Last year’s adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was an important milestone in the struggle to create a better world. The rhetoric was uplifting. Many promises of quick action were made. It’s time now to start walking the heroic talk.
As the great and the good of the global development community prepare to meet in Brussels in mid-June for the “European Development Days”, a massive brainstorm on new ways to deal with the world’s most pressing development challenges, the focus must turn from words to action.
Implementing the transformative Agenda 2030 for social, economic and environmental development agreed at the United Nations last November requires loads of money. And the funds must start flowing fast.
Financing of the earlier Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agreed in 2000 was mostly a traditional affair. Yes, there were some efforts made to be creative, but the focus was largely on Official Development Aid (ODA), disbursed by traditional Western donors. The flows were from the north to the south.
The world in 2016 is a different place. Aid budgets in industrialised countries are under pressure. And in any case, financing for the 17 SDGs and 169 targets will require much more than ODA.
That’s because the SDGs are not only about ending poverty and hunger, and improving health, education and gender equality, but also about reducing inequality, making cities safe, addressing climate change and promoting peaceful societies.
Traditional ODA will remain crucial but governments and other donors need to start demonstrating creativity and innovation to find more money and get more bang for their buck.
So where is the additional money going to come from? Public, private, domestic and international funding sources need to be tapped. More than they do today, governments will have to work with business in so-called public-private partnerships to get things moving.
The private sector plays an important part by focusing on infrastructure, energy, agriculture, urban development, water systems and technology. But these private incentives must be aligned with public goals to create a policy framework that encourages for-profit investments in these areas.
Initiatives such as the UN Global Compact can be utilised by governments to partner with private sector and mobilise finance to achieve the SDGs.
Fortunately, as traditional donors struggle to maintain aid flows, countries like China, India, Turkey and Korea are emerging as an important source of funds for poorer countries. The China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is working hand in hand with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to finance desperately-needed infrastructure in developing countries.
South-south cooperation plays a pivotal role in helping countries to share experiences and promote common development. The new actors must therefore be made part of the global conversation on development, not excluded as outsiders.
In addition to traditional aid flows, foreign direct investments (FDI) in emerging countries are on the rise as are impact investments, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities and philanthropy.
Remittances from workers abroad are a huge boon to their countries of origin. However, the cost of remitting funds remains extremely high. These barriers must be reduced.
Meanwhile, at home governments must be put under additional pressure to increase domestic resource mobilisation through more effective tax collection and anti-corruption measures.
The focus is also on changes in international tax rules and practices to ensure fair treatment for developing countries and strengthening the ability of developing countries to prosecute tax evaders and renegotiate contracts.
Innovative financing includes taxes on carbon, air travel and financial transactions. Pension funds, insurance companies and sovereign wealth funds are also a potential funding pool.
Official development assistance remains a critical funding source, particularly for low-income countries, providing 70 per cent of all external funding, as well as a third of public expenditure available to governments
The SDGs are wide-ranging and important. They will have a critical impact on what the world will look like in 2030. Their implementation will require more money than is currently available from official aid budgets, the mobilisation of domestic revenues in developing countries and more public-private partnerships.
The outlook is fairly positive. After all, while not all of the previous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were successfully translated into reality, the MDGs have contributed, among other things, to reducing extreme poverty and halving the number of annual deaths of children under five.
Implementing Agenda 2030 will not be easy. It will require money, certainly but more than that it will need political will and determination.