2030 Agenda: a new framework for development policies

By Félix Antonio Ovejero Torres, Director of Paz y Solidaridad Fundación Primero de Mayo (CC.OO, Spain)

On 25 September, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a New International Development Agenda. The agenda covers the three dimensions of sustainability: economic, social and environmental.

After two years of intergovernmental negotiations, the United Nations General Assembly decided to approve, with very few amendments, the proposal made by the Open Working Group (in which Spain shared a seat with Italy and Turkey) and championed by UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon during the month of August.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals have emerged out of a fragile equilibrium that could easily have been broken if the debate had been reopened in the General Assembly itself.

Agreement was shaky on the issues of human rights, gender and equality, over which there was profound disagreement between countries, with the strongest resistance coming from Saudi Arabia and China. There is still a lack of consensus in the international community over fundamental rights such as freedom of expression or gender equality, and that is apparent in the new agenda. Rights are barely recognised and there is talk of facilitating access, for example, to education, health, etc.

Agreement was reached with these significant limitations. At the same time, the headway made in the agenda implies significant challenges for all the countries and governments involved. Universality is one of them: there will be global, regional and national goals. Although the indicators have as yet to be determined, universality means that the regional and national agendas currently in place will have to be adapted to the new framework. Within the European Union, the 2020 Agenda will have to be adapted to the new goals and objectives set at the United Nations, as will the National Reform Plans to be presented by the member states.

Policy coherence is another of the challenges facing our states. This policy coherence should not be established by international development cooperation bodies but within the government decision-making structures adopting key policies with a dual dimension, international and national. The goals of poverty and inequality reduction set out in the 2030 Agenda cannot be achieved by implementing the austerity policies formulated by the European institutions and the International Monetary Fund. Spain, which has seen a dramatic increase in unemployment, poverty and inequality, offers a clear example of the consequences of implementing harsh adjustment measures.

Another major challenge is international cooperation and global governance within the framework of certain policy areas, such as fiscal policy. Although timid progress is being made in this respect within the European Union (the introduction of the Financial Transaction Tax, for example) and the OECD, the fact is that the Addis Ababa Conference on Financing and Development rejected the G77 and China proposal to establish an intergovernmental tax body in the United Nations to replace the current UN Committee of Experts. The developed countries (headed by the United Kingdom and United States) sought to justify their opposition by arguing that the OECD is the only space with the legitimacy to deal with the international tax cooperation.

Moving forward with the implementation of policies that tackle these challenges could serve as a good foundation on which to build a new development model that puts people first.

A final element of the new agenda that is worth highlighting is the inclusion of decent work, under Goal 8: “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.” Thanks to the strategy developed by the international trade union movement – the Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) to the OECD and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) – and the impetus given by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), employment has regained its place on the international sustainable development agenda. Access to decent work is the only way out of poverty for millions of people.

The figures offer us a better understanding of the current situation and the scope of the challenges at hand: over 60% of all workers have no employment contract of any kind, and less than 45% of salaried workers are employed on a full time, permanent basis, and this number is falling.

Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is the title of the United Nations Resolution in which the Sustainable Development Goals were approved. Our governments and the various international institutions have a duty to change and transform their policies to benefit people and the planet.

This transformation is possible if there is a political will, if the resources needed are dedicated to it, and if our governments fulfil the commitments they have voluntarily adopted.

Article published in the Revista de Estudios y Cultura of the Fundación Primero de Mayo, issue 73: http://bit.ly/1RjHefV