OECD needs to transit to “OECSD” :Going Beyond GDP and Embracing SDGs-

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Looking in the history: 7 decades back

8th May 2015 marked the 70th Anniversary of end of World War II. That day, in 1945, heralded a peace and stability for the Europe. Rapid economic recovery   that followed through Marshall Plan provided to dilapidate Europe a generous grant of nearly 5 % of the USA’s GDP at that time. It was over and above 5 % of the aid that USA was already providing to Europe .

What followed during the years of Europe’s progress was the stark realization of the over-exploitation of the natural resources for the rapid economic recovery invoked the reflection and debate on the economy, measured by GDP, as against development, measured by Human Development Index (HDI). That is the time in 1961, when Organization for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC), set up in 1948, was reformed into Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Unfortunately, Greedy Development Process- sarcastically referred to as – GDP -continued to scale and it crafted unsustainable patterns of production and consumption. What then trailed was the advent of debate on development as measured by HDI as against sustainable development, to be measured by host of indicators including quality of life, happiness, social protection, and natural capital valuation. It was seminal debate, as evidenced by 1992 Earth Summit at Rio-de-Janeiro, focusing on the wider thought that human development should not be at the cost of human environment and the ecosystem on which human development thrives.

The realizations and reflections: 5 decades back

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), thoughtfully initiated by United Nations just before the end of the last millennium were, in reality, the manifestation of the global frustration on the more than 50 years of the efforts to shape the post-war social, economic and environmental order. Formatting MDGs and the efforts to meet those goals and targets during 15 years from year 2000 to 2015 were the consequence of the over-emphasis on financial governance with trade as hub, as evidenced by the early role played by Bretton Woods’s institutions –World Bank, IMF, IFC and number of regional financial institutes.

The historic achievement 1.5 decades back

The United Nations General Assembly, in year 2000, agreed through the Millennium Declaration on eight comprehensive and achievable goals related to reducing poverty, better gender equality, improving access to drinking water, reducing child and maternal mortality, universal primary education, combating HIV/AIDS/Malaria and other diseases and environmental sustainability. Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General at that time took facilitative role to ensure that means of implementation to achieve the goals are also part of the global agreement in adopting the MDGs. Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP) and ensuring the financial assistance to the developing countries to the level of agreed target of 0.7 % of the GDP of the developed nations, were the key means of the implementation.

Considered by many as ‘ yet another utopian side-kick’ by United Nations, MDGs in reality had faired well in meeting the part of the targets making it mixed-success. Considering the global complexity, financial crisis, sectarian wars and rising population- more than 1 billion people were added over last 15 years- and the pervasive and irreversible environmental degradation, even mixed-success is encouraging. Many cynics attribute the success to the factors outside the framework of MDGs. For example, the goal of halving the share of the people globally living under USD 1.25 a day was achieved in year 2010, 5 years in advance, mainly because China and India contributed major part of that poverty reduction. In most of other countries, the target was missed.

Targets of halving the proportion of the population without improved drinking water, halting spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, gender equality in education, were achieved but with geographically unequal spread. Progress in achieving other targets is irregular and inconsistent. Environmental sustainability, in case of the Stratospheric Ozone Layer protection by eliminating Ozone Depleting Chemicals like CFCs is achieved, but it also resulted into emergence of green house gases like HFCs, as a result of substitution of CFCs.

Lessons learned in the present decade

What is important to recall that MDGs came from a historic negotiations ever and for the first time 196 countries in the world-small and big, rich and poor-shed their diversity and differences to agree collectively on the developmental agenda with the quantifiable, time-targeted goals. UN as well as its member states should be credited for design, implementation, monitoring and measuring the progress of such global targets – a feat never achieved in the human history.

There are number of lessons garnered over last 15 years in the successes and failures of MDGs. MDGs remained close-door phenomenon without mainstreaming them in national planning. Hardly any countries’ budgets, five-year plans, long term visions included the synergy with MDGs. Common man on the street was unaware that the whole world is working for 15 years to reduce his or her poverty. Many considered MDGs to be too contracted. The prominent example of the missed opportunity was absence of goals and targets related to energy, though energy is so intimately linked to the developmental process.

Other areas missed were related to dignified and productive employment, enhancing social protection, and rising productivity, dealing with the climate change and mitigating its impacts on the poor; reducing risks of global financial and commodity market crises; preventing unethical financial and trade practices; culturally, socially and environmentally deteriorating urbanization, engagement of youth, and finally, narrowing inequalities within and between countries, based on class, gender and ethnicity, among other factors.

One of the key lapses of the MDGs has been, as in the case of nearly all-multilateral environmental and social agreements under UN, a total lack of accountability for meeting goals in an equitable, transparent and participatory manner. One-can sympathies that non-existent accountability may be due to the fact that world was experimenting for the first time such goals. But lesson should not be lost that without accountability mechanisms and the methodologies to monitor the compliance, such global process of targeted action would be just shop-talks and group-travels.

The MDGs arose out of a limited consultations and mainly UN wide process. Civil society and other stakeholders like women’s group, youth representation were sideliners. As a result, the MDGs have not had the strong “ownership” and “buy-in” from civil society and even national governments. A survey of the sections of various strata of society would show that MDGs were part of the high-level diplomacy and hardly part of the down-to-earth desire for the transformation.

Doing it better: next decade

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are part of next generation development agenda, when MDGs go in retirement having reached its pre-determined terminating age of 15 years. In 2012 global conference of Rio+20 (20 years after the 19992 Earth Summit or United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development) the outcome document titled “The Future We Want”, inter alia, set out a mandate to develop a set of sustainable development goals for consideration and appropriate action by the UN General Assembly. It also provided the basis for their conceptualization. The document gave the mandate that the sustainable development goals should be coherent with and integrated into the United Nations development agenda beyond 2015, popularly known as ‘post-2015 agenda’.

World has yet another historic opportunity to face the challenges facing its people, with renewed, reinvigorated and reassessed approaches taking into consideration the lessons learnt.

There have been series of meetings since 2013, regionally and internationally that engaged the civil society and diverse groups of stakeholders including governments to formulate the goals, targets and indicators. The Open Ended Working Group in its 13 sessions that ended in July 2014 have now submitted their proposal to UN General Assembly which is expected to adopt the goals in September 2015.

There are proposed 17 SDGs with 169 targets to be met by 2030 as against 8 MDGs and 18 targets to be met by end 2015. Does this sweeping increase in number of goals and targets make the whole process bureaucratically unmanageable and administratively designed to fail? Many say that the criticism and lesson on narrow range of MDGs is taken bit too seriously. Others say that it is not just increase of numbers of goals and targets is the issue but the conceptual expansion of the issues to be addressed is necessary and important. In reality, every lobby-group has made its own pitch during last 18 months to include its own goals and targets, in anticipation of generating more activities for them and hence the money in the form of aid, grant, partnerships and even through possible market-mechanisms.

The poor countries would certainly look for the financial assistance and appropriate technical assistance. Such expectation is not out of place. It is estimated that cost of achieving SDGs would be USD 2-3 trillion per year (USD 30-45 trillion for 15 years). That equates to 4 percent of the GDP of OECD countries, less than share that USA gave of under Marshall Plan to Europe in 1945. Considering that SDGs are to be achieved by all countries rich, not-so-rich and poor OECD countries have to share even smaller amount for other countries. Such amount should be over and above 0.7 percent of GDP of rich countries agreed internationally for some decades now.

Ultimately, it is really trillion dollar question! When the existing pledges of 0.7 percent of the national GDP is not met, when Green Climate Fund under United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ( UNFCCC) has not even USD10 Billion in its kitty when by this time it should have touched at least USD 50 billion, funding the implementation of SDGs looks to be not just distant possibility but purely a dream.

Time has come for the change in the world order that was witnessed at the end of WWII. OECD needs one more transformation in its name to “OECSD”-Organization for Economic Cooperation for Sustainable Development. More than that they should also recall lessons learnt from Marshal Plan in terms of transformation achieved in European countries and now make similar plans, with correction factor of sustainability in the global post-2015 development agenda. And most importantly there has to be mainstreaming of SDGs in national planning of all countries, rich and poor. SDGs are for all and not for only developing nations. END

Rajendra Shende, IIT Alumni, Chairman TERRE Policy Centre, former Director UNEP

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