Assessment of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for its first years

Photo by Elena Malmo

Intervention of Barbara Adams, Global Policy Forum, at the Parallel Session “UN2020” of the PyeongChang Peace Forum, Republic of Korea, February 10, 2020.

By Barbara Adams*

What is your assessment of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development for its first years (2015-2020) from a CSO perspective, especially from a peace/disarmament perspective?

Global agenda

The 2030 Agenda has been a major driver for all sectors and constituencies that cite its achievement as the major rationale for their work and activities, be they in the public or private sector.

A ground-breaking feature of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are their integrated nature. Monitoring and implementation are not done by goal but by clusters of goals - to do justice to the inter-linkages among them.

However, some goals, such as SDG 1 on poverty, SDGs 3 and 4 on health and education, as well as SDG 16 on peaceful and just societies are getting a lot more attention than others and some are being avoided, notably SDG10 on inequalities and SDG 12 on production and consumption.

 Multiyear stock-taking: off track in achieving the SDGs

The first major stock-taking of progress toward the goals took place at the 2019 High-level Political Forum (HLPF), meeting both in July at the ECOSOC, and at the heads of State and Governments Summit in September. All assessments with regard to progress sounded the alarm loud and clear that we are off track to achieve the SDGS by 2030.

The UN Secretary-General stated that it was clear “that progress has been slow on many Goals, that the most vulnerable people and countries continue to suffer the most, and that the global response thus far has not been ambitious enough”.

The Deputy Secretary-General echoed this, saying that we need to send “a clear message that we are off track when it comes to achieving the SDGs and that a deeper, more ambitious, more transformative, and more integrated response is urgently needed to get back on track”.

What is driving this lag?

In January 2020 the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned of an impending financial disaster driven by inequality, as illustrated by the UK and OECD countries: “In the United Kingdom, for example, the top 10 percent now control nearly as much wealth as the bottom 50 percent. This situation is mirrored across much of the OECD where income and wealth inequality have reached or are near record highs.”

Elsewhere are issues of debt repayment and illicit financial flows (IFFs). Jamaica, for example, currently spends 20 percent of government revenue on foreign debt payments. Increased public financing is needed in all countries to meet the obligations of the SDGs but the high levels of public debt and its servicing compete directly with these obligations and inhibit this financing. The same countries (OECD) that appear to champion the SDGs have blocked proposals for a comprehensive approach to a debt workout mechanism and principles for responsible borrowing and lending.

The African Union has documented that the continent loses over US$50 billion each year through IFFs that “reduce the availability of resources for financing sustainable development and impact the economic, social and political stability and development of societies, especially in developing countries”.

These all reveal obstacles in the global economic governance regime to the achievement of the SDGs as well as demonstrate their universality and the accountability of all member States.

Such interlinkages are also evident with the peace agenda.

SDGs and peace

The 2030 Agenda is framed around the statement: There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.

The Secretary-General has made this clear: “Sustainable development is an end in itself, and must be considered as such. But it is also one of the most effective tools for prevention.” He has added that: “human rights permeate the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. And they are among our best tools for preventing conflict”.

Any assessment must recognize that the analysis that informed the goals and their targets in 2015 has developed substantially.

Over the last couple of years awareness has grown of the multiple dimensions of warfare - trade wars, cyberwarfare, the use of autonomous weapons.

We have known for a long time about the role of mercenaries in conflict, but we are also becoming acutely aware of the outsourcing by some States of their responsibilities for the conduct of war to private security firms. And all of this has to be taken into consideration as we are looking at addressing the threats to peace.

Amongst the biggest threats to SDG implementation – finance; measurement; governance forum

The UN High-level Political Forum is an inadequate governance forum for the task.

There is no doubt that the 2030 Agenda has been driving UN reform and in particular reform of the UN development system. However, neither this nor the issues with regard to military and non-military threats to peace come up in the High-level Political Forum (HLPF), which is inadequate to the task of assessment and correction.

It is not the right forum, for example, for addressing (legal) global military expenditures, which, according to the latest figures from SIPRI, run at US$230.00 per person per annum. Compare this with the global investment in the development and peace infrastructure of the UN. The total contributed to the United Nations system for everything that it does barely comes to US$7.00 per person on the planet.

The five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany are the top arms exporters and members of the HLPF.

While the SDGs contain a target for addressing arms flows, this is for illicit flows only, not for legal arms exports.

Military and non-military threats to peace are not new, but one of the achievements of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs is the positive agenda against which to measure progress and hold all sectors especially governments and the corporate sector accountable and to challenge the obstacles arising from policies that undermine a peace and justice agenda.


* Speaking notes for the intervention by Barbara Adams, Global Policy Forum, at the Parallel Session “UN2020” of the PyeongChang Peace Forum, Republic of Korea, February 10, 2020.