Ambitious Agenda, Ambitious Financing? UNGA Shows a Long Way Still to Go for SDGs

Aregashe Addis in the water utility store where she works in
Debre Tabor, South Gondar, Amhara, Ethiopia. WaterAid and the
UK’s Yorkshire Water utility have provided funding and training
to improve the capacity and operations of the Debre Tabor Water
Utility, ensuring the community’s poorest and most vulnerable
people now have access to water. Credit: WaterAid/Behailu
Shiferaw

By John Garett and Kathryn Tobin
LONDON / NEW YORK, Nov 5 2018 (IPS)

There was a much-needed focus on financing the Sustainable
Development Goals (SDGs) at the September 2018 opening of the
United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

Three years on from the watershed 2015 conferences in Addis
Ababa, New York and Paris, the UN Secretary General Antonio
Guterres has released a new
Strategy for Financing the 2030 Agenda
, covering the period of
2018-2021.

Whilst welcoming the UN Secretary-General’s new ideas and
reaffirmation of core Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) priorities,
the UN’s 193 member states need to show stronger resolve and
political will to break from today’s business-as-usual financing
trajectories.

Willing the end, but not the means

With one-fifth of the time available to deliver the 2030 Agenda
already gone, a serious disconnect between the ambition of the SDGs
and the means of their implementation is opening up. Intending to
set the international community on a course to achieve the SDGs,
Guterres’s strategy aims to align global financing and economic
policies with the 2030 Agenda and enhance sustainable financing
strategies and investments at regional and national level
whileseizing the potential of financial innovations, technologies
and digitalisation.

Discussions around the strategy’s launch revealed plenty of
evidence recognising the urgency of transforming economic and
financial systems to advance sustainable development.
Research
by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), launched
on the morning of the Secretary-General’s
High-Level Meeting, points to alarming trends in several of the
SDGs.

Four hundred million people are likely to be living in extreme
poverty in 2030; there is slow progress in reducing inequalities in
wealth, income or gender; world hunger is on the rise; and access
to safe water and sanitation is actually in decline in some
countries.

These human development challenges combine with unsustainable
pressures on the environment, reflected in the increasing threats
of climate change, rising sea levels, biodiversity loss and
degradation of fresh water resources.

UNGA discussions also provided a clearer picture of the costs of
achieving key SDGs. New estimates from the International Monetary
Fund (IMF) of the costs for achieving the SDGs in the sectors of
health, education, water and sanitation, energy and transport
infrastructure found that US$520 billion a year is required in
low-income developing countries (LIDCs).

A central role for raising revenue at home

The SG’s strategy emphasises how important domestic public
finance is for sustainable development, and we agree that national
ownership should be at the heart of financing solutions. The IMF
estimates scope for developing countries to raise tax rates by on
average 5% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from current levels.

WaterAid research on public finance and the
extractive industries
(a dominant sector in many LIDCs) finds
that weak tax regimes or corruption are undermining domestic
resource mobilisation and the provision of essential services to
people.

In Madagascar, the Government received only 6% of the production
value of its minerals in 2015, and in Zambia, forensic audits of
copper producers released hundreds of millions of dollars to the
exchequer in unpaid tax.

But it’s clear that countries’ efforts to raise revenue at
home won’t on their own be enough to reach the ambition of the
SDGs. To meet this financing gap, the UN has emphasised the role of
private finance, including public-private partnerships and blended
finance.

As the latest encapsulation of this trend, the
Secretary-General’s strategy drew criticism from the
Civil Society Financing for Development (FfD)
Group for its
over-reliance on mobilising private finance. While private finance
is an important part of the financing solution, it is no
panacea.

In New York, lenders and investors highlighted some of the
obstacles to prioritising private finance in low-income contexts:
insufficient data, information gaps and unviable risk premiums.
Debt vulnerabilities preclude significant volumes of external
non-concessional finance in many LIDCs’ contexts – particularly
concerning since 40 percent of LIDCs are now in or approaching a
state of debt distress.

Aligning investment and lending decisions with environmental,
social and governance concerns, as South Africa and the European
Union are seeking to do, is essential. The Secretary-General’s
strategy sends a clear message that progress is too slow in
aligning markets with sustainable development imperatives.

Recent forecasts of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting
Countries (OPEC) that oil and coal consumption will reach
record
levels over coming years is one example of the
misalignment of public policies and financial markets with Agenda
2030 and the transition to a low- or zero-carbon economy.

Towards transformative financing and national ownership
of the 2030 Agenda

How can the urgency expressed at UNGA lead to the actions
required to break out from a business-as-usual financing
trajectory? The answer lies in two sides of the same coin: increase
money coming into, and reduce money coming out from, LIDCs. We
suggest three vital areas for greater attention from the
international community.

First, curbing tax evasion and avoidance, and stopping illicit
financial flows are essential steps to enable the achievement of
the 2030 Agenda. Reform and restructuring of the taxation paradigms
around extractive industries and other corporate investment in
developing countries is fundamental, to prevent the ‘race to the
bottom’ and ensure countries have both policy space and public
finance to pay for their development objectives.

Taking action on tax havens—estimated to store wealth
equivalent to 10% of global GDP—addressing transfer mispricing by
transnational corporations, and supporting improvements in
governance and transparency to tackle corruption are
prerequisites.

What prevents countries from allocating sufficient resources to
water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and to sustainable development
in general is just as important as what enables them to do so.

Second, achieving the 2030 Agenda requires a much stronger
emphasis on international public assistance in grant form, both
Official Development Assistance (ODA) and climate finance, targeted
to the poorest countries. ODI’s
report
indicates that 48 of the poorest countries in the world
cannot afford to fully fund the core sectors of education, health
(including nutrition) and social protection – even if they
maximise their tax effort.

And, while the 2030 Agenda may be voluntary, commitments under
the Paris Agreement on climate change, once ratified, become
binding. The same holds true for human rights commitments.

Industrialised countries, overwhelmingly responsible for global
warming and climate change, must fulfil their climate finance
commitments as an essential first step towards climate justice.
Poor communities urgently need support to adapt to the impacts of
climate change—compensation for a looming environmental crisis
they have had least responsibility in creating.

We could even propose combining targets for ODA and climate
finance into a new SDG target for high-income countries. Merging
existing targets for ODA (0.7% of GNI) and climate funding ($100
billion a year by 2020) could promote coherence and consistency,
and ensure additionality of climate funding.

It could become a mandatory grant-based contribution for
sustainable development from high-income countries (as opposed to
loans, which can push countries further into debt). An initial
combined target of 1% of GNI could be set with a deadline of 2020,
rising again in 2025 to 2.5% of GNI – essentially a new Marshall
Plan for global sustainable development. Financial transaction
taxes and carbon taxes can be important components of funding this
increase, supporting financial stability and the transition to a
zero-carbon economy.

Third, the international community needs to support
institutional strengthening in LIDCs on a much greater scale. IMF
research suggests that successful anti-corruption and
capacity-building initiatives are built on institutional reforms
that emphasise transparency and accountability: for example,
shining a light on all aspects of the government budget to improve
public financial management and efficient spending. In the water
and sanitation sector
we find
that well-coordinated, accountable institutions with
participatory planning processes are necessary to strengthen the
sector to enable universal and sustainable access by 2030.

Time is running out

The discussions around financing the 2030 Agenda at UNGA 2018
reminded us that time is running out. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change report on staying below 1.5 degrees temperature
increase adds a new urgency.

Three years into the SDGs’ implementation, where are the
ambitious multilateral financing commitments required to ensure
that the 2030 Agenda including SDG6 become a reality for everyone
across the globe? Fewer than 12 years remain to take urgent action
nationally and globally to achieve the 2030 Agenda and ensure all
the world’s inhabitants can live in dignity and see their human
rights fulfilled.

Between now and next year’s High-Level Political Forum for
heads of state in September 2019, the international community must
generate the political momentum required for equitable and
ambitious financing, to reach the shared commitments of the
SDGs.

The post
Ambitious Agenda, Ambitious Financing? UNGA Shows a Long Way Still
to Go for SDGs
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

John Garett & Kathryn Tobin, WaterAid

The post
Ambitious Agenda, Ambitious Financing? UNGA Shows a Long Way Still
to Go for SDGs
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Ambitious Agenda, Ambitious Financing? UNGA Shows a Long Way Still to Go for SDGs