On New Year’s Day, one tends to look ahead. Everyone hopes that 2015 will be a less painful year than 2014 with its horrifying trends in poverty, disparities, climate-change induced tragedies, and man-made misdirected fiscal austerity. As anyone who is subscribed to this list-serve knows all too well, at least 2.2 billion people are affected by multidimensional poverty (UNDP HDR 2014), and probably one billion by hunger. Income, wealth and health inequities are spiraling. There are currently over 40 million internal or cross-border refugees, a larger number than ever before. The planet is suffering from perhaps irreversible climate change and biodiversity loss. To address these challenges, the SDG negotiations resume later this month. The idea on the table is to adopt a universally applicable, human rights based development agenda. This would require radical policy shifts at all levels.
What are the political opportunities?
One potential opportunity is the European Year of Development which begins today. One of its aims is to tackle counter-productive European policies which often have negative effects for poor people. This is to be achieved by direct involvement, critical thinking and active interest of EU citizens and stakeholders in development cooperation http://www.concordeurope.org/component/k2/item/393-eyd2015 .This European effort, initiated by CSOs, could possibly serve to push for a development agenda that is truly transformative. But one worries: some of the worst austerity agendas and policies have come out of the EU and its member states. Germany as one example is flaunting a zero-debt fiscal budget, while refugees sleep in tents and overcrowded barracks, while crèches are severely understaffed, teachers overstretched, and public transportation systems lack maintenance and upgrading. As the economic rift widens between the economically lucky and those without decent work and incomes, the social contract is threatened by new forms of racism. – From this follows that those of us who are European need to pressurise our governments to make sure that the European year of development pursues a progressive, inclusive agenda.
Recently, the UN published a Synthesis Report by the Secretary-General - “The Road to Dignity” - http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/69/700&Lang=E to accompany the SDG negotiations. Much awaited as an opportunity to introduce a radical vision, the report was a big disappointment http://www.networkideas.org/news/dec2014/Transformative_Agenda.pdf. Inequity, gender inequality, unequal power relations, unsustainable production and consumption are downplayed in the Report. See for example: http://www.womenmajorgroup.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/WMGResponsetoSGSynthesisReport_18Dec.pdf; http://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/reactions/oxfam-reaction-release-un-secretary-general-post-2015-synthesis-report. It does not address the concept of global value chains which could explain immiserising trade, nor does it mention the concept of the care economy so relevant for gender equity and empowerment. There are no discussions of the policies that would be necessary to move towards political, economic, social and climate justice. This is surprising because convincing, progressive policy advice would be available right at the centre of the UN secretariat. Just one example of many: the 2nd International Decade for the Eradication of Poverty outlined comprehensive and interconnected, evidence-based policy responses for full employment, decent work, equality and climate management in a 2013 study http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/68/183. The UN needs support to become a daring, influential, progressive voice in the SDG process.
In short, opportunities are available. But there is a need to take the EU by its Year of Development promise, and to urge the UN to use its wealth of knowledge. 2015 needs to become the beginning of an era committed to human rights and social, economic, political and climate justice.
With best wishes for a transformative 2015,
UNRISD senior research associate
Munich, 1 January 2015