Economic and Social Council President Underscores Imperative to Include Women, Young People in Labour Markets amid Worrying Development Trends
The Economic and Social Council convened two interactive discussions today with speakers underscoring the need to more effectively support poorer countries in reaching development objectives, as it concluded the first five days of its High‑Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.
This morning, the Forum held a round‑table discussion on the theme “Financing the Sustainable Development Goals: Moving from words to action”, during which panellist Homi Kharas of the Brookings Institution noted that Government spending on the Sustainable Development Goals has reached $20 trillion and is due to increase.
“The problem is that almost all the current spending is done in high‑income and upper middle-income economies and very little spending is being done in low‑income economies,” he said. Significant gaps emerge between minimum spending needs and actual spending levels — creating a cumulative gap of $840 billion per year. These gaps are heavily concentrated in lower middle-income countries, which also have the largest economies and populations. They can be filled by honouring pledges to allocate 0.7 per cent of gross national income to official development assistance (ODA). Doing so could yield $200 billion a year, he explained, while multilateral development banks could unlock a further $1.4 trillion.
Panellist Dag-Inge Ulstein, Norway’s Minister for International Development, described how his country helps developing countries address tax gaps, pointing to its work with the United Republic of Tanzania to clear a backlog of tax audits in the mining industry. Underscoring the unique roles of civil society, World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and United Nations in rectifying tax administrations, he added: “No single methodology will provide a silver bullet.”
Panellist Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary at the United Nations Economic Community for Africa, said $1.2 trillion is needed to close the gap between the funds needed and those provided to the continent. For every dollar gained in an African country, $2.50 flows out illicitly. “So, these countries are actually getting poorer,” she said, stressing the need to standardize interaction with mining companies. “If we are serious about combating illicit financial flows, we really need to come together as an international community,” she asserted.
In the ensuing discussion, Ghana’s delegate said one way of closing the development gap is to have multinational companies pay taxes in countries where they operate. Unless this happens, there will be no way for least developed countries to achieve the 2030 Agenda. Meanwhile, South Africa’s representative objected to conditionalities which tend to punish developing countries and “leave them behind”. It is also essential to empower young people. “Get up, stand up, developing countries, show your leadership, fulfill your commitments,” he urged.
“Each one of us has to make concrete efforts for change,” said Portugal’s representative. On that point, the representative of Denmark said his country has delivered on the its ODA pledges for 41 years. “It is a lonely club of only five countries.”
In the afternoon, Government officials joined civil society representatives in an interactive discussion exploring the usefulness of the voluntary national review process — namely, the structure through which countries report to the Forum on their progress in implementing the 2030 Agenda. Moderated by Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the session heard several speakers welcome the fact that over 150 countries have already submitted reviews.
Some delegates said the stock-taking exercise has helped their Governments improve data collection, address policy inconsistencies and avoid overlap and duplication. However, others stressed that the reviews have sometimes resembled “travel brochures”, instead of honest examinations of the situation on the ground. Still others drew attention to a broad lack of civil society participation in the process, with one speaker emphasizing that vulnerable groups — the very reason why the 2030 Agenda was adopted — must not be excluded from its implementation.
Also in the afternoon, Economic and Social Council President Inga Rhonda King (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), along with Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, provided an overview of discussions during the first week of the High-Level Political Forum.
While the international community is on the right path, no Goal or target should be considered met unless met for all social and economic groups, Ms. Spatolisano said, noting that the Forum’s first five days have reminded participants that they have the means and tools to achieve the 2030 Agenda.
Ms. King, highlighting key messages, said the global response has not been ambitious enough — and there are worrying trends. Investment in education, quality employment and vocational training is imperative, as are special efforts to integrate women and young people into labour markets.
The High-Level Political Forum will reconvene at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, 16 July, to begin its ministerial segment.
Interactive Discussion I
This morning, the Forum convened a round‑table discussion on the theme “Financing the Sustainable Development Goals: Moving from words to action”, moderated by Courtenay Rattray, Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the United Nations and Co‑facilitator for the 2018 Financing for Development outcome document. It featured presentations by Yongyi Min, Development Data and Outreach Branch, Statistics Division, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs; Dag‑Inge Ulstein, Minister for International Development, Norway; Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Community for Africa; Thomas Gass, Head of the South Cooperation Department, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation; Zeid Ladhari, Minister of Development, Investment and International Cooperation of Tunisia; and Mahmoud Mohieldin, Senior Vice‑President of the World Bank Group.
Homi Kharas, Interim Vice‑President and Director of the Global Economy and Development Program, Brookings Institution, delivered a keynote address, while Iñigo Urkullu Renteria, Lehendakari (President), Basque government, Spain; and Lubin Wang, Chief Representative Officer, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China in Africa and Non-Executive Director Standard Bank Group served as lead discussants.
Ms. MIN emphasized that, despite an increase in pledges from developed countries, aid is falling, particularly to the neediest countries. Donor countries are not living up to their promise to ramp up development financing which is affecting efforts to achieve development goals. Remittances remain and will continue to be a large source of external financing in the neediest countries. Trade tensions among the world’s largest economies meanwhile are reverberating, affecting producers and consumers worldwide, while demand for high‑quality and timely data is increasing, requiring countries to improve statistical capacity across their national statistical systems. To meet statistical capacity objectives by 2030, current commitments must double, she emphasized.
Mr. KHARAS, delivering the keynote address, said it is time to move from discussing big global aggregates and to a much more granular discussion about the financing of specific problems facing specific people. Government spending on the Sustainable Development Goals has reached upwards of $20 trillion and is due to increase. “The problem is that almost all the current spending is done in high‑income and upper middle-income economies and very little spending is being done in low-income economies,” he asserted. He emphasized the need to increase spending, noting that, as countries grow, they tend to have resources for sustainable development. Significant gaps emerge between minimum spending needs and actual spending levels — the total, cumulative gap is at least $840 billion per year.
Therefore, he said, it is essential to ensure that funds are spent efficiently and effectively, and that the specific context of each country is considered. The spending gap is heavily concentrated in lower middle-income countries, which also have the largest economies and populations. Turning to domestic resource mobilization, he described current tax structures as more regressive than progressive, adding: “The poor pay more than the ones better off in those societies.” Achieving the 0.7 per cent target in official development assistance (ODA) could yield $200 billion more. There is also ample scope for non‑concessional resources, he said, noting that multilateral development banks could unlock $1.4 trillion in lending with minimal incremental risks and could then mobilize private finance to achieve the required scale for transformative investments.
Mr. ULSTEIN described how Norway is assisting developing countries address tax gaps, noting that, when it comes to tax policy and administration, there is considerable room for improvement in most developing countries. Taxation on natural resource-based industries remains a major challenge. “No single methodology will provide a silver bullet,” he said, noting that Norway is helping tax authorities in the United Republic of Tanzania clear a large backlog of tax audits in the mining industry. Civil society organizations play a vital role in securing company payments, while the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the United Nations help to rectify tax administrations and address specific challenges. He urged development actors to collect and make accessible data that could help the international community promote development.
Ms. SONGWE said ODA and even foreign direct investment (FDI) has been dropping over the last three years, particularly in Latin America. In Africa, $1.2 trillion is needed to close the gap between funds needed and financing provided. For every dollar gained that comes into an African country, $2.50 flows out illicitly. “So, these countries are actually getting poorer,” she said, also expressing concern over the manipulation of international trade. “We need to standardize the processes for how we work with mining companies.” The World Bank continues to combat such practices, but “if we are serious about combating illicit financial flows, we really need to come together as an international community”. She drew attention to Senegal, South Africa and Mauritius among other African countries that have adopted standards and methods to combat illicit financial flows.
Mr. GASS said development partners need more information from developing partners because development is a joint investment. “Countries owe it to their populations because if we want the 2030 Agenda [for Sustainable Development] to become a reality, it needs to become a social contract between Governments and their people,” he added. Stressing that not enough FDI is flowing into the least developed countries, he said more can be done with the private sector, “but must be done in accordance with principles”. Such decisions are not simply about money — giving money or investing money; they concern the efficiency and effectiveness with which that money is invested.
Mr. LADHARI said Tunisia’s development strategy is based on investments, taxation, saving and international financing. The corporate tax has been reduced, as have import taxes. Tunisia also has changed its income‑tax‑collection policy on low-income households. It is reviewing the lump-sum taxation system, as well as various categories for taxpayers in order to improve the business environment. On savings, he said Tunisia has taken measures to eliminate purchasing credits and changed exemptions for foreign currency savings. Another course of funding is private-public financing. Due to volatility in Tunisia’s currency, the Government faces challenges in accessing international funds.
Mr. MOHIELDIN noted the decline of ODA, particularly to developing countries in Africa. In addition to mobilizing new resources, it is equally important to address the gaps and leakages in the current system. Because of the universality of the Sustainable Development Goals, being more granular in problem solving is more vital than ever. Data allows development partners and aid recipients to be more targeted in their approach. “It is no surprise that when income increases so does spending geared towards sustainable development,” he said, underscoring the need to do more with the private sector, particularly in fragile and low-income countries. He also emphasized the need to support female entrepreneurs.
Mr. IÑIGO URKULLU RENTERIA said the European Union has 28 member States and 29 budgets, as it recognizes the Basque government’s budget within the bloc. The Basque government focuses funds on policies for social protection, environment, water management and renewable energy, while its sustainable development plan has been welcomed throughout the region. “We are based on values and are making progress based on social cohesion, including by living together with migrants,” he continued. “The Basque model shows that self-government is a synonym for well-being.” The 2030 Agenda shows that there is nothing as powerful as an idea ripe for picking.
Mr. WANG said the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China has financed large projects in 30 African countries, focusing on construction and energy. The Bank’s total commitment to Africa has reached billions of dollars and its projects have generated many jobs. The Bank has promoted inclusive development, he continued, noting the difficulties many African countries face in accessing funds and information. Recently, the Bank invented new online platforms for people living in remote and isolated areas, so they can have access to data and deposit money to earn interest.
In the ensuing discussion, representatives of least developed countries and developing countries alike described various difficulties in work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The representative of Burkina Faso stressed that, for many developing countries, plans are challenged by security concerns. When there is a gap in security, development becomes less of a priority, he explained.
The representative of South Africa said resources are critically needed, objecting to continued and emerging conditionalities which tend to punish developing countries and “leave them behind”. It is also essential to empower young people as they are the agents of change. “Get up, stand up, developing countries, show your leadership, fulfill your commitments,” he urged. Echoing that sentiment, Morocco’s representative underscored the need to act, especially as there are only 11 years until 2030.
The representative of Germany meanwhile stressed the need to create value through vocational training and quality jobs. “Move from words to action,” he said, “realize a more sustainable future.” On that point, the representative of Portugal said the 2030 Agenda summit in September must be the turning point. “Each one of us has to make concrete efforts for change,” he said, drawing attention to Portugal’s national and international initiatives, including its aid to sub-Saharan Africa. Along similar lines, Denmark’s delegate said that, for 41 years, his country has delivered on the its ODA pledges. “It is a lonely club of only five countries,” he said, stressing the need to support development policy to bankable projects. Ghana’s delegate said one way of closing the development gap is to have multinational companies pay taxes in countries where they operate. Unless this happens, there will be no way for least developed countries to achieve the 2030 Agenda.
A representative of the women’s major group called for a power shift that addresses violence against women and girls in conflict, women refugees and against gender non-confirming people. It is time to stop trade in weapons that are used to abuse women and girls.
Also participating in the discussion were representatives of Canada, Ethiopia, Russian Federation, Philippines, Spain, Nigeria, New Zealand, Kenya, Pakistan, Sweden and the European Union, as well as from the World Trade Organization (WTO), workers and trade unions major group, stakeholder group of persons with disabilities and several other members of civil society.
Interactive Discussion II
This afternoon, the forum held a second roundtable on the theme “Four years of [voluntary national reviews]: What have we learned on implementing the Sustainable Development Goals?” Moderated by Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), it featured a presentation by Luis Gerardo Gonzalez Morales, Chief, Web Development and Data Visualization Section, Statistics Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
Also making presentations were Seán Canney, Minister for State, Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Ireland; Rita Schwarzelühr‑Sutter, Parliamentary State Secretary of the Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Germany; Abel Hibert, Deputy Chief of the Office of the President for Analysis and Innovation, Mexico; Sugath Yalegama, Director General of the Sustainable Development Council, Sri Lanka; Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Professor of International Affairs at The New School, and Member of the Committee for Development Policy; Shannon Kindornay, Director of Research, Policy and Practice, Canadian Council for International Co‑operation; Judy Njino, Executive Director, Global Compact Network Kenya, and Chair of United Nations Global Compact Africa Region Network Council; and Chris Derksen-Hiebert, Global Senior Director on Advocacy, Policy and External Relations, World Vision.
Mr. GONZALEZ MORALES opened the discussion by presenting some of the online tools developed over the last year to help capture, visualize and share the progress outlined in countries’ voluntary national reviews. Among those, he spotlighted an online platform, still under development, that uses machine learning to identify patterns and linkages in various countries’ Sustainable Development Goals outcomes. Meanwhile, he said, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ Sustainable Development Goals indicator database helps policy makers access, understand and use those critical collected data.
Mr. STEINER said today’s session seeks to examine evidence, from multiple vantage points, of how the Sustainable Development Goals have changed lives on the ground. “[Voluntary national reviews] are not an end in and of themselves,” he stressed, noting that the discussion will explore both challenges and successes — including surprising ones — in implementing the Goals to date.
Mr. CANNEY, noting that Ireland has adopted a whole-of-Government approach to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, recalled that his country took stock of its progress in a 2018 review. Among the challenges identified at that time, he listed high levels of obesity, insufficient achievement on national poverty targets, the need for more sustainable production and consumption patterns, the need to achieve full gender equality and more work to be done in the areas of housing and homelessness. Ireland also identified challenges related to climate change, he said, adding that it enacted a new climate action act and new carbon emissions targets.
Ms. SCHWARZELÜHR-SUTTER said the mere existence of a framework to implement the Sustainable Development Goals does not automatically lead to action on the ground. A staggering number of plans have been drawn up, yet every Government has seen how difficult it can be to enact them in a measurable manner. Spotlighting one such challenge in Germany and elsewhere, she drew attention to the need to shift towards a low-carbon economy and close gaps between national climate goals and the currently insufficient carbon reductions. For its part, she said, Germany created a national Climate Cabinet which will be operational by the end of 2019.
Mr. HIBERT said the first challenge in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals is convincing people that the 2030 Agenda is the responsibility of all sectors. “The poor come first” in Mexico, he stressed, underlining the importance of leaving no one behind. Noting some of his country’s challenges in that regard, he drew attention to the need for legal structural changes in order to create State institutions to implement the Goals in a cross-cutting manner.
Ms. ALISJAHBANA, describing the challenges facing the United Nations regional commissions in supporting countries in implementing — and reporting on — the Goals, emphasized the need to further break down silos. Stakeholder engagement is being mainstreamed in many countries, she said, describing that shift as one of the major successes emerging from the voluntarily national review process. More disaggregated data is now available, she added, spotlighting the reporting challenges faced by small island developing States.
Ms. FUKUDA-PARR said the Committee for Development Policy is conducting research in the areas of reducing inequalities and leaving no one behind, both of which are crucial to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Stressing that rising inequality threatens to unravel social cohesion and dampen productivity growth around the globe, she said there is a danger that “leave no one behind” is becoming more of a rhetorical turn of phrase than a reality. Giving priority to those furthest behind — a pledge firmly stated in the 2030 Agenda — was not identified in most of the voluntary national reviews examined so far, she said, adding that not enough has been done to address discrimination and disparities experienced by racial, ethnic and religious minorities.
As the floor opened midway through the discussion, many delegates drew attention to the usefulness of the voluntary national reviews, as well as to some of their shortcomings. Some speakers noted that “shadow reports” by civil society groups have emerged alongside their countries’ voluntary reviews, as non‑governmental stakeholders often do not feel meaningfully engaged in the process.
The representative of Islamic Development Bank Group cited several weaknesses in many voluntary national review reporting teams. Warning that these teams often rely heavily on consultants — which can erode ownership of the process — he added that in many countries, stakeholders are only engaged in a superficial way.
The representative of Denmark underscored the need to focus less on voluntary national reviews and more on the critical national action plans that guide Sustainable Development Goals implementation. In that regard, he proposed using the High-Level Political Forum to address those plans more directly and to share experiences among countries.
The representative of the European Union stressed that voluntary nations reviews have been a crucial element of the 2030 Agenda so far. The European Union is committed to maintaining robust monitoring systems and indicators, as well as evidence-based data to drive implementation of the Goals, he said.
The representative of Tunisia, noting that his country is working to implement the 2030 Agenda against the backdrop of a newly emerged democracy, said meaningfully engaging civil society in the voluntary national review process has been among his Government’s top priorities.
Mr. YALEGAMA said the voluntary national review process helped Sri Lanka engage more stakeholders, improve its human resources, address gaps in data, tackle policy inconsistencies, establish institutional synergies and avoid overlap and duplication. The reporting process has become an important resource for all of the country’s Government agencies and helped them streamline Sri Lanka’s development plans, he said.
Ms. KINDORNAY said that, while many countries’ voluntary national reviews continue to point to engagement with various stakeholders, there is little evidence of real, institutionalized engagement. The reports have sometimes been mere “travel brochures” for their countries, she said, instead of real, honest examinations of the situation on the ground. Recalling that in 2018 only one country, Ireland, addressed the growing crackdown on civil society taking place around the globe, she said the new Belgrade Call to Action seeks to address that challenge.
Mr. DERKSEN-HIEBERT agreed with other speakers that the broad lack of civil society participation has been identified as one major gap in many countries’ Sustainable Development Goal implementation processes. Women, children and other vulnerable groups are the very reason why the 2030 Agenda was adopted, he recalled, and for that reason they should be meaningfully engaged in reporting on its progress.
Ms. NJINO said several of the Global Compact’s country networks have been closely engaged in delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals. Noting that the private sector, in particular, is “really not up to par” in terms of its awareness of responsibility, she nevertheless cited such positive examples as Kenya’s Mpesa mobile payment platform. Going forward, she said, the right mix of collaborations and policy incentives will be needed to help the private sector become a true partner in implementing the 2030 Agenda.
Throughout the ensuing discussion, speakers — including the representative of the Volunteer Groups Alliance — continued to underline the importance of civil society in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as in localizing, communicating and reporting on their targets and indicators.
The representative of the indigenous people’s major group said exclusion and discrimination against indigenous peoples remains an alarming trend around the world. While many voluntary national reviews acknowledge such exclusion, they do not provide any remedy mechanism or a way to institutionalize their engagement.
The representative of Guyana said her country has found the voluntary national review process useful. Among other things, it has helped the Government improve and streamline its data collection and avoid duplication and overlap. In addition, she drew attention to a strengthened reporting collaboration between Guyana’s public and private sectors.
The representative of the women’s major group agreed with speakers who said the narrative illustrated in many voluntary national reviews fails to capture the true picture on the ground. Agreeing that civil society groups remain largely excluded from the process, she expressed disappointment over the limited time allocated to diverse groups wishing to express their opinions on it.
Mr. CANNEY, noting that sometimes “shadow reports” can be good as they provide another point of view, nevertheless expressed his hope that civil society voices will soon be better integrated into formal national reporting processes.
Ms. SCHWARZELÜHR-SUTTER emphasized that the voluntary national review process has helped Germany strengthen its institutional response to the challenges it identified, especially in the area of climate. Parliamentarians in Germany help monitor the Government’s work and hold it accountable, she said, adding that they also accompany the national delegation to the High-Level Political Forum.
Ms. ALISJAHBANA said the various regional commissions have provided space for inclusive, peer-to-peer learning among States while also helping them develop and institutionalize their review methodologies. For example, regional commissions in Africa have helped States align their national implementation frameworks with global ones, as well as with the African Union’s Agenda 2063.
Ms. FUKUDA-PARR said that many nations — from developing countries to industrialized ones — share a focus on poverty reduction through social safety nets. While that is an important approach, she said more attention should be paid to countries’ macroeconomic policies, including austerity schemes that run counter to the goal of reducing poverty and leaving no one behind.
Mr. HIBERT said Mexico’s 2030 Agenda reporting has been made easier because its National Development Plan is closely aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals.
Mr. YALEGAMA, addressing comments related to silos and fragmentation, said Sri Lanka created a National Sustainable Development Council and enshrined sustainable development in its laws. While every Government agency, ministry and sector is responsible for implementing its own sustainable development policies, they all share common objectives and implementation is monitored in a comprehensive manner, he said.
Ms. KINDORNAY spotlighted some of the transformative elements of the 2030 Agenda which are not often addressed by voluntary national reviews. Noting that existing policies are too often repackaged, she called for efforts to truly “move the bar” on such complex issues as intergenerational equity, links to human rights, gender equality and others.
Mr. DERKSEN-HIEBERT cited a major shift in which civil society organizations around the world have taken the 2030 Agenda — and its urgent, transformative nature — seriously and led the way in implementing it. The interlinkages among the Goals have also been considered in a much more serious way than those in the Millennium Development Goals, he said.
Ms. NJINO said voluntary national reviews provide a lens through which to look at the work of Governments. The process has also helped identify areas where stakeholders need help in building momentum, including through policy engagements and addressing gaps, she said.
Also speaking were representatives of Spain, Norway, Viet Nam and Guatemala, as well as a speaker from the workers and trade unions major group.