and large seems to determine the way different states respond to global issues. The ongoing conflict in the Middle East illustrates this point in no uncertain terms.
SDG’s appear to be encapsulated within a broadly liberal framework. But the global transformation envisaged demands us to go beyond liberalism and neoliberalism that guide the thinking and actions of many global actors. Are we ready to share human and material resources across national boundaries to overcome tremendous challenges we face in diverse areas ? As is well known, global financial resources are highly unequally distributed. Many countries do not have either private or public finances needed for critical investments. In fact, many countries are heavily indebted and do not have any surplus to be reinvested. Traditional donors are not awash with financial resources either. Technology is a critical factor in development and public welfare but availability of this resource in different countries depends on their levels of R&D investments. How does the present global intellectual property regime help us in addressing this issue ?
It is easy to prepare a wish list but it is not so easy to achieve them unless we discuss why we have ended up in the present predicament and how we envisage to get out of it and achieve our goals. These questions can be discussed in relation to each of the SDG’s. Since space does not permit such a detailed discussion, few issues can be discussed as illustrative examples.
The two most important issues that we need to reflect on is how we are going to overcome resource constraints and how we are going to deal with contentious ideological issues. Serious issues of poverty, deprivation, widening income inequality, the lack of social protection and insecure employment, conflicts caused by conflicting ideologies and world views, environmental pollution, natural resource depletion and loss of biodiversity caused by over-exploitation have become global issues but the global instruments available to deal with them have not been effective.
2030 SDG agenda recognizes the need to effectively use the national policy space to develop and deploy effective policies and strategies to reach national goals with respect to sustainable development. Yet, there is wide variation across countries regarding the prospects for doing so. The nature of governance is a critical factor here. In countries where there are democratic governments backed by effective public institutions, the task is easier, though there are other serious impediments that need to be overcome. These naturally include resource constraints. While it is easy to agree with the authors of the 2030 SD agenda regarding the indivisibility and integrated nature of different SD goals, conventional institutional practice in most countries is rarely in line with such thinking.
The proliferation of Ministries and specialized institutions working in isolation of each other often prevent lateral thinking , sharing of resources and coordinated action. Yet, all these are not necessarily insurmountable, provided the necessary political will and necessary institutional reforms are secured. This is not an impossibility in Sri Lanka and in many other countries. On the other hand, standards of governance in much of the developing world is much to be desired and the prospects for mobilizing the necessary economic, political and institutional resources around the 2030 agenda are not very good. How can this situation be transformed ?