Truth and reconciliation in sustainable development

“The UN must champion a process of truth and reconciliation” in development, said Barbara Adams, on behalf of Global Policy Forum and Social Watch during a round table at the United Nations in New York. Adams emphasised that “those who have benefitted the most from the past and current model are those that need to change the most”. See the video here.

versión en español

Barbara Adams*

Much has been said about the post-2015, now “2030 Agenda”, about its strengths and weaknesses.

Do the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent an agenda for transformation or for a continuation, at best acceleration, of current practices?

They have the seeds of both.

The SDGs are not the Millennium Development Goals, which were partial goals, shaped mainly on the dynamics of receiving external public assistance, ODA.

These goals are universal and inclusive.

And universal here does not mean a menu where you select those goals and targets easiest to achieve, or that protect your interests or that strengthen your institution and provide opportunities for funding your programmes.

This agenda is an integrated agenda for people AND planet, not an agenda for people or planet, not an agenda for some people before others.

It cannot succeed without addressing inequalities that are manifest in so many areas, without addressing the structural obstacles and how the economy works, how wealth is generated, distributed and how it is measured.

It cannot succeed with a continuation of  the current extractive and exploitative approach to natural resources and the environment, and to people’s work.

As we have heard frequently peace and development are inextricably linked and poverty is economic violence.

Decent work is the number one strategy for addressing poverty.

We need an economy that privileges decent work not the 1%.

This poses enormous challenges for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, if implementation is premised on the same policies and practices that have exacerbated the lack of sustainability of economics, politics and peace.

The means of implementation are relying almost totally on the win-win mindset, a mindset seen as indispensable to engage the powerful players in the implementation of the agenda.

The SDGs have yet to address in practical terms the vested interests in the status quo, and the related incentive structures, the military approach to problem-solving, or the imbalanced approach to change – the idea that change takes place somewhere else, not “at home”.

Much of the implementation strategy rests on issue-specific partnerships  in very important areas – in nutrition, energy, women’s health.

And yes –  these partnerships bring in more players, clearly committed to the agenda as we see from their dedication over the last 2 years; players from the private sector and from CSOs. But in so doing we must not move away from the UN core values.

Yet the current rules and tools governing these partnerships are totally inadequate and do not meet the first requirement if the partnerships are to carry the UN name: that they demonstrate how they are advancing human rights and sustainability.  They are adding to fragmentation and innovation another word of which too often is opportunism.

We speak of burden-sharing. Too much of SDG implementation relies on “others” carrying the burden of change and the partnership approach has yet to re-balance this.

Those who have benefitted the most (and I suspect that is most of us in this room) from the past and current economic model are the ones who must change the most.

As you know, this is a key area of contention as we approach the Paris meeting on climate change.

Yet from the just completed Bonn meeting to prepare the Paris meeting, we are still in danger of only achieving a tweaking exercise by accountants and lawyers. This will not bring the agenda for climate justice.

We have also been confronted in the last few weeks, as hundreds of thousands of people flee violence, with the reality of multiple roadblocks to achieving peace.

But we have also seen thousands of ordinary people demonstrate, not by charity  but through solidarity and respect, that they understand the complex meaning of the culture of peace – by extending compassion and practical support to hundreds and thousands of ordinary women, men and children desperate for peaceful and  sustainable societies.

This tragedy is as stark a manifestation of inequalities within and between countries that you could imagine. In the 2030 Agenda, SDG goal 10 to reduce Inequality within and among countries includes migration and the mobility of peoples.

Yet the target for measuring progress became a negotiation among governments on the percentage that financial institutions could levy in transmitting remittances.

Let’s see what the indicators will bring.

For the UN and the SDGs to be relevant to these millions of people taking direct action in the face of injustice, it must challenge, and be seen to challenge, power imbalances, to quote the new 2030 Agenda – the “enormous disparities of opportunity, wealth and power”.

The Post 2015 agenda and the SDGs are essentially a test for the UN we want.

The UN must practice the impartiality and values on which it is built and on which its legitimacy and credibility rest. It must be a robust implementation and accountability space for all countries and all policies, and all actors who say they want to participate.

It must not rely on quick-wins and reaching for low-hanging fruits.

It must grapple with vested interests and power inequalities at all levels.

The UN must champion a complex and painful process of truth and reconciliation.

Barbara Adams is chair of the board of Global Policy Forum and member of the Coordinating Committee of Social Watch. She made this intervention at the round table on “Promotion of a Culture of Peace in the context of the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda” during the fourth UN High Level Forum on the Culture of Peace, convened by General Assembly President Sam Kahamba Kutesa, New York, September 9, 2015.

See the video here.

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