What progress is the world making towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
Three years after adopting the Sustainable Development Goals, we’re witnessing a remarkable uptake. We set out to establish three important principles: one is the recognition of universality – what happens in one part of the world determines what happens in another part of the world. We see that with the impact of trade disputes and the imperative of collective action to prevent violent extremism or climate change. Second, we recognise an integrated approach to development as offering significant returns on investment. How can we make such a framework deliver more intelligent national budgets and joined-up efforts that address poverty and create skills for tomorrow’s labour markets? Third is the principle of leaving no one behind. Multidimensional poverty is central to national policy debates and political discourse. We’ve made progress, but we’re still at the point of informing national discussions and emerging policy responses.
What major challenges lie ahead?
A huge challenge is increasing international tensions and polarisation. The fundamental tenets of the international frameworks and agreements we developed to work together are being questioned. Even the concept of globalisation is again at the centre of debates of national versus collective interest, which creates uncertainty, ambivalence and unpredictability that have spillover effects. Emerging economies are dealing with volatile exchange rates, withdrawn foreign capital and slowing investments, and feeling that they are victims of a broader disagreement in the global arena.
How is the United Nations Development Programme working to transcend these challenges?
We support countries in their national governance, development planning and policy development. We’ve been surprised by how quickly the SDGs have moved to the level of provinces, states and municipalities. We are also very focused on the issue of financing. We’re working with the Indonesian government, for example, on exploring the sukuk, an asset-backed green bond that could mobilise capital to invest at the community level to develop local renewable energy infrastructure. From local to national governance and financing strategies for implementing SDGs, that’s the core of UNDP’s work and we’re engaged in more than 100 countries now.
Are we raising the required money to support hitting the 2030 targets quickly enough?
In the United Nations, we start from the premise that cooperation yields greater outcomes than competition, although competition can be good. Public budgets are grossly inadequate to address the scale and magnitude of the investments needed. The economic transformation of infrastructure, decarbonisation and low carbon emissions requires a significant makeover to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement. Inequality is a serious challenge for governments making development and budget decisions, particularly in developing countries investing in modernisation, industrialisation and infrastructure. Decisions have to be balanced with poverty reduction, sometimes long neglected in communities that become so disconnected to their nation state that they respond more easily to support from extremist groups. We need to figure out how governments can crowd in private capital to invest in programmes that bring a return for the investor and align with public good outcomes – whether least developed, middle income or even developed countries.
How can the leaders at Buenos Aires help?
A top priority is to reduce the tensions currently preoccupying the G20 members themselves. That would provide some stability for the global economy. It would also help the international community feel the G20 is conscious that its decisions influence what happens at home and also shape the decisions and the scope for national development in virtually every country. G20 meetings matter.
On climate change, differences among G20 members should not preclude those that wish to signal strong leadership and consequential action. Most countries are extremely aware of the need to act and they require reassurance and leadership.
Digitalisation, automation and artificial intelligence affect every country simultaneously. We need a cooperative approach to ensure these technologies do not create greater divides, within or between societies. But new technologies are emerging so quickly that we may already be 30 years behind. No one knows precisely how this will play out, for example in the future labour markets, but it will be dramatic in scale and pace, and in the implications for business, finance and economics. Having governments look ahead to work with industry, society and the public is an absolute imperative.
The G20 also provides direction on what kind of regulatory and enabling environment should be in place to make sure new technologies, which promise enormous benefits, are governed in a way that enables us to shape our future markets in service industries, be it finance, transport or property ownership, informed by the principles in the 2030 Agenda for us to move forward together as nations, and as a global community.