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How to capture and manage big data? This is a question that will confront the 51st session of the UN Statistical Commission in March 2020 as they review the official reports. The four-year process of finalizing the global indicator framework to measure the 169 targets of the SDGs is drawing to a conclusion with the acceptance by the IAEG-SDGs of 8 additional indicators, 14 replacement indicators, 8 revised indicators and 6 deleted indicators. The framework has gone to the Commission for approval in March and the focus of different players in the data and statistics community is shifting to the management and use of data to influence and shape development policy agendas.

The year 2020 is starting with mass protests shaking a growing number of countries in various regions of the world. In Ecuador, Chile and Argentina, in Egypt and in Lebanon, millions of people are taking to the streets to demonstrate against the prevailing policies. The protests reflect growing discontent of people in different countries and regions with real and perceived injustices, rising inequalities and unjust adjustments and transition policies.

Governments mostly reacted with austerity policies to the massive increase in foreign debt and the deterioration in macroeconomic conditions. This was partly due to pressure from the financial markets, creditors, and international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which coupled the granting of loans to bridge payment difficulties with a reduction in public spending and a strict austerity- type adjustment conditions.

There is a great danger that the situation will deteriorate further in the years 2020-2021. In a comprehensive study, economists Isabel Ortiz and Matthew Cummins call global austerity policy "The New Normal" and predict a renaissance of the neoliberal Washington Consensus. In an alarming number of 130 countries, they forecast cuts in government spending and other austerity measures over the next two years. The regulatory and fiscal capacity of many governments (their policy space) will thus be considerably restricted - and thus also their ability to implement Agenda 2030 and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The implementation of the SDGs requires massive public investment in the areas of health and education, social security, infrastructure and climate protection. The vicious circle of foreign debt and austerity policies threatens many countries to move away from sustainability goals rather than achieve them by 2030.

Photo by Elena Malmo

"Last year over 200 defenders of Human Rights and the environment were killed in Latin America. They gave their lives for their communities and for the principles that the United Nations stands for. And yet, the statistical framework for the SDGs tells us that the “partnerships” that should contribute to achieve sustainable development will be measured by the dollars they mobilized. The blood spilled by our friends and colleagues doesn't count." During a debate over the 75th anniversary of the UN, at the Pyeong Chang Peace Forum, Social Watch coordinator Roberto Bissio expressed the frustrations of civil society over the lack of meaningful interaction with the UN.

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.

In the Philippines, the preparation of the country's VNR report 2019 catalysed a multi-stakeholder consultation process to which some CSOs, like Social Watch Philippines (SWP) were invited. SWP, in turn, convened a broader consultation process that will result both in inputs to the VNR as well as in an independent civil society report.

The Philippines is currently one of the fastest growing economies of the world, with GDP hovering around 6 to 7 percent in 2018 and growing at an average of almost 5 percent a year in the last decade, but those figures coexist with a high poverty rate, a paradox situation called ‘jobless growth’.

SWP comments that “there seems to be an unspoken yet dominant perspective on wealth, that as long as poverty is minimized, there should be no objection to the unbridled gains of the rich. It is assumed that wealth will trickle down to the poorest.

In the 2030 Agenda governments committed to a revitalized Global Partnership between States and declared that public finance has to play a vital role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But in recent decades, the combination of neoliberal ideology, corporate lobbying, business-friendly fiscal policies, tax avoidance and tax evasion has led to a massive weakening of the public sector and its ability to provide essential goods and services and to fulfill its human rights obligations.

Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are promoted as the most efficient way to provide the necessary means for implementing the SDGs, but many studies have shown that privatization and PPPs involve disproportionate risks and costs for the public sector and can even exacerbate inequalities, decrease equitable access to essential services and jeopardize the fulfilment of human rights. An analysis by Jens Martens, from Global Policy Forum.

The formation of the new Lebanese government on 21 January 2020, nearly one hundred days after the eruption of the popular protests, is an important milestone in the first stage of the confrontation between the “revolution” and the authorities. This has raised questions and discussions among activists and groups whether the revolution has made progress, or the formation of the government constitutes a return to the bottom, to pre 17 October period.

So what has the revolution achieved against the regime?

Indeed, the revolution has had accomplishments on two levels, the authorities’ and popular levels.

Social protection, when properly designed, effectively prevents and reduces poverty and inequality highlight Sylvia Beales and Nicola Wiebe (Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors) in the Spotlight report. Guaranteed social protection supports improved nutrition and access to essential services and can therefore interrupt the vicious cycle of poverty and its intergenerational transfer. Universal access rights to social protection means that those at extreme disadvantage can be reached, which contributes to overcoming deeply rooted experiences of discrimination and exclusion, disempowerment and gender inequality. But currently only 29 percent of the global population count on comprehensive social protection over the lifecourse and for the different contingencies that may occur. Fewer than 16 percent of older people in low-income countries have a pension, with older women less likely than older men to receive one.

Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) issues a statement on the ‘Deal of the Century’ and recalls that an immediate end to Israeli occupation and the recognition of the universal, indivisible and inalienable Palestinian Rights are the foundations of a sustainable Peace in the Middle East.

On January 28th, 2020 the Middle East Peace Plan known as the Deal of the Century was presented by the US President Donald Trump in Washington DC. A “peace” plan that was built unilaterally and that considers the Israeli occupation as the exclusive partner. The “peace” plan markets an illusion of peace at the expense of Palestinian people’s rights and dignity. It gives further impunity to all human rights violations committed by the Israeli occupation, including through legalizing illegal Israeli settlements.

In Finland, the civil society report of Fingo, the association of Finnish development NGOs, concludes that “conflicts of interest between actors lead to decisions where a short-term economic advantage eclipses long-term sustainability.”

Finland claims to be “among the first to draft a national implementation plan, to initiate sustainable development budgeting, to establish an inclusive monitoring system and a citizens’ panel, and commission an external evaluation of the world's first national 2030 Agenda policy, the PATH2030 report published in March 2019”. Yet, the alternative report shows that Finland is not consistently committed to the human rights-based approach of the 2030 Agenda, to ensure that “no one is left behind”. Further, “the 2030 Agenda is widely known about in Finland, but there is no consistent understanding of its interpretation and political significance”.

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