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The Beirut Consensus on Financing for Development

7. Dezember 2018 - 6:34

The evaluation of the Financing for Development process from the First International Conference on Financing Sustainable Development indicates that the international financial system is not generating the volume of long-term financing needed to meet the sustainable development goals because of inadequate reforms and cooperation at the international level. Below is the Beirut Consensus on Financing for Development delivered by Mr. Mounir Tabet, Acting Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UNESCWA) at the conclusion of the conference organized by UNESCWA in Beirut on 28-29 November 2018.


Systemic and structural issues:

1- We note that the Financing for Development outlook remains challenging. Developing and least developed constituents are contending with escalated levels of tension and tightening global monetary conditions. These conditions are exacerbating capital outflows. They raise debt distress levels and the cost of securing financing. Reversals from ‘quantitative easing’ to ‘fiscal policy tightening’ could lead to FfD inequalities. Trade and investment protectionism are challenging the multilateral trading system and threatening developing countries’ terms of trade. These conditions are challenging FfD national realities and regional contexts. The Arab region is no exception, as it continues to bear the brunt of 3Fs―financial constraints, funding shortfalls and financing inequalities.

2- We have heard several calls for appropriate focus to be placed on improving the international financing environment and governance to balance the emphasis placed on domestic resource mobilization. We’ve also heard that there is an outstanding mandate to be fulfilled in so far as aligning global financial and economic policies with the 2030 Agenda, and we need to do so in a manner that factors regional contexts and national propensities to finance sustainable development.

Domestic and International Private Finance:

3- The current levels of international private inflows remain insufficient to fill the SDG investment gap. FDIs have become more volatile and risk averse and a times falling short of generating employment and investment multipliers. Efforts to ensure a sustained long-term flow of private investments are giving way to harmful competitive practices and fiscal conjectures that are further eroding the tax base. Several speakers alluded that multinational corporations are paying significantly lower tax rates than before the 2008 financial crisis.

4- We have also heard calls to reconsider the ‘private finance first’ attitude towards development finance. These calls reaffirm the centrality of public policies and resonate with the Ministerial Declaration adopted by the G77 and China in this regard. Incentivizing the private sector is not a generic commitment nor should it be a ‘size-blind’ commitment. A public concession to incentivize the private sector should be reciprocated with accountability to avert ‘socializing risks while privatizing or guaranteeing private benefits’. Some have indicated that “there is insufficient evidence that ‘blending’ mobilizes additional private flows or increases sustainable development impact”. We therefore need to redirect attention towards addressing de-risking practices and the loss of corresponding banking relations as well as the use of innovative ways to bridge the SME funding gap.

5- Consensus has emerged over the need to realign current business models to be better equipped to finance sustainable development, requiring affirmative financing action and new public norms, policies and sustainable long-term investments of all kinds.

International Development Cooperation – Official Development Assistance:

6- In nominal terms, ODA has been increasing, but larger portions are being redirected to cover refugee costs and humanitarian assistance in donor countries. ODA remains essential for many countries. It is, therefore, important to make progress towards meeting the ODA commitments of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. Some views were expressed cautioning against investing ODA in blended mechanisms and that ODA should rather be directed to strengthen domestic resource mobilization and tax collection capacities. Equally, caution was raised against diverting ODA from its initial intended usages, namely to finance socio-economic projects for poverty alleviation and tackling inequalities.

International Trade as an engine for growth and financing sustainable development:

7- Policy and market failures are symptoms of the inability to reform global trading rules and adapt regional trade arrangements to sustainable development imperatives. They also represent a reminder of the importance to conclude the Doha Development Round and operationalize the special and differential provisions availed to developing countries and least developed countries. Structural deficiencies are amplifying international commodity prices in local markets. More importantly, the policy space for pursuing sustainable development must not be obstructed by new trade rules. A new multilateral agenda based on ‘trade justice’ rather than ‘trade equality’ is needed.

8- An open dialogue over the trade and sustainable development nexus needs to be emphasized and strengthened. Sustainable development is not currently a priority in the global trading system or its rules. It is dealt with obliquely and does not appear to pose a binding legal rule to realize the 2030 Agenda. The WTO agreements themselves do not provide a concrete legal premise to invoke sustainable development considerations to curb illicit trade for example. Regional trade continues to provide pathways to finance development. Trade finance needs to be revamped so that countries can latch onto global and regional value chains and reap FfD outcomes.

Debt and Debt Sustainability:

9- Rising levels of debt distress are emerging due to the accumulation of gross public and external debt stocks. The situation has pushed the demand for higher yields on new bond issuances, growing spreads on debt guarantees, swaps and delayed IPO issuances. Some speakers pointed that low and middle-income countries have seen their yield payments on bond issuances increasing and for the same group of countries their currencies also depreciating.

10- As the debt bubble continues to rise to unprecedented levels, calls are being made to urgently establish a multilateral debt workout mechanism to restructure the sovereign debt of countries in crisis. In fact, in 2014, the UNGA adopted procedures to respond to debt crises, however all countries need to commit to the effective, fair and transparent workout process.

Domestic Resource Mobilization:

11- Broadening the tax base holds potentials to financing sustainable development, but this should be pursued with utmost prudence to avoid further socio-economic hardships that aggravate poverty, push more firms and economic activity deeper into informality and/or instigate illicit financial flows. Volatile international capital outflows and repatriation of profits on foreign investments are breeding harmful tax policies. Developing countries, including many in the region therefore resort to excessive corporate tax incentives and make up the difference through regressive taxes (easier to collect, but strain low-income tax payers, raising further concerns over economic inequality).

12- We have heard interesting and valuable perspectives, from international and regional experts; the civil society and Member States, on:

  • The need to address international tax and secrecy havens, massive tax evasion and avoidance, abusive transfer pricing, harmful tax competition, and illicit natural resource trading that significantly depress countries’ ability to mobilize domestic resources to finance sustainable development;
  • Frameworks to combat Base Erosion and Profit Shifting have been welcomed, but some have indicated that there is a need for an inclusive UN tax commission to be established. More work needs to be pursued to ensure that exchange of tax information, beneficial ownership is made publicly accessible, and that mandatory country-by-country reporting by multinationals is needed to ensure that harmful tax policies, tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions do not continue to facilitate tax evasion and illicit flows;
  • Suggestions have been made to consider new indicators to capture misalignments in the profits reported by multinational corporations for which no underlying activity has taken place;
  • The region requires a set of standalone legislations to combat trade-based money laundering
    and institutional structures at the regional (LAS) and sub-national levels (GCC, Agadir etc).

I would like to thank you once again for your active participation and we look forward to collaborating with all participating stakeholders to operationalize the ‘Beirut Consensus on Financing for Development’.

Equally, we hope that both the current and upcoming Presidency of the G77 and China (along with RCNYO) would consider this multi-stakeholder consensus and propel it through the different FfD processes and milestones that are to take place next year, as well as within the repositioning of the role of regional commissions within the reform of the UNDS system.

Kategorien: english, Ticker

Misleading road signs in the World Bank’s “SDG Atlas”

8. November 2018 - 12:02

by Roberto Bissio, Coordinator, Social Watch

On the eve of a global meeting of experts from UN agencies and national statistical offices aimed at improving the sustainable development indicators, the World Bank launched its own “Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals 2018” in early November. While this features maps and attractive data visualizations for each of the SDGs, it highlights data and maps roadways that do not match the aspirations of the 2030 Agenda, and obscures the policy measures that would be needed to achieve them.

SDG 1 on poverty elimination, for example, privileges the World Bank’s own global poverty line of USD 1.90 per day, ignoring Target 1.2 that addresses poverty “in all its dimensions”. Cash transfers programmes (largely promoted by the Bank) are defended in the section on social protection (related to SDG Target 1.3) as “the most likely to be directed toward the poor”. One whole page is devoted to land rights (urban and rural), which covers half of Target 1.4, but the other half, which mandates access to basic services, is completely ignored. So too is Target 1.5 on “building resilience of the poor”.

SDG 2 on ending hunger, improving food security, malnutrition and sustainable agriculture is summarized as “zero hunger” and the Atlas highlights indicators related to malnutrition, stunting and food deficit measures, but no mention is made of the key issue of sustainable agriculture, that is equally part of this goal and closely synergizes with the issues of health, poverty, gender equality (most small farmers producing in sustainable ways are women) environmental protection and responsible production and consumption. Further, the data shown in the Atlas either picture the present situation or show a declining “food deficit” in all regions of the world, without mentioning the alarming rise in world hunger in 2016 and 2017 reported jointly a few months ago by FAO, WHO, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and IFAD.*

The Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs, of which the World Bank is a member) has been meeting regularly for three years and so far has only confirmed indicators with agreed methodology and enough data coverage for around half of the SDG targets (see “Desperately Seeking Indicators: different players, different priorities” for an update on the state of play).

In old times cartographers drew sea monsters and beautiful ships to cover those areas of their maps of which they knew nothing and thus avoid inconvenient blank spaces. The World Bank Atlas has a similar problem of lack of coverage and uses a variety of tricks to offer a self-imposed symmetry of four pages for every SDG. For SDG 6 on water and sanitation, for example, it covers only the first two of the eight targets, with five charts and maps each. In the case of several other goals, the Atlas introduces indicators that relate to the issue but are not illustrative of any specific target and are not included in the official set of SDG indicators.

Thus, the chapter on SDG 10 on reducing inequalities opens with a graph showing inequalities across regions, measured by average per capita GDP. This can be seen as a welcome contribution since there is no indicator in the official list that compares inequalities between regions or countries, even when the very title of the goal is to “reduce inequalities within and among countries”. Yet, the choice of per capita income–and not wealth, for example–as a measure and the emphasis on the relative decrease of GDP in North America and the (also relative) GDP increase in East Asia tends to suggest from the start that inequalities are being reduced.

Similarly, the Atlas argues that “inequality can be measured by the relative income growth of the poorest 40 percent of people,” which makes it unnecessary to look at the income growth of the top 10 percent or that of the top 1 percent. That indicator shows that “in 61 countries income growth among the poorest was faster than average,” while the opposite happens in 34 countries. This leads the reader to conclude that inequalities are being reduced… contrary to the opinion of most experts, using other measurements tools, such as the growth of the 1 percent. This issue is extremely important, but has been allocated only two pages.

Half of the chapter on inequalities is devoted instead to remittances by migrants, whose costs one of the ten targets of SDG 10 wants to reduce. It is a relevant aspiration, but arguably not more important than “promoting the social, economic and political inclusion of all” (Target 10.2), “improving the regulation and monitoring of global financial markets and institutions” (Target 10.5) or “enhanced representation and voice for developing countries in decision-making in global international economic and financial institutions” (Target 10.6), all of which are ignored by the World Bank Atlas, even when it would be very easy for the World Bank to show the voting power of its own members and the veto power held by the US and the EU (if it acts unanimously).

SDG 12 seeks to “ensure sustainable production and consumption patterns”, but the corresponding chapter in the Atlas is titled “Responsible Consumption and Production”, a significant variation. Using material footprint per capita, the Atlas makes the obvious observation that “people in high-income countries consume more extracted materials than people elsewhere do”. It then goes on to show that “China’s material footprint increased threefold between 2000 and 2010, overtaking that of the United States in 2003” but this is in total volume, not per capita. If the same indicator had been used in both cases, the Atlas would have shown the footprint of the average Chinese as one fourth of that of the average American, or the total “weight” of China as less than half of that of the so called “developed” world, for roughly the same population.

The chapter on SDG 16 (titled “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions”) introduces a map identifying 36 “fragile” countries, a category that is nowhere to be found in the SDG targets or indicators, or in the 2030 Agenda itself, and a whole page on refugees, which is undoubtedly an important issue, but not one addressed directly by SDG 16—or indeed, any of the goals.

Finally, the chapter on SDG 17 on means of implementation, starts with a whole page on Official Development Assistance but completely ignores the first target, which is domestic resource mobilization, mainly via taxes. The indicator on debt service as a proportion of exports is also ignored, even when it is officially listed as Tier I (meaning there is agreed methodology and enough data coverage) and the World Bank itself is listed as “Custodian Agency” of that indicator. Similarly, Target 17.11 that seeks to “significantly increase the exports of developing countries” is not illustrated with the countries’ share of global exports (also an agreed Tier I indicator) but is mapped instead by an “ease of trading” indicator extracted from the “Doing Business” report, that constantly and controversially promotes further trade liberalization.

The Atlas acknowledges in its small print that it offers “selected indicators” and it would therefore be unfair to criticize it for not being exhaustive. But the selection of the World Bank is consistently biased in a way that, on the one hand, presents an optimistic picture (poverty, malnutrition and inequalities are shown as being reduced) that would therefore not require major or urgent policy measures and, on the other, hides the responsibility of high income countries and the international financial and economic system in creating the problems.

The Mercator projection of old world maps distorted the relative size of countries, showing Greenland as big as the whole of Africa, but it was very useful for navigators to find their best routes knowing their latitude and longitude. The World Bank Atlas does the opposite: it distorts the coordinates that should help us assess where we really stand and betrays the goals themselves, with a limited selection of what they intend to achieve. Not a good basis for any roadmap to the SDGs.

  • FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2018. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018.
    Building climate resilience for food security and nutrition. Rome, FAO. Available at 
Kategorien: english, Ticker

Member States call for commitments to overcome crisis in multilateralism

4. November 2018 - 23:43

UNHQ, 31 October 2018

By Sarah Dayringer

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in his 25 September 2018 address to the General Assembly, painted a bleak and commonly held perspective on our times:

“World order is increasingly chaotic. Power relations are less clear. Universal values are being eroded. Democratic principles are under siege. The rule of law is being undermined. Impunity is on the rise, as leaders and states push the boundaries at home and in the international arena. We face a set of paradoxes. The world is more connected. Yet societies are becoming more fragmented. Challenges are growing outward. While many people are turning inward. Multilateralism is under fire precisely when we need it most.”

Perceiving this growing crisis for multilateralism, the presidents of the UN Charter bodies hosted a high-level dialogue with Member States: “Reviewing the Commitment to Multilateralism”, convened by the Permanent Missions of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, in association with the Center on International Cooperation. The President of the General Assembly (PGA), Ms. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés emphasized that UN Member States should focus on a synergistic approach to the work of the UN, especially for those issues “which cannot be addressed except through multilateral cooperation”, such as “protracted humanitarian crises, climate change, human trafficking, sustainable development, large scale human rights abuses, and threats to peace and security”.

The President of ECOSOC, Ms. Inga Rhonda King referenced the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, saying “the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets are a direct reflection of the process used to create them. The process was universal. It was integrated, and represented the rich and the poor — governments and nongovernmental stakeholders; those concerned with each of the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic development, social development, and the environment; as well as peace and security.” She went on to ask, “Is multilateralism absolutely dependent on one or two powerful countries’ engagement? Do we still believe in the ideals and purposes set forth the UN Charter? Because if we do, we don’t really have a problem. We just need to reset.”


Reset role and influence of the Security Council

The UN Security Council (UNSC) President for October 2018, Permanent Representative of Bolivia, Mr. Sacha Sergio Llorenty Soliz pointed out that the structure of the UNSC itself — “not coming as news to anyone because we’ve been talking about it for years — does not represent the world in which we live”. He went on to explain that “there’s an under representation of regions such as Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and an overrepresentation of Europe in the Security Council that is not in line with the current dynamics of the world”.

The reform of the UNSC “goes hand in hand” with the revitalization of the General Assembly and across ECOSOC and the other bodies, he said, adding that the Security Council should not interfere in the mandates of the other UN bodies. Since the Security Council is “not very democratic and not very transparent”, he asked: “If there’s no change made there, why would we give it more mandates? Why would we take power away and influence away from bodies such as the Human Rights Council, the General Assembly, or the Economic and Social Council?” Rather, the Security Council “should work in complementarity with those other bodies” in order to face the multilateral challenges.

Peru pointed out other “encroachments” by the UNSC: “Human rights is an area where sometimes the Security Council encroaches on the work of the General Assembly”. He suggested that the “Council should be more sensitive to human rights issues because in the Charter it already states that root causes of conflict are gross human rights violations, which lead to more conflict”.

Concurrently, the President of the Human Rights Council, H.E. Mr. Vojislav Šuc of Slovenia, gave a briefing at UN headquarters in New York on reforms of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) and the importance of creating a safe space for civil society. This includes the mandate to address and prevent acts of intimidation and reprisals against individuals and groups seeking to cooperate with the United Nations on human rights.


Is UN 75th anniversary an occasion for Special Declaration?

Zambia recommended that since not all the heads of UN principle entities were at the table, all six should be invited in order to draw up a declaration “to the defense and promotion of multilateralism. Then perhaps you can present that document to us and challenge Member States to sign up.”

Croatia suggested that the 75th Anniversary of the UN in 2020 should be used “to address the issue of multilateralism in the form of a special declaration if need be, and as the 75th Anniversary is around the corner, I think that the work should begin now”. Liberia called for the 73rd session of the UNGA to not conclude “without concrete ideas for this reform in the defense of multilateralism”, describing the use the 75th Anniversary as at time to “launch the much-needed structure”.

Egypt urged Member States to “look at the world through the perspective of a diplomat and a politician”, a point emphasized by Canada agreeing that “we cannot ignore the outside world”. Ghana, Philippines and Bangladesh emphasized that more should be done to increase communications between the organs of the UN. And Ghana to that effect said, “we come here, we read out our statements to each other, but rarely do we interact or listen to each other”.

The PGA indicated that “this was one of many dialogues to come” between the main organs of the UN. Ambassador Soliz hoped the outcome would spur ideas on how the UN could work together to strengthen multilateralism, and a time to “really put flesh on the bones of this principle of equal sovereignty between states, and take every opportunity that we have to find common solutions to global problems”.

Ambassador King said she had “faith in the collective wisdom of this body when it works, it works well. We need clarity. We need leadership. We need vision.”


Webcast of the High Level Dialogue can be found at For any questions or comments please email For more information from Global Policy Watch, please sign-up on the mailing list on our website and follow us on Twitter at @gpolicywatch.


Kategorien: english, Ticker

“You say you want a [data] Revolution”: A proposal to use unofficial statistics for the SDG Global Indicator Framework

2. November 2018 - 18:59

Guest working paper by authors
By Steve MacFeely1 and Bojan Nastav2


We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten – Bill Gates [1]

In 2015, the United Nations (UN) launched its most audacious and ambitious development plan; The 2030 Agenda and corresponding Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). That agenda covers sixteen separate dimensions of development ranging from eradication of extreme poverty, achieving gender equality, ensuring sustainable consumption and production to combating climate change. It also includes a seventeenth multi-dimensional goal to address implementation. This goal comprises five operational sub-dimensions: finance, technology, capacity-building; trade and systemic issues.

Unlike the previous development programme, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the SDGs explicitly require statistical performance indicators to be compiled, personified by the Global Indicator Framework (GIF) which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in July 2017. The broad scope of the 2030 Agenda means that (currently) 232 performance indicators are required. Many of these indicators are not produced regularly if at all. In fact, the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) calculated in May 2018 that less than half of the selected indicators for the GIF could be populated.

Various agencies and economists have attempted to put a cost on populating the GIF. The estimates vary enormously, but all are far in excess of existing funding [2]. In an environment of faltering multilateralism, it seems unlikely that available funding will match requirements. Yet political expectations appear to be very high; perhaps irrationally so, considering the scale and complexity of the SDG targets and the resultant indicators. Historic difficulties in populating the more modest MDG indicators suggest these expectations may be very optimistic. Therefore, in order to meet expectations a new, or supplementary, approach is required.

One supplementary approach could be the introduction of a mechanism to certify unofficial statistical indicators as official. We make this suggestion somewhat reluctantly. Our hesitancy arises as we believe the ideal situation is one where National Statistical Offices (NSOs), National Statistical Systems (NSSs) and International Organisations (IOs) are mandated and properly funded and resourced to compile all required national and international official statistics respectively. However, as this is not the case, and it is hard to envisage a sudden and dramatic improvement, then alternative solutions must be considered. The pessimistic viewpoint sees this as the thin edge of a dangerous wedge, where the funding to NSOs may be further reduced and the standing of NSSs and official statistics are further undermined. A more optimistic perspective recognizes the opportunities to develop the role and mandate of official statistics beyond its current role.

The idea of using unofficial data to compile official statistics, be they national or international is not new. NSOs use unofficial data everyday as inputs to compiling official statistics. IOs must also resort to using unofficial data to compile global aggregates. In fact, the Committee for the Coordination of Statistical Activities (CCSA) published guidelines Recommended Practices on the Use of Non-Official Sources in International Statistics [3] on the topic. But what if we were to go a step further? Rather than simply using unofficial data as inputs to derive or compute official statistics, what if we could use already compiled unofficial statistics to fill some of the gaps in official statistics? At this point it may be useful to clarify a very important point. Data and statistics are not the same thing. While the terms are frequently (and incorrectly) used inter-changeably or synonymously, they are in fact two different things. Data are basic elements or single pieces of information. Statistics are numerical data that have been organized through mathematical operations.

This is not a new idea. Several papers have raised this issue before, either directly or indirectly, as to whether there is a new role for official statistics as a certification authority [4]; [5]; [6]; [7]. Hammer et al [8: p.19] summarise the issue succinctly: ‘statistical agencies could consider new tasks, such as the accreditation or certification of data sets created by third parties or public or private sectors. By widening its mandate, it would help keep control of quality and limit the risk of private big data producers and users fabricating data sets that fail the test of transparency, proper quality, and sound methodology.’

In this paper we discuss, whether such a mechanism might be useful in the specific context of compiling indicators for the 2030 Agenda. From the outset, we would like to clarify that the proposal put forward in this paper is not driven by any ideological position but rather by a desire to find a pragmatic, yet professional, solution to what we perceive as a serious problem. In making this proposal our intention is not to be subversive or iconoclastic. We have no desire to undermine or corrode official statistics. We are not setting out to promote or argue for the privatization or ‘uberfication’ of official statistics. Nor are we advocating a completely open wiki-stat approach. On the contrary – we are staunch defenders of the need for impartial, independent official statistics. But given the pace of progress, the cost of developing the SDG indicators and the weight of expectation, we feel it is necessary to ask whether there are other approaches? Specifically, we are asking whether there might be a way to collaboratively harness the intellectual power of those outside the official statistics tent to avoid needless delays, duplication and expenditure. Bordt and Nia [9: p.1] argue that populating the GIF is an ‘adaptive challenge requiring us to go beyond any one authoritative expertise to discover and generate new capacity, new expertise, and new ways of doing things.’ We agree. We also argue that in a post-truth era, official statistics might do well to take more control of a rapidly fragmenting and complicated information environment. Our fear is that, as Gates has warned, we (the statistics community) are underestimating the changes are underway in the world of data and statistics. In brief, this is a risk management strategy.

This proposal is in keeping with the inclusive spirit of the 2030 Agenda and the idea of holistic data ecosystems. To date, many of the discussions regarding the GIF have placed official national statisticians, official international statisticians and other statistical compilers as competitors. But perhaps there is a way to collaborate rather than compete? This latter aspect of collaboration and data sharing is at the heart of recent recommendations of the Bogota Declaration of The UN Global Working Group on Big Data [10].

The paper is divided into two parts. Part 1 (Background and Context) outlines some of the background issues, such as measurement difficulties and the likely costs associated with populating the GIF to help readers understand the scale of the challenge facing the global statistical community. Part 2 (A Proposal for a system to accredit unofficial statistics) outlines the proposal and argues the approach is consistent with the philosophy of the 2030 Agenda. The arguments put forward are also consistent with notions of the wider data revolution and a longer historic trend of embracing ‘unofficial’ scientific discovery through accreditation and validation by a recognized authority.

Part 1 – Background and Context
‘The data demands arising from the SDGs are huge and cannot be realistically met
by official data alone’ – M. Kituyi, UNCTAD Secretary General [11]

1.1 Measuring the SDGs

From a statistical perspective the measurement challenges arising from the 2030 Agenda are huge. To assess progress, each of the 169 complex, multi-faceted targets requires a statistical indicator. In fact, many of the targets are so complex, 232 indicators have been agreed. In truth, if all aspects of the targets were covered properly, then perhaps twice that number would be required [12].

The MDG requirements were modest in comparison with the SDGs. Nevertheless, at the end of the MDG lifecycle in 2015, countries could populate on average, only 68 per cent of MDG indicators [2]. In their final MDG progress report, the United Nations [13: p.10] warned that ‘Large data gaps remain in several development areas. Poor data quality, lack of timely data and unavailability of disaggregated data on important dimensions are among the major challenges. As a result, many national and local governments continue to rely on outdated data or data of insufficient quality to make planning and decisions.’

The far reaching ambition of the 2030 Agenda has led to development targets that are well ahead of available official statistics and statistical concepts. In many cases, appropriate statistical methodologies do not yet exist from which to generate indicators. To elaborate this problem and facilitate the population of the GIF the IEAG-SDG has classified all SDG indicators in to three tiers on the basis of their conceptual development and availability of data. The tiers are:

Tier 1: the indicator is conceptually clear, has an internationally established methodology, standards are available, and data are regularly produced by countries for at least 50 per cent of countries and of the population in every region where the indicator is relevant.

Tier 2: the indicator is conceptually clear, has an internationally established methodology, standards are available, but data are not regularly produced by countries.

Tier 3: no internationally established methodology or standards are yet available for the indicator, but methodology/standards are being (or will be) developed or tested.

In May 2018, the IEAG-SDG reported that only 40 per cent of the selected indicators could be classified as Tier 1 (see Table 1). Furthermore, they reported that 27 per cent of the indicators remained classified as Tier 3. While Table 1 shows the not inconsiderable improvements in conceptual development and data availability that has been made since 2016, it also highlights the magnitude of the task still facing the global statistical community. The pace of transition of indicators through the tiers to reach Tier 1 is likely to slow as presumably the low hanging fruit will be picked first.

Table 1 – Number of SDG Indicators by Tier
Source: Derived from IEAG-SDG [14]

Source: Derived from IEAG-SDG [14]

1.2 Who Measures?

Countries understandably guard and protect their reputations preciously. Consequently, countries can be quite sensitive about what is measured and who does the measurement. This sensitivity has often led to tensions between official national statistics compilers and external compliers, whether they are IOs, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), universities or other countries. In the context of the 2030 Agenda, this has led to some tensions as to whose data should be used in the compilation of the indicators for the GIF.

Countries, perhaps not unreasonably, are anxious that only official national data are used to populate the SDG indicators. But there are some circumstances where this approach may be sub-optimal. In thinking about this, it is useful to remember that the primary purpose of the GIF is to produce global indicators.

The first reason to query the ‘country data’ approach is where specific national official statistics do not exist. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon problem. It makes perfect sense to use good quality national official statistics when they exist but if they don’t, and there is insufficient data to populate global indicators (see Tier 2 – Table 1), then other approaches must be found. The demand for SDG indicators has exacerbated this problem as many of the targets (and consequent indicators) fall far outside the scope of traditional official statistics and thus are not guided by agreed international measurement standards (see Tier 3 – Table 1).

A second problem with the ‘country data’ approach is where problems with the national official statistics exist. Problems could mean anything from incompleteness, errors or inaccuracies, non-adherence to international standards, inconsistencies over time, or imbalances. A good example of where this might arise is the asymmetries that frequently exist between bilateral trade datasets. From a global perspective, unbalanced trade data are not especially useful, and so steps are taken by IOs to remove these asymmetries. This may lead to a mismatch between official national statistics and official international statistics. This issue is not unique to international trade, problems with national data exist across all statistical domains. Despite the best efforts of countries and IOs, internationally comparable data will be a real challenge for the GIF.

A third and more delicate issue is that of impartiality. Targets, such as for example, 16.5 or 16.6 which deal with corruption, bribery and institutional accountability provide perfect examples of why it might make sense to use external data sources and independent statistical compilers. There are clearly cases where official national statistics cannot be trusted to provide an independent or impartial picture. This is not to say, that all national data are untrustworthy. On the contrary – most national official statistics are trustworthy. But there are cases (either indicator or country specific) where arguments can be made that more independent and trustworthy data may exist.

Another exception to the ‘country data’ approach arises from what can be termed the data revolution. Today our day-to-day dependence on technology is leaving a bewildering array of ‘digital footprints’. This has created a deluge of digital data. Some of these new digital datasets are global in scope offering the possibility of compiling genuinely harmonised global statistics. In such cases, where a single data source might provide better quality and more consistent data than the amalgamation of multiple individual country datasets, it would seem insensible to discount their use for the purpose of global reporting. This might be applicable to targets such as 15.1 that deal with forest, drylands, wetlands and mountain regions governed by international agreements. Arguably superior quality and internationally comparable data could be derived from satellite imagery than from multiple national datasets of which many will be based on irregular sample surveys of varying quality.

1.3 The Cost of Measurement

Unlike the MDGS, the SDGs are universal. The SDGs are also much broader in scope, far beyond simply reducing extreme poverty, to encompass the survival of our planet, improving equity and freedom in our societies and trying to develop a more stable and sustainable economic model. One of the implications of such a broad and ambitious development agenda is the price tag. Estimates vary, but Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya, who co-chaired the SDG intergovernmental consultative process, anticipates that implementing the 2030 Agenda could cost somewhere between $3.5 and $5 trillion per year [15]. Ibrahim Thiaw [16] (2016), United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, estimates it will cost at least an additional US$1.5 trillion annually over the Millennium Development Goals. The intergovernmental committee of experts on sustainable development financing [17] estimated the value of investment in infrastructure required to achieve the eradication of poverty alone at between $5 and $7 trillion annually.

To put these numbers in perspective, total Official Development Assistance (ODA) contributions from the OECD Development Assistance Committee members’, averages about $113 billion per year (in current prices)3. Since Monterrey in 2002, when the wealthier nations of the world, promised to contribute 0.7% of their Gross National Income to ODA [18], the cumulative shortfall in ODA (2002 – 2016) has risen to $2.4 trillion (current prices) or $2.9 trillion in 2016 constant prices. Since 2015, and the commencement of Agenda 2030, the average country effort hasn’t changed appreciably (see Figure 1.3) and remains well short of the 0.7% target.

Figure 1.3 – Net Official Development Assistance (Total)
as a % of Gross National Income, 2002 – 2017

Source: OECD DAC: and authors own calculations.

Developing the statistical concepts and collecting the data required for the GIF will not be inexpensive either. The Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data estimates around $650 million per year is needed to collect data, of which only $250 million is currently funded [19]. PARIS21 [20: p.11] have estimated that ‘funding for statistics needs to be increased from current commitments of between US$300 million and 500 million to between US$1 billion and 1.25 billion by 2020.’ Irrespective of which estimate is used, these sums clearly exceed existing funding [2]. More recently PARIS21 [21] have estimated that ODA devoted to data and statistics increased from $591 million in 2015 to $623 million in 2016. A welcome development but still only one third of 1% of ODA, and still far short of the $740 million spent in 2013.

1.4 Summary of challenges

Part 1 has provided some of the background and context that are relevant to the proposals put forward in Part 2. The universal and broad scope of the 2030 Agenda present real measurement challenges for the global statistical community. Populating the GIF will be a challenging and complex task with enormous resource implications, even for developed countries with sophisticated statistical systems. History suggests that it is highly unlikely that by 2030 all of the 232 indicators will be populated. Today, only 40% of the SDG indicators can be populated. One of the risks with the Tier system is that it has created a vacuum, and as the saying goes: ‘nature abhors a vacuum’. Who will fill that vacuum and how? At a time when multilateralism is faltering, when funding is not matching ambition, and where the ‘data revolution’ has brought new competition, we see countries clinging to an anachronistic view, pioritising ‘country data’ and international organisations jealously laying claim to indicators to attract or safeguard funding. If the development and statistical communities are serious about populating the GIF then it is time to consider alternative approaches.

Part 2 – A Proposal for a system to certify unofficial statistics

“one of the greatest tasks of our era may be figuring out how to unlock and harness the value of [private and civil sector] data to provide actionable insights for positive social and economic impacts” Stefaan Verhulst [22]

As outlined in Part 1, the data demands arising from the 2030 Agenda are enormous. If the history of MDG data is any indication of future outcomes, then it suggests that a large portion of the GIF could remain empty for much of the remaining time between now and 2030. Addressing the data gaps using only traditional approaches will realistically not achieve success. For this reason, we propose, not only using existing unofficial data as inputs to derive SDG indictors but also using already compiled unofficial indicators or statistics.

The rationale behind this proposal is straight-forward. The demand for data to populate the SDG GIF far outstrips supply from traditional sources. Yet there are no shortage of data and indicators in existence; if anything, the opposite is true, we are awash with both. The statistical and information landscape has changed utterly over the past decade. Today there are an unimaginable range of statistical indicators being compiled by a wide variety of producers: civil society; academia; NGOs; and the private sector. For the purposes of the GIF many of these indicators have not been considered to date. Bearing in mind the scale of challenge facing the statistical community, we argue, it is time to rethink this approach.

2.1 A Proposal

An agreed recognized and mandated body, with the authority and competence to certify statistics as ‘fit for purpose’, would review unofficial statistics to see whether they can be certified as ‘official’ for the purposes of populating the SDG GIF. Statistics certified ‘fit for purpose’ could be accredited and used as official statistics. For the purposes of this discussion ‘Fit for purpose’ means that an indicator or statistic meets pre-defined quality and metadata standards and has been compiled in an impartial and independent manner. Those pre-defined standards and criterion must be open and transparent to all. For the purposes of this argument, the term quality can be interpreted in the broadest sense, encompassing all aspects of how well statistical processes and outputs fulfil expectations as a SDG indicator. In more concrete terms, ‘fit for purpose’ would mean that any statistic must be relevant, accurate, reliable, coherent, timely, accessible, and interpretable. The statistic must be produced using sound methodologies, concepts and reliable systems. The statistic must also be compiled within an institutional environment that recognises the need for objectivity, impartiality and transparency. This last point is important. For a statistic to be designated official, neither the input data nor the methodologies can be proprietary but must be available to all and open to scrutiny (subject to obvious confidentiality constraints).

This proposal envisages the SDG GIF being populated from a combination of official statistics and unofficial (but certified official) statistics. By pooling all available indicators an improved completion rate will be achieved. To ensure a level playing field and maintain quality standards a formal accreditation system is required. ‎By combining official and accredited unofficial sources into a single high-quality ‘pool’ the chances of successfully populating the GIF will increase (See Figure 2.2).

In this new regime the indicator pool would comprise of:

  • Official national statistics. These are statistics produced by the NSO in accordance with the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics [23], other than those explicitly stated by the NSO not to be official; and all statistics produced by the NSS i.e. by other national organisations that have been mandated by national government or certified by the head of the NSS to compile statistics for their specific domain.
  • Unofficial national statistics that are accredited as ‘official national statistics’ by the NSS for the purposes of supplying statistics to populate the SDG – MGF.
  • Official international statistics. These are statistics, indicators or aggregates produced by a UN agency or other IO in accordance with the Principles Governing International Statistical Activities [24]. It is often necessary for a UN agency, or other international organisation, to modify official national statistics that have been provided by an NSO or another organisation of a NSS, in order to harmonise statistics across countries, to correct evidently erroneous values or to reconcile with international standards. Furthermore, in the absence of an official national statistic, a UN agency or other international organisation may compile estimates. Thus, it is not sufficient to define official international statistics as simply the reproduction of official national statistics.
  • Unofficial international unofficial statistics that are accredited as ‘official international statistics’ by the body mandated by the UN Statistics Commission for the purposes of supplying statistics to populate the SDG GIF.

Figure 2.2 – A proposed future: Using unofficial data and statistics to compile SDG indictors

This supplementary approach would only be used when particular conditions apply. Firstly, it should be a measure of last resort, and only considered when all other official options have been exhausted. Specifically, when:

  • Tier 3 indicators (i.e. indicators with no internationally established methodology or standards are available) remain unpopulated and when realistically, no methodology or standards will be developed in time. The concept of ‘in time’ will need to be specified – perhaps by 2025 would be a reasonable cut-off.


  • when Tier 2 indicators (i.e. where the indicator is conceptually clear, has an internationally established methodology and standards are available) remain unpopulated and data are not being systematically produced. Here too, a cut-off date will be needed. Again 2025 might be sensible.

Secondly, compilers of unofficial indicators hoping to secure accreditation must demonstrate their adherence to the principles of official statistics. For national accreditation this means observance of the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics (ibid). In particular, principles 1 (impartiality), 2 (professionalism), 3 (scientific standards), 6 (confidentiality), 9 (international classifications) are of special relevance and should be rigorously tested. Principle 5 (quality and other aspects of data) is also extremely important. For global accreditation it would mean adherence to the Principles Governing International Statistical Activities (ibid).

Thirdly, unofficial indicators will be required to meet a defined set of quality standards. For national accreditation, the indicator would be required to meet the same standards and conditions as set out in the national code of practice or national statistical quality framework. For international accreditation, the indicator will be expected to meet the quality standards as defined in the UN Statistical Quality Assurance Framework [25]. Furthermore, clear metadata standards should be set for accreditation. In cases where standards don’t yet exist, the Common Metadata Framework [26] sets out suitable generic standards that could be used as criteria for accreditation.

Finally, prospective compilers of official SDG indicators must be able to guarantee that they can supply those indicators for, at least, the lifetime of Agenda 2030. In practical terms, this means being able to supply, at a minimum, the statistic on an annual basis for the years 2010 – 2030. While sufficient funding is important, in line with the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics (ibid), that funding must be free of any political or ideological conditions or influence. Access to the indicator itself must also be open and constraint free.

2.2 How does this differ from the current situation?

Unofficial or ‘non-official’ data sources are already being used as inputs in the compilation of official statistics all around the world, both at national level and international level. At national level, for example, unofficial data are frequently used to supplement official survey data in the derivation of consumer price index expenditure weights, retail sales index trading day weights, and in many aspects of compiling national accounts. Typically, at national level, there are no official guidelines or accreditation systems used in these processes. Depending on the quality and detail of the metadata, the reliance of an individual statistic on unofficial data may or may not be clear. As noted above, NSOs will be guided by their own national codes of practice and the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics (ibid), in particular, principle 5 which states that ‘Data for statistical purposes may be drawn from all types of sources, be they statistical surveys or administrative records4…’

The same is true at international level, except that IOs are directed by the Committee for the Coordination of Statistical Activities guidelines on the use of unofficial data. Those guidelines, Recommended Practices on the use of Non-Official Sources in International Statistics [2], provide direction on the use of unofficial source data. No formal accreditation system is necessary when using unofficial data as they are effectively subsumed into official aggregates and thus are covered by the formal ‘official’ label applied to the derived indicator. In other words, accreditation of the unofficial data is implicit. The guidelines however stay silent on the use of fully developed indicators.

Thus, both NSOs and IOs already regularly use unofficial source data to compile official statistics. This practice is expected to grow as statistical agencies are now looking beyond survey data and administrative records to investigate whether big data is a useful source of data for compiling official statistics. In 2018, 34 NSSs from around the world had registered 109 separate big data projects on the Big Data Project Inventory5 compiled by the UN Global Working Group on Big Data. IOs had logged a further 91 projects [6]. NSOs and IOs are investigating a wide range of big data sources, from satellite imagery to mobile phone CDR records to augment or supplant existing data sources or generate completely new statistics. The question now is how all of this activity will be integrated with the compilation of official statistics more generally.

This proposal goes a step further than existing practices and frameworks, in that it anticipates using, in the specific cases outlined in section 2.1, creating a larger ‘pool’ from which SDG indicators can be taken. This pool would comprise of not only unofficial source data to derive official statistics, but also using already developed unofficial indicators or statistics (but reclassified as official) – see Figure 2.2. Now compilers of statistics (official and unofficial) would submit bids (proposals) to the IEAG-SDG for consideration. Bids would only be considered if they adhere to agreed quality and metadata standards and broader principles of official statistics.

2.3 Risks associated with adopting this proposal

No doubt persuasive counter-arguments can be made against implementing this proposal. After all such a move will introduce risks. But not adapting to the modern data world runs the risk of achieving only a partially populated GIF, which in turn risks tarnishing the reputation of the global statistical community. A business as usual approach also puts NSSs, particularly those in developing countries, under unnecessary pressure to compile a range of new statistics.

This section outlines some of the most likely risks in adopting this proposal. There are legal concerns, reputational risks and practical implementation issues, such as costs, to be considered. Some of these issues are discussed briefly.

 2.3.1 Legal Issues:

In theory accreditation could be done at national level or at global level. At national level, it will be important that compilers of unofficial indicators can demonstrate that they adhere to the same standards as compilers of national official statistics. In most countries, the national accrediting body will most likely be (but not necessarily) the head of the NSS, or if a formal system does not exist, then the head of the NSO. In some countries this may be the same person. Here some legal hurdles might need to be jumped. For example, not only might the unofficial statistic itself need to be accredited as an official statistic, but the compiling agency might also need to be certified as a public body or a recognized statistical agency or authority in order to comply with national statistical legislation and/or national codes of practice. For example, in some countries official statistics are defined as statistics compiled by the NSO or other public institutions. Such a broad accreditation might be seen as a bridge too far. However, this caveat might be circumvented by outsourcing the actual compilation of the statistic (under license) to a third party but the statistic itself would be disseminated by a recognized body of the NSS or the NSO itself. This approach would also satisfy the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics (ibid).

At global level, as no head of the global statistical system exists, an accreditation body would need to be mandated. The UN Statistical Commission would seem to be the appropriate body to mandate such an accreditation board. One could imagine that they might ask the IEAG-SDG to take on this additional task. Assuming the IAEG – SDG is mandated as the statistical accreditation body, they would most likely need additional statistical support (as the indicators in question will most likely fall outside the expertise of traditional NSO statisticians), in particular from IOs who can provide both technical, professional and secretarial support.

Equally, at the global level there is no statistical law to impose constraints. The UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics (ibid) discussed above apply only to official national statistics, and so, do not have anything to say regarding the compilation of official international statistics (which would include global SDG indicators). The Principles Governing International Statistical Activities (ibid), which are the equivalent of the fundamental principles for compilers of official international statistics, are also silent on who exactly can compile international statistics or who is a member of the international statistical community. As the CCSA has expanded considerably over recent years, there is clearly some flexibility regarding the interpretation of how ‘international statistical community’ can be interpreted6. There is also some ambiguity as to what an official international statistic is. The UN Statistics Quality Assurance Framework (ibid: p.9) defines official International statistics as ‘statistics, indicators or aggregates produced by a UN agency or other international organisation in accordance with the Principles Governing International Statistical Activities (ibid) formulated by the Committee for the Coordination of Statistical Activities’. But this framework applies only to UN agencies and thus does not prescribe the activities of other non-UN IOs.

There is no doubt more to be said on this matter. Nevertheless, a preliminary assessment suggests that there are no absolute legal barriers sufficient to prevent either national or global accreditation mechanisms being put in place, should that be desired. Nor would such mechanisms, if done carefully, breach the letter or the spirit of the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics (ibid) or the Principles Governing International Statistical Activities (ibid).

2.3.2 Reputational risks:

There will naturally be concerns that certifying unofficial statistics as official may ultimately undermine or tarnish the official statistics brand. A valid argument can be made that by using unofficial statistics, the line between official and unofficial statistics may become blurred and the reputation of official statistics will be damaged or put at risk. Such a risk must be anticipated and mitigated as official statistics have many unique qualities and enjoys a reputation worth preserving and delineating. Consequently, it will be very important that the protection of the official statistics brand is carefully considered.

There may also be concerns that in allowing some unofficial sources to be designated as official, this may be the thin end of a dangerous wedge, whereby the compilation of official statistics is slowly outsourced or privatized and incrementally taken away from NSOs and NSSs. Some may fear also that this is somehow an admission of failure – that official statisticians cannot deliver. There may be concerns too that in an era of data revolution, but reduced funding for official statistics, that official statistics is already surrendering ground to other information providers and this proposal will only add fuel to the fire. In other words, effectively outsourcing the production of official statistics may further drain funding from NSSs and IOs. Perhaps so, but a (cold) data war is already underway. There is a growing asymmetry in the resources available for the compilation of public/official and private/unofficial statistics and indicators. In a world where official estimates are increasingly being challenged by alternate facts it may be unwise to take the future of official statistics for granted. This may sound alarmist, but developments in Greece [27] and [28]; Canada [29]; Norway [30]; and most recently in Tanzania [31] and [32] provide sobering reminders that the impartiality and independence of official statistics can be surprisingly fragile.

The reputational risks outlined in this section are not trivial and must be carefully considered and mitigated. Official statistics must adapt in a way that allows official national and international mechanisms to take some control (or at least exert more influence) over a rapidly fragmenting information landscape. Reputation is a double-edged sword. The risk of reputational damage arising from certification of unofficial data must be balanced against the risk of reputational damage to official statistics failing to deliver on the expectations arising from Agenda 2030.

2.3.3 Double standards:

To certify unofficial indicators as official, a level playing field will be essential. Careful thought must to be given to ensuring that quality standards are comparable, so that neither unofficial nor official compilers are placed at a disadvantage. It will be very important that unofficial statistics don’t enjoy light touch regulation vis-a-vis their official counterparts or vice-versa. If unofficial statistics are to be used, then they must adhere to the same high-quality standards as official statistics. The dimensions of those quality standards, for the purposes of compiling UN statistics, are defined by the UN Statistics Quality Assurance Framework (ibid: p.22) as: relevance; accuracy; reliability; coherence; timeliness; punctuality; accessibility; and interpretability.

Adherence to the principles of official statistics must also be a condition for accreditation. Although the principles themselves are not overly specific in technical terms, their importance cannot be overstated. In particular: principles 1 (impartiality); 2 (professionalism); and 6 (confidentiality) are of paramount importance. More technical in nature but no less important are principles 9 and 5 which deal with use of international classifications and quality standards respectively. Thus, adherence to the UN fundamental principles of official statistics (ibid) must apply to all compilers. In particular, unofficial statistics must adopt the same standards of openness and transparency of metadata.

In order to accredit unofficial statistics as official, these quality dimensions and principles must be assessed and judged ‘fit for purpose’ for SDG indicators. Indicators must also be available for the entire duration of the 2030 agenda. Ideally this means from 2010 – 2030. Any indicator selected as an SDG indicator must provide certainty on this issue.

2.3.4 Data neutrality

Conflict of interest is always a risk when consumers of data become compilers. Advocacy or ideology may encourage statisticians to achieve a certain result or outcome. The impartiality or agnosticism of official statisticians is one of its key strengths. The European Statistics Code of Practice [33] and the UN’s Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics (ibid) both stress the need for official statistics compiled free from political and external interference.

The counter argument is that ‘there is no such thing as neutral information’ [34: p.179] and that consumers probably know the context better and so can compile better, more nuanced, statistics. These are not invalid arguments. As Borgman [35: p.69] points out ‘Behind every mechanism for organizing knowledge are unstated and undocumented assumptions.’ Rudder [36: p.257] too notes ‘behind every number there’s a person making decisions’. Or as the title of Gitleman’s book [37] eloquently puts it ‘”Raw Data” Is an Oxymoron.’ Even the choice of indicator can reflect political ideology or an attempt to control the narrative.

Every statistic comprises several conscious and subconscious decisions – how to treat outliers, how to impute for missing values or what level of aggregation should be chosen? The list of decisions is almost endless. So, no statistic is strictly neutral in the sense that choices have unavoidably been made during compilation. But perhaps the more relevant question is whether the statistics were compiled to provide impartial information or to advocate for a specific objective? Not always an easy question to answer. The purpose of official statistics is the former, to provide statistics and information, that in as far as is possible are free from any political agenda. The argument as to whether other agents can compile better statistics than official statisticians is at the heart of the debate as to whether centralised or decentralised statistical systems are better. There are strengths and weaknesses with either approach. Centralised statistical systems are typically seen as strong on independence and impartiality but sometimes struggle with relevancy, owing to their remoteness from policy debate. Decentralised statistical units often produce highly relevant statistics but are more susceptible to political interference and pressure to present statistics relating to ministerial policies and outcomes in a favourable light, thus compromising the credibility of the statistics [38] and [39]. From the perspective of accrediting unofficial statistics, all compilers must be able to demonstrate adherence to principle 1 of the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics (ibid).

The risks associated with users compiling statistics already exist. These risks can arguably be mitigated through implementation of codes of practice, quality standards, transparent metadata, open data standards and peer reviews.

2.4 The risks associated with not adopting the proposal

Some of the risks associated with implementing the proposed approach have been outlined above. But there are also risks in not considering such an approach. It is also important to carefully consider these. The main risks would appear to be those arising from unaddressed competition.

2.4.1 Competition

We live in a world where development funding is not exclusively provided by States. Philanthropic funding is now increasingly important, with funds, such as, the Gates, Ford, Hilton and Rockefeller foundations making enormous sums of money available. Unfortunately, relatively little is known about these philanthropic funds, what they fund or how they decide what gets funded. Salazar [40] estimated that in 2009, the top 10 philanthropic foundations made US$5.6 billion available, of which, US$3.6 billion was given to ‘global development’.  In 2016, Viergever and Hendriks [41] estimated that the 10 largest philanthropic funders of health research together funded research costing $37.1 billion, constituting 40% of all public and philanthropic health research spending globally. They note the need for increased transparency about who the main funders are globally.

The danger for official statistics is philanthropically funded projects may inadvertently be counterproductive; competing with official statistics and the SDG GIF. In the growing world of online collaboration, competition to the SDG GIF could emerge at any time. If other data compilers in civil society or the private sector feel disenfranchised or frustrated with the official approach they may develop competing frameworks. Arguably this has begun already. The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN)7, the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD)8 and the United Nations Global Pulse9 are all, in one way or another, competing with the UN Statistical Commission. They are all competing for funding and other resources to improve data and statistics for development. Take the GPSDD for example – reportedly a network of more than 280 members, including governments, the private sector, civil society, international organizations, academic institutions, foundations, statistics agencies, and other data communities, it was established to fully harness the data revolution for sustainable development. Their ambition is to, among other things: strengthen inclusive data ecosystems; drive data collaborations; drive global collaboration to improve production and use of data; develop global data principles and protocols for sharing and leveraging privately held data; Bring together data communities at global and national level to spur innovation and collaboration; harmonize data specifications and architectures; and ensure the interoperability of technology platforms for assembling, accessing, and using data. These all seems like sensible ambitions. The risk of course is that, in doing so, it may undermine the global structure established by countries to do exactly this – the United Nations.  The risk also, is that, several of the organisations who have joined the network, may have done so under duress, as they can’t risk being excluded or being seen to be irrelevant. The distinction between voluntary collaboration and forced cooptation is often blurred.

In terms of addressing the threat of competition, arguably it is better that official statistics takes control and propagates statistical standards, rather than building a wall in an attempt to shut-off or safeguard official statistics from other compilers. Furthermore, in the rapidly changing data environment that we live in today, not adapting may be the bigger risk.

2.5 Ideological arguments

It is clear there is resistance in many countries to governments collecting more data. The argument underlying this resistance is supposedly fears of a Big Brother state [19]; [42]; [43]. Despite statistical legislation and the UN fundamental principles, respondents, but most particularly firms, don’t trust NSOs to safeguard their data from other arms of government or not to use their data for non-statistical purposes. As an aside, MacFeely [6] notes the incongruity of these concerns and the lack of concern regarding the emergence of a corporate or private sector Big Brother. But there is ideology at play here. The neo-liberal agenda aims to minimise the role of the public sector. Landefeld [5] warns, even in the data sphere, there will be resistance by industry to expanded government oversight.

Thus, one can anticipate ideological arguments against accreditation, along the lines that this is an expansion of the role of government. But as Reich [44: p.5] correctly points out ‘Government doesn’t “intrude” on the “free market”. It creates the market.’ Polanyi [45: p.61] too notes the importance of the ‘deus ex machina of state intervention’ for the formation of markets. The UN or national government must set the data standards to be used, whether it is defining post codes, tax numbers, personal identification numbers or statistical classifications – these are all part of a nations data infrastructure [46]. Even Hayak [47], the godfather of modern liberal economics, understood this, explaining that in line with liberal principles, the State should exercise control of weights and measures.

In any event, challenging the establishment of national or global accreditation mechanisms on the grounds of such ideology is a specious argument. An accreditation system will facilitate wider participation of the private sector, academia, NGOs and civil society in the 2030 Agenda. It opens a doorway, for indicators that have traditionally been excluded from consideration, to compete for recognition as an official SDG indicator.

2.6 Consistent philosophy

The 2030 Agenda emerged from a globally inclusive, open and democratic process. In line with this philosophy, contributions on the compilation of SDG indicators could also be open and inclusive. To an extent they already are, in that anyone can propose indicators, or comment on existing proposals. But to date, it has been envisaged that compilation will be the exclusive permit of official statisticians (either national or international). But what if the power and knowledge of unofficial data and unofficial statisticians could be harnessed? This indeed would be a data revolution.

The idea of an accreditation system is not inconsistent with the philosophy underlying the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics (ibid). In particular principle 5 which states:

‘Data for statistical purposes may be drawn from all types of sources, be they statistical surveys or administrative records. Statistical agencies are to choose the source with regard to quality, timeliness, costs and the burden on respondents’.

In other words, statistical agencies should in principle use the widest variety of data sources possible to compile official statistics provided the quality of those data are sufficiently good and the costs are not prohibitive. Why not go one step further, and argue that statistical agencies should in principle use, not only the widest variety of data, but also the widest variety of statistics for the purposes of providing official statistics to feed the SDG GIF?

The idea is also broadly consistent with the spirit of the 2030 Agenda itself, which states ‘Data and information from existing reporting mechanisms should be used where possible’ [48: para. 48]. So, like the fundamental principles, the 2030 Agenda recognises the importance of reusing existing data and information from other official systems. Again, one could argue that what we are proposing is simply an extension or relaxation of this condition – in particular, a relaxation of the ‘existing reporting mechanisms’. The 2030 Agenda also noted that any ‘global review will be primarily based on national official data sources’ (our emphasis) [49: para 74a]. Thus, it was recognized from the start the GIF might require data from outside national official sources. The document wisely didn’t set any conditions or limitations on what these sources might be.

This proposal is also consistent with the broad philosophy or vision put forward by the Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development in their report ‘A World That Counts’. In this report, they state ‘New institutions, new actors, new ideas and new partnerships are needed, and all have something to offer the data revolution. National statistical offices, the traditional guardians of public data for the public good, will remain central to the whole of government efforts to harness the data revolution for sustainable development. To fill this role, however, they will need to change….and strong collaboration between public institutions and the private sector’ [49: p.9]. The report stresses the need to create incentives for private sector participation and comes tantalizingly close a number of times to proposing something quite radical, but it never quite does10 – it highlights the importance of data sharing but never statistics. In short, they advocate a vibrant ‘global data ecosystem’ [49: p.17] and an extended concept of statistical systems. We interpret (global or national) data ecosystems as something much broader than (global or national) statistical systems – See Figure 2.6

The NSOs mapped in Figure 2.6 don’t require any explanation. A NSS is the collection of statistical institutions or units within a country that collects, compiles and disseminates official statistics on behalf of national government. For the purposes of this argument, we understand a data ecosystem to be the amalgam of all data and statistical actors in a country, including official statistics and holders of public sector or administrative data, private and commercial sector data holdings and indicators, research data, civil society and NGO data holdings. We acknowledge that in an era of globalising data imposing a distinction between a national and a global data ecosystem is perhaps somewhat archaic. The idea of constraining global digital data to a ‘country’ or that data will respect national borders is anachronistic. Thus, we acknowledge that data ecosystems may need to be international by default. The important point is that data ecosystems are much broader than official statistical systems.

Figure 2.6 – (National/Global) Statistical and Data Ecosystems

The official statistical system, whether national or international, should retain control of the process for standards and certification. Thereafter, there is no reason why NSOs or NSSs could not accredit unofficial statistics or indicators for the purposes of compiling SDG indicators. Furthermore, with the evolution of modern, globalised data sources, there is no reason why international organisations or the United Nations could not establish regional or global accreditation systems to facilitate the use of good quality unofficial statistics.

2.7 Lessons from history

Scientific discovery has always relied on amateur inventors or scientists. Many important contributions were made ‘by men with minimal scientific education’ [50: p.201]. John Harrison, a clock maker, invented the famous H1 ships chronometer used to estimate longitude; Michael Faraday discovered diamagnetism, electrolysis, and electromagnetic induction; Gregor Mendal, a Czech Augustinian monk, pioneered experiments on dominant/recessive qualities of genes in peas; William Herschel, an amateur astronomer forged the development of telescopic lenses and discovered the planet Uranus; and Charles Darwin was the legendary amateur naturalist famous for his contribution to the theories of evolution. Weinberger [51] points out, the reason that amateurs such as these could make such important contributions and have them recognised was that there were bodies, such as the Royal Society, the Royal Astronomical Society or the Académie des Sciences to test and validate their work.

There are lessons we can learn from this approach. Just as professional scientists did not have the monopoly on scientific wisdom in the past, official statisticians do not have the monopoly on information today. In fact, when it comes to mining new forms of digital data, official statisticians are for the most part far behind their unofficial counterparts. Today, many unofficial statistics are produced by a wide variety of compilers, ranging from: journalists; researchers; social media outlets; civil society; academia; commercial enterprises; lobby groups; and NGOs. The quality of these statistics varies enormously, from one end of the quality spectrum to the other. In many cases the quality is hard to determine, as the underlying data and methodologies are proprietary and shrouded in mystery. In other situations, the statistics are clearly of good quality and are accompanied by supporting metadata. It seems unwise therefore to tar all unofficial data with the same brush.

Is there a way to sift and sort this effort in such a way as to harness it? Could NSOs (at country level) or the UN (at the global level) provide a mechanism that could test and validate unofficial statistics and accredit them for the purposes of the SDG GIF? That is the question posed in this paper. Without such a system, new statistics will emerge daily, leaving the public unclear as to their quality and utility. But by providing a quality assurance stamp, NSOs at country level and the UN at the global level could say which statistics are ‘facts’. The UN could become today, what the Académie des Sciences was to the Victorian era, in terms of validation. Winning such recognition might provide the necessary incentive for many compilers to become less proprietary with their data and methodologies and algorithms.


The demands made by the SDG GIF are colossal with enormous implications for national statistical systems. In May 2018 only 40 per cent of the selected indicators for the SDG GIF could be populated. The costs of populating the GIF exceed existing funding. It seems unlikely that funding will increase sufficiently to match requirements. Yet the global statistical system is expected to deliver a fully populated GIF to support the 2030 Agenda. Although these expectations are not realistic, failure to deliver could nevertheless result in significant reputational damage to that system, with far reaching repercussions.

It is time for a data revolution. The Dubai Declaration, drafted at the conclusion of the 2018 UN World Data Forum acknowledges ‘that the data demands for the 2030 Agenda require urgent new solutions that leverage the power of new data sources and technologies through partnerships between national statistical authorities and the private sector, civil society, and the academia and other research institutions.’ [52: para.7]. We agree. It is time to consider new approaches to populating the SDG GIF. Experience from the MDGs tells us that by 2030 many of the SDG indicators will not be populated. Without considerable investment, most Tier II and III indicators, are unlikely to become Tier I indicators. Few countries will be capable of producing the country level data required for the foreseeable future. While it is very important that countries feel ownership of the SDG process, the insistence on prioritising country statistics may ultimately be self-defeating; the focus should be on the best available statistics. There is a risk that in taking a rigid position on the source of statistics, countries are simply trying to hold back the tide. The data deluge will overcome them eventually.

Hence the proposal for a new approach. There will naturally be concerns that the proposal outlined in this paper may contribute to a wider corrosion of official statistics, multilateral systems and public goods. There may be fears that this is the thin end of a wedge that will ultimately allow greater privatization of official statistics. There will be concerns too regarding the quality of any ‘outsourced’ indicators, and even whether they have been compiled free of political or advocacy pressures. These are all valid concerns that must be addressed if an accreditation system is to be introduced. As already stated, this is not an argument for the privatisation or ‘uberfication’ of official statistics, nor is it an attempt to subvert NSOs or NSSs. Quite the contrary, the argument is that in order to protect official statistics and NSSs, those systems must evolve and adapt.

The approach proposed here is consistent with the open philosophy adopted during the consultation and negotiation phase of the 2030 Agenda. One could think of it as democratizing the SDG GIF but in a controlled way with clear rules. It would harness the intellectual power of NGOs, civil society and the private sector, giving them an incentive to share their data. In a world of ‘alternative facts’ it might also allow NSOs and the UN to assert their mandate and protect their legitimate role as custodian of knowledge and protector of deliberative public spaces.

The information environment is changing. Official statisticians must remain vigilant – complacency will create vulnerabilities. The proposal outlined here brings risks, but it may be necessary to open up and surrender a position of dominance or monopoly today in order to survive tomorrow. With every bold initiative there are risks. It is essential that such a system not be adopted blindly but carefully considered, and if adopted, known risks must be mitigated. As Diamond [53: p.433] points out, all ‘decisions involve gambles, because one often can’t be certain that clinging to core values will be fatal, or (conversely) that abandoning them will ensure survival.’ For better or worse, the Tier II and Tier III indicators have created a vacuum and if this vacuum is not filled by official statistics, then it will be exploited by someone else. In a rapidly changing and increasingly competitive data world, official statisticians must collaborate or perish. In doing so it may not be easy to decide what core values to discard and which to cling on to. But given the experience with the MDG indicators, it is highly improbable that by 2030, the majority of the SDG indicators will be populated. The question for official statisticians is whether it is time to try something different or just keep doing the same thing over and over again, hoping for a different result; a practice Einstein defined as insanity.

The proposal here is that official statistics switch from a purely production or manufacturing based model to a mixed business model: one combining the manufacture of official statistics with the franchising of production under license. One could think of this approach as a decentralized supply chain model. This is not a wiki approach but rather a spoke – hub, or HQ – subsidiary model. This proposal envisages the creation of a regulated market place, where compilers bid to populate SDG indicators. NSOs and the UN, as independent brokers of information, would be the quality controllers. The benefits of such an approach would be the enormous human and organizational capital that could be harnessed from all around the world. It would allow official statistics to tap into and avail of immense creativity and innovation, possibly accelerating change and reducing duplication, but in a controlled way. This approach positions NSOs and IOs as the guardians of public trust, the data stewards for the 21st century, safeguarding data and statistics as public goods.

This proposal is not a panacea. Myriad problems will remain, new ones will arise. But it may unleash the untapped productivity of a wider data ecosystem. It should be stressed that this proposal is specific to addressing gaps in the SDG GIF, and consequently the scope is limited to populating SDG indicators. With the necessary adjustments, the scope of this proposal could be scaled and adapted to incorporate other statistical domains. In other words, the core element of this proposal, accreditation, could be universally applied to official statistics, but this discussion lies outside the scope of this paper.


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1 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Centre for Policy Studies, University College Cork.

2 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

3 Authors own calculations based on OECD Development Assistance Committee Statistics (Table 1: Net Official Development Assistance) 2002 – 2014.

4 It is not clear why ‘all types of sources’ are so narrowly described as only including ‘survey or administrative records’ as clearly NSOs use ‘all’ types of data.

5 [examined on 27 April, 2018]. These numbers are a best estimate. Projects are not always well defined or explained on the inventory. Some projects seem to incorporate several projects or big data sources.

6 Membership of the CCSA comprises international and supranational organizations, whose mandate includes the provision of international official statistics in the context of the Principles Governing International Statistical Activities (ibid), and which have a permanent embedded statistical service in their organization and regular contacts with countries. At the inaugural meeting in 2003, there were 25 agencies. By 2017, the CCSA had expanded to 45 member agencies.




10 No doubt this was deliberate. But it is nevertheless ironic in a report discussing revolution.

Kategorien: english, Ticker

Desperately Seeking Indicators: different players, different priorities

1. November 2018 - 19:24

By Barbara Adams and Karen Judd

Download this briefing (pdf version).

Three years into the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, concerns continue about stalled indicators, missing indicators and proliferating and potentially competing data sources, which makes it difficult to assess progress
(see GPW briefings #22: “The Ups and Downs of Tiers: Measuring SDG Progress”; and #23: “SDG Indicators-the forest is missing”).

Initiatives abound in the shifting terrain of the generation, validation and use of data to satisfy the demands of a growing market of players. In addition to the work of the UN mandated Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs), these concerns and challenges have drawn the attention of a number of official statisticians and practitioners.

A new working paper by Steve MacFeely and Bojan Nastav, titled “You say you want a [data] Revolution’: A proposal to use unofficial statistics for the SDG Indicator Framework”, underlines the urgency of establishing a framework agreement for getting control of the dynamic but essentially fragmented data “revolution”. This timely proposal parallels the efforts of the UN Statistics Division, mandated by the UN Statistical Commission, to harness unofficial and open data, and integrate it into official statistics in a uniform way, subject to common principles.

Responding to the concerns about stalled indicators the IAEG-SDGs has made progress in three main areas:

  • advancing the methodological work needed to move some Tier III indicators to Tier II;1
  • identifying several proxy indicators by which to temporarily monitor those remaining in Tier III, prioritizing those with a deadline of 2020. The proxies will serve only to monitor the indicators until the methodology work is completed;
  • identifying gaps in 33 targets lacking sufficient indicators.

Further progress on all of these areas is expected to be made at its 8th meeting, to be held 5-8 November in Stockholm.2

The attention to speeding up progress on indicator measurement is no doubt driven by the enormous interest generated by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. However, it is difficult to assess what should be considered progress, who are the main players and how their (possibly competing) lines of measurement will play out.

Among the players are the proliferating big data initiatives, including the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSSD), Data2X (on gender), and the Digital Impact Alliance, all focused on maximizing the contribution of private sector data. The result has been an ad hoc use of cell phone or satellite data in various countries, so far without official certification and without an assessment of sustainability.

A closer look at the IAEG-SDGs agenda

As of October 2018, the IAEG-SDGs had moved six indicators up to Tier II and identified custodian agencies (charged with monitoring and reporting) for all but three. There are now 93 Tier I indicators, 77 Tier II indicators, for which there is an agreed methodology but country coverage is insufficient and 57 Tier III indicators. (see GPW Briefing #22: “The Ups and Downs of Tiers”).

Tier movement

At its 8th meeting, the IAEG-SDGs will review 11 requests from custodian agencies to move indicators from Tier III to Tier II. These requests include three for Goal 10 (including the proportion of people living below 50% of median income, by sex, age and people with disabilities), two for Goal 4, and one each for Goals 2, 3, 12 (on mainstreaming sustainable development into educational curricula), 14, 16 (proportion of different population groups in national institutions) and 17 (economic dashboard).

Proxy indicators

The IAEG-SDGs will also endeavor to confirm a set of proxy indicators. The identification of proxies has been driven by the need to monitor progress on targets, on an interim basis while methodological work continues. The UN Statistics Division has made clear these will be temporary, and not a replacement for the official indicators.

While the list of proxy indicator candidates has not been announced, there are at least 40 indicators stuck in Tier III for which no agency request for reclassification has been received. These include two for Goal 10: the proportion of population who personally felt discriminated against or harassed in the previous 12 months (10.3.1) and ‘financial soundness indicators’ (10.5.1). While the custodian agency, IMF, has monitored financial soundness indicators at the country level for years, it reports that more work is needed on regional and global data aggregates. Given that the indicator has little to do with inequality, the use of a proxy indicator to measure the target – “improve the regulation and monitoring of global financial markets and institutions and strengthen the implementation of such regulations” – could be welcome.

Other indicators stuck in Tier III for which proxies could surely be considered might be the five indicators for Goal 13 on climate change, the five indicators on the related Goal 14 on sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources, the six indicators for Goal 16 on peaceful and secure societies and justice for all – among them total value of inward and outward illicit financial flows – and the seven indicators for Goal 17 on means of implementation, including the sole target on policy coherence. Other good candidates might be the three means of implementation indicators under Goal 1 on eliminating poverty, for which no custodian agency is yet established.

Additional indicators; filling in gaps

In addition to upward tier movement and the selection of temporary proxies, progress will be further measured by additional indicators, increasing the overall total. Recognizing gaps in the ability of the existing indicator framework to measure all of the targets, particularly those with different elements, the IAEG-SDGs drew up a list of 37 possible indicators for 33 targets and submitted it to the UN Statistical Commission in March 2017.  The IAEG-SDGs will finalize a select list of such indicators, giving particular consideration to those with an established methodology and some available data. The list of additional indicators will then be submitted to the UN Statistical Commission in 2020. Unlike the proxy indicators, which will be used temporarily instead of existing ones, these will add to the total list of indicators in the global framework.

Among the 37 additional indicators being considered are four for Goal 8 on employment and decent work and three for Goal 10 on inequality along with three for Goal 17 on Means of Implementation, including one on additional measures of progress to complement GDP, which was unfortunately dropped from an earlier indicator framework (for a full list of these see GPW Briefing #22: “The Ups and Downs of Tiers”).

Integrating new data sources into official statistics

The need to tackle how to integrate new sources of data into official statistics has grown increasingly urgent. In 2018, the Big Data Project Inventory compiled by the UN Global Working Group on Big Data showed 109 separate big data projects. Both national statistical offices (NSOs) and international organizations are investigating a wide range of big data sources, from satellite imagery to mobile phone records. (see Big Data Project Inventory catalogue).

Illustrating this need is the fact the UN Sustainable Development Goals Report 2018 turned to a private sector report in order to measure corporate sustainability. Since the indicator for target 12.6 – to “encourage companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices” – remains at Tier III, the report states that the private auditing firm KPMG reports that “93 percent of the world’s 250 largest companies are now reporting on sustainability” (see GPW briefing #25: “UNSDG progress reports: how statistics play favorites”).

More common is the use of cell phone data which the UN Statistics Division reports is used in some countries as a supplement to various national surveys, such as poverty or disease patterns, which are expensive, labour intensive, and infrequent. The same is true for satellite data, which can capture the extent of deforestation for example in real time and avoid the exclusive reliance on costly and difficult-to-undertake surveys in remote areas.

The need to manage such data in a systematic way, subject to common principles and standards, has been on the agenda of the UN Statistical Commission since 2014, with the report, ‘A World That Counts: Mobilising the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development,’ by the UN Secretary-General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development. The UN Statistical Commission established a UN World Data Forum on Sustainable Development Data as the suitable platform for intensifying cooperation with various professional groups, such as NSOs, information technology and geospatial information managers, and data scientists among other representatives of government, intergovernmental organizations and civil society. The Forum held its first meeting in Cape Town in 2017 and its second in Dubai in October 2018 (see UN World Data Forum website).

In March 2018, the Statistical Commission also created a sub-group on Open Data, as part of the Friends of the Chair Group on the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, intended to provide guidance and support for integrating open data into official statistics at the country level. An Open Data Hub, to be created at Dubai, will include guidelines to address SDG data interoperability issues—thus bringing to the national level a challenge in terms of capacity and resources, especially regarding the necessary infrastructure. This group is also exploring partnerships to strengthen Open Data within the statistical system at country level.

As a complement the UN Statistics Division announced in March 2018 the creation of a “Federated System of SDG Data Hubs and Collaborative Platforms for Innovation”, based on the blueprint agreed under the Cape Town Global Action Plan. The UN World Data Forum will provide the space to review the implementation of this system of interconnected SDG data hubs.

In their detailed working paper, MacFeely and Nastav go a step further, saying (p. 7):

“Addressing the data gaps using only traditional approaches will realistically not achieve success. For this reason, we propose, not only using existing unofficial data as inputs to derive SDG indictors but also using already compiled unofficial indicators.”

Calling it a “risk management strategy” the authors develop a number of interesting proposals regarding the use and validation of additional (non-official) data sources:

  • to enable NSOs to certify the use of additional sources of data, as well as unofficial national statistics to compile official statistics to measure results for some indicators, and
  • to enable an agreed recognized body, mandated by the Statistical Commission, to review unofficial statistics to determine whether they are ‘fit for purpose’ to populate the global indicator framework, provided they meet international standards and are widely available.

They advocate these proposals as a way for both national and global statistical bodies to exercise some control over the currently unequal landscape, which heavily favours private and contracted sources.

The authors indicate some concerns regarding present practices – notably that by allowing some unofficial sources to be designated official, this may be the thin end of a wedge, ‘whereby the complication of official statistics is slowly outsourced or privatized and incrementally taken away from NSOs…’. They note the fact that initiatives such as the GPSSD and the UN Global Pulse are already competing with the UN, for funding and other resources, stating that: “a (cold) data war is already underway. There is a growing asymmetry in the resources available for the compilation of public/official and private/unofficial statistics and indicators.”

Global Policy Watch has described and commented with concern many times on these developments. The proposals would be a step forward in trying to eliminate such competition and tackle the imbalance between public and private resources. However, the question arises as to whether the statistics community, broadly defined, is increasingly identifying the implementation of the SDGs with the monitoring and reporting of data and statistics. In fact, four of the five indicators under the section of Goal 17 on “data, monitoring and accountability” focus on statistical capacity, including one (17.19.1) to measure the total amount of resources devoted to statistical capacity building in developing countries. There is no doubt that the need for capacity building for NSOs has increased exponentially, driven by the detailed and far-reaching SDG targets and indicators. However, the enormous attention to resource mobilization – both public and private – for this purpose raises the question of how funds are also being allocated to other development goals, and how closely data collection and reporting is linked to policy-making to correct lack of progress on these goals. Did Member States, in negotiating the 2030 Agenda, intend for such monitoring to be the main goal of domestic and global resource mobilization?

In the case of Tier II indicators, where data are not being systematically produced, MacFeely and Nastav propose that unofficial data be certified to “populate” these indicators. However, the lack of reporting on some indicators may be due to political considerations as well as technical ones, as in the case of Goal 16 indicators of corruption, bribery and institutional accountability in all regions, which the authors acknowledge are a gap. If governments and NSOs are reluctant to compile and report on these indicators why would they certify and legitimize proxies that do the same thing?

Facing the reality of new sources of data and statistics and their impact on measuring SDG progress, the working paper explores how to integrate them into official statistics at different levels in a uniform way. Without tackling the political dimension, does this proposal close one accountability gap while neglecting the important one between data and statistics and development progress in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda?


1 Tier III indicators lack agreed methodology, those and Tier II are methodologically sound but lack sufficient country coverage, while only Tier I indicators meet both conditions and are thus reported as well as monitored.

2 As in previous meetings, this will comprise of a members-only session on the first day (5 November) followed by a plenary session during the next three days (6 – 8 November), to which “all countries, international and regional agencies and entities, and other stakeholders are invited to attend”.

Kategorien: english, Ticker

How United Nations reform can support a reimagined democracy

8. Oktober 2018 - 19:42

By Chantal Line Carpentier[1]

Global Sustainable Development Goals for people-centred economies and democracies

Just three years ago our world leaders committed “to working tirelessly” for the full implementation of a “comprehensive, far-reaching and people-centred set of universal and transformative goals and targets” (para 2). The 2030 Agenda for sustainable development, also commonly referred to as the Global Goals, is made up of 17 powerful and, some say, overly ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Taken as a whole, Agenda 2030 envisions a world free of poverty, hunger, inequalities, sickness and war, and the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources, by 2030.

The SDGs have at their core the commitment to leaving no one behind and reaching the furthest behind first (para 4). Indeed, reviews of efforts over the 15 years of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which focused on eradicating extreme poverty in developing countries, reveal that the poorest and most disadvantaged, because of sex or gender, age, disability, ethnicity, or geographic location, were being left behind. Gender inequality persists and gaps are growing between the poorest and richest, rural and urban, and digitally connected and digitally unconnected households, in developing and developed countries alike.

Based on these trends, and in large part due to the relentless and coordinated efforts of civil society stakeholders, and support from the governments of Brazil, Denmark and Norway, the SDGs include a standalone goal on inequality within and between countries (SDG 10). The goal is an achievement in itself. But its political implications are magnified by its comprehensiveness, because the goal includes not only economic, but also social, environmental and political aspects, as well as the ambition to achieve equality regardless of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion, or economic or other status. Equally important, based on the principle of equality of opportunity, SDG 5 establishes a strong link between women’s economic empowerment and access to economic resources.

Policy implications are further strengthened by the determination to “leave no one behind” as reflected in the use of the word “inclusive” to qualify five other SDGs:

  • SDG 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all;
  • SDG 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all;
  • SDG 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation;
  • SDG 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable;
  • SDG 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Recognising the level of ambition, “Governments as well as Parliaments, the UN system and other international institutions, local authorities, indigenous peoples, civil society, business and the private sector, the scientific and academic community – and all people” are called upon to engage on the journey toward Agenda 2030 (para 52). This call for all to get involved lends itself towards democratic participation.

Democracy in the process of developing the SDGs

Agenda 2030 resulted from over two years of inter-governmental negotiations supported by an unprecedented level of public consultations and engagement with civil society and other stakeholders around the world. Efforts were made by the United Nations (UN) to bring in the voices of the poorest and most vulnerable. The result of this participatory democracy is an agenda that calls for the empowerment of vulnerable peoples, including all children, young people, persons with disabilities, people living with HIV/AIDS, older persons, indigenous peoples, refugees and internally displaced persons and migrants. The Global Goals also have legitimacy beyond politics because of the unprecedented participatory process and the crowdsourcing of ideas, based on information communication technologies (ICT), from so many different groups. As a result, various sectors of society all around the world are taking ownership of the SDGs and aligning their activities with them, especially in developing countries where they see the value of this overarching framework to leap forward. These goals can thus be thought of as the compass for globalisation and development. They provide a vision of where we want to be and several routes by which we can get there.

Civil society contributions to the SDGs

From the first Earth Summit in 1992 to the second in 2012 (Rio+20), progress on sustainable development within the UN was followed up by the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD). As a result of the Earth Summit, nine designated Major Groups bringing together different actors in the global non-state actor community – Women, Children and Youth, Farmers, Indigenous Peoples, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), Workers and Trade Unions, Scientific and Technological Community, Business and Industry, and Local Authorities – were granted several “entry points” for participation in CSD processes by the UN General Assembly (UNGA). These entry points evolved over time, and often served as a model to other UN-led processes. The process and the sustainable development agenda benefitted greatly from a high degree of interaction with these Major Groups.

In the run-up to Rio+20, other groups, such as educators, persons with disabilities, older persons, parliamentarians and volunteers, expressed interest in adding their collective voices to the debate. At the same time, more and more actors – including the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons created by the UN Secretary-General – called for the intergovernmental process to develop a set of goals to bring the environmental and development agendas together under a universal agenda. This led development and social justice groups, usually focused on the MDGs agenda, to claim a seat at the sustainable development negotiation table. By joining together their analysis and lobbying capacities, environmental, humanitarian and development groups had a significant impact on the agenda. Several of us deeply involved in the engagement of non-state actors in the negotiations estimate that approximately 30 per cent of the targets and goals resulted from their proposals. Even the co-chairs of the negotiations expressed surprise and delight at the value of crowdsourcing ideas from all stakeholders around the world.

The inequality goal, a concrete example

The Major Group Coordinator within the Secretariat and the coordinator of the UN Millennium Campaign cooperated to foster greater synergies between the various Post-2015 processes – consultation process on what should succeed the MDGs when they expired in 2015 – and SDGs processes, and inform each other’s constituencies on opportunities to contribute. The voice of the Major Groups was augmented by two online consultations, the World We Want and the MY World Global Survey that brought the priorities of millions of global south groups and citizens as inputs to the negotiations. These voices were amplified by several national and regional in-person consultations and training sessions organised by the coordinators, various coalitions and the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS).

For instance, the Initiative for Equality – a global network of 1,415 activists and partner organisations in over 130 countries working to build more equal and participatory societies around the world – asked more than 500 of the most marginalised and poorest communities in 80 countries “what they want and need” so that their voices could be represented in the Post-2015 and SDGs process. Most communities identified environmental degradation, corruption, economic insecurity, social problems and conflicts as well as worsening socioeconomic inequality among key problems. On inequality, the Initiative for Equality thus recommended a standalone goal on equality, with strong supporting targets, and to:

  • incorporate inequalities into all the other goals and targets;
  • break down all monitoring by groups and populations to ensure the equitable attainment of targets.

In large part because of advocacy by civil society organisations (CSOs), and support from Brazil, Denmark and Norway, co-chairs of the negotiations held a session dealing explicitly with promoting equality, including social equality, gender equality and women’s empowerment. The session resulted in widespread support by member states for a standalone goal on gender equality and women’s economic empowerment, and moderate, but sufficient, support for the inequality goal to be part of future negotiations. However, in the penultimate co-chairs’ document the inequality goal was merged with SDG 1 on poverty eradication. Civil society had to mobilise again, this time sending a letter endorsed by more than 161 organisations from 60 countries, asking to bring back the standalone goal on inequality. It is thus fair to say that participatory democracy and organised and coordinated CSO actions led to the standalone goal on inequalities within and among countries to be first proposed and gavelled as one of the 17 goals in July 2014.

CSOs also contributed to developing a new social compact, including social protection with a focus on those left furthest behind, in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA), which is an integral part of Agenda 2030, supporting, complementing and helping to contextualise its means of implementation with concrete policies and actions.

Democracy under attack and implications for achieving the SDGs

Given recent trends in isolationism, xenophobia and nativism, it is now very difficult to imagine that such ambitious goals could be agreed upon through unprecedented and powerful participatory processes just three years ago.

Democracy is under attack in several countries with an accompanying growing restriction of space for civil society and other stakeholders to voice concerns and critiques. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2017 findsthat “a new era of restricted freedoms and increased governmental control could undermine social, political and economic stability and increase the risk of geopolitical and social conflict.” This is not only a threat to civil society, but to social and economic stability, multilateralism and the achievement of the SDGs.

The state of inequalities

Inequalities were high at the beginning of the 20th century, followed by sharp decline between the 1920 and the 1970s. Canada, China, India, Russia, Western Europe and the USA all had a relatively low level of inequality between the end of the Second World War and 1980, with the share of income earned by the top 10 percentile reaching 30 to 35 per cent in China, Europe, India and North America, and only about 20 to 25 per cent in Russia.[2] Income and wealth inequality started increasing again in almost every country since 1980, especially for the top one per cent. The bottom 50 per cent of the world’s income earners captured 12 to 14 per cent of total income growth since 1980, while the top one per cent captured 23 to 27 per cent.[3] The poorest half of the global population has seen its income grow thanks to high growth in Asia. However, income growth has been sluggish or non-existent for the lower and middle-income class – those in percentile 50 to 99 – of North America and Western Europe, squeezing out the middle class. Highly unequal income growth at the top leads to greater savings and greater savings command higher returns, mechanically driving wealth inequality, which in turns fuels greater income concentration at the top. This is exacerbated by the financialisation of the economy, in which wealth is increasingly gained through capital rather than labour.

Using a combination of sources, since no official statistics exist for all countries, the World Inequality Report 2018also offers a picture of global inequalities between countries, which increased until the late 1970s, but declined since the 1980s, mostly due to huge income growth in Asia, and in particular in China, and slower growth in Western Europe. Yet disparities remain high in average national incomes, with North Americans having per capita incomes that are three times the global average of €16,100 (approx. US$18,700). Europeans have twice the average, while Chinese average incomes are slightly below the global average. Meanwhile the average income for Africans stands at only €2,900 (approx. US$3,300).

The impact of raising inequalities

Over the last two decades, the expansion of trade has fuelled economic growth, created jobs and increased household incomes around the world. It is a key factor behind the rise of the global south, where dozens of developing countries have experienced strong economic growth and positive societal change, giving rise to a middle class and a fall in global inequality between countries. And it made possible one of the most remarkable achievements in human history: one billion people lifted out of poverty in the space of just two decades.

But trade expansion has not benefited everyone equally. During the same period, the US and European Union (EU) middle classes have been shrinking and wages have stagnated, while those at the top of the income bracket have captured increasing shares of wealth and income everywhere. This concomitant trend of a reduction in inequalities between countries but growing inequalities within countries has flipped by 180 degrees the way trade and globalisation are perceived by the public, especially since the 2008 financial crisis and intensifying in the last few years.

Workers whose jobs have been offshored and those with stagnating or decreasing living standards feel abandoned and ignored by their governments and institutions and are more likely to support populist governments that blame trade and globalisation and promote inward-looking and protectionist policies supported by nationalism, isolationism and xenophobic rhetoric. Once elected, these populist governments have put in place measures to shrink the space for citizens to voice concerns and critiques and to be able to pursue their own agenda. Thus not only the multilateral system but also democracy is under attack in several countries.

The causes of raising inequalities

Today, a spirited debate rages on about whether trade and globalisation – characterised by the freer flow of goods, services and, to a much lesser extent, people between countries – has resulted in inequitable economic growth. More clearly, the question is whether some people and nations are benefiting at the expense of others. But blaming trade, globalisation, or automation is a fallacy. People have not been left behind by trade and globalisation or rapid technological changes; they have been left behind by a lack of national and international policies. Even entry-level trade classes acknowledge that trade results in economic growth but benefits accrue unevenly. We know that trade can:

  • polarise the gap between low and high-skilled workers;
  • suppress wage growth for workers facing overseas competition;
  • create hardship and displacement for those who lose their jobs.

Trade agreements are generally devised to reduce trade frictions across borders, while paying little attention to the distribution of the costs and benefits of trade. We learn in our economics classes that redistributive policies and flanking policies to support displaced workers should be put in place to counter these effects. However, our trade negotiators tend not to emphasise these needs, as it would make it more difficult to get trade agreements through our government legislative bodies, and workers’ and other stakeholders’ voices are not represented in the negotiations. From the late 1980s to the financial crisis in 2008, the idea that government interventions are inefficient and the market will allocate resources in the best way has become predominant. And as trade has intensified, fostered by trade and investment agreements with provisions that increasingly limit the ability of governments to intervene in their national markets, many states not only lack the required policies to support displaced workers and sectors but have also reduced social services, reversed trends of progressive taxation and introduced austerity measures. All these measures affect women and poor people the most, and exacerbate inequalities.

The fact that government policies, not trade or globalisation per se, are to be blamed is supported by the different rates of increase in inequality, across countries, regions and time. Countries that have maintained smart protections and mobility measures have seen much lesser increases in inequalities. For instance, in Canada and Sweden, social policies such as universal access to healthcare and free education have helped maintain the middle class.

Further evidence that policies matter is the explanation provided by the World Inequality Lab for the egalitarian phase between the end of the Second World War and the 1980s.[4] It points to nationalisation policies and government control over economies (in addition to the destruction of human and physical capital by the war and the Great Depression). UNCTAD also calls that period the golden age, when the Marshall Plan, considerable debt forgiveness and the institutional rules and arrangements established at Bretton Woods helped to combine global macroeconomic stability with sufficient policy space for national governments to also establish a period of unprecedented growth of output and international trade in that period.

Democracy deficit: why don’t we have policies to stem raising inequalities?

Knowing that our international economic systems need flanking policies, one has to wonder why these policies are not systematically put in place. One reason is that citizens, organised labour and other stakeholders, unlike large multinational corporations, are not invited by their governments to take part in the negotiation of their countries’ trade and investment agreements and thus have limited awareness of which sectors are exposed to job losses and do not have their voices represented to demand flanking policies at the same time that the agreements are negotiated.

Another reason might be found in recent studies demonstrating that inequalities themselves contribute to the lack of social and redistributive policies. Studies suggest that under the current economic and political system, owners of capital, large multinationals and the leading digital platforms can extract oligopolistic and monopolistic rent and power, which in turn allows them to influence policies to their advantage. How so? Wealth concentration creates a vicious cycle where money is used to gain political power and support, and then political support is used to gain money, as a recent Economist article describes. The article cites studies in the USA and the EU giving evidence that as inequalities increase governments become less likely to institute redistributive policies. In the USA, for instance, citizens with US$40 million or more in net worth are more politically engaged than typical US citizens, are much more likely to have regular personal contact with elected officials and give money to political campaigns and are overwhelmingly in favour of cutting spending on major social-safety-net programmes (supported by the majority). In Europe, as wealth inequality has increased, the rich have had a greater ability to press politicians to bring bills to parliaments that focus on crime and immigration at the expense of economic justice issues. These findings are troubling, suggesting that, through a loss of democratic accountability, it is becoming less likely that inequality will be reduced even as it becomes more urgent.

UNCTAD found that from 2009 to 2015, surplus profits for the top one per cent publicly listed firms represented 55 per cent of all recorded profits, while wages have not improved since the 2000s, which also contributed to rising income inequality. The concentrated power of these large transnational corporations may influence national policies and international treaties to include policies and clauses in their favour. These may allow unimpeded competition between workers around the world and between governments to lower corporate tax rates, and enable corporations to shift profit to lower tax jurisdictions and make strategic use of intellectual property rights, subsidy schemes and privatisation schemes. These not only increase poverty but also reduce the political space for governments to enact policies to support the creation of decent jobs and the fiscal space to provide social services.

The search for fulfilment and increased profits is intrinsic to capitalist markets. Adam Smith made this concept popular and as a result changed the social norms. We started viewing the selfish human urge to increase private profits as the basis for an increase in collective wealth and prosperity. Indeed Adam Smith’s reasoning was that when the rich use their profits to open new factories, invest in research and development and develop new products, they create jobs and employees can buy more products, thus increasing the size of the pie for all. But this requires that profits be reinvested in the real economy rather than in complex financial instruments, be sent offshore or used to buy back companies’ shares.

United against polarisation

In the end we need regulations to protect us against ourselves. Currently the system is geared towards maximising returns to wealth and is not necessarily aligned with the collective well-being. Creative use of tax loopholes by the one per cent strips our governments of the tax revenues necessary to achieve inclusive economic development by investing in health, education and infrastructure, among others. At the same time weaker labour voices and greater competition across jurisdictions put downward pressures on wages. In the end, income is increasingly derived from capital as opposed to labour and income and wealth inequality are rising in most countries in a self-reinforcingmanner.

The resulting excessive inequality increases people’s sense of unfairness and often erodes social cohesion, leading to social unrest and political polarisation, chipping away at our democracies, and the global order. We need to stop the vicious cycle where money is used to gain political support and then political support is used to acquire more wealth through pushing an agenda that favours the one per cent at the expense of the majority.

New multilateral institutions were created after the Second World War to bind powerful nations, discourage unilateralism and bilateralism, and give small countries a voice and influence that they could not otherwise exercise. Blaming trade and globalisation contributes to isolationism, particularly in the West, challenging long-established democratic traditions and principles, and risking a further weakening of the multilateral system. Many of the global challenges demand global solutions and international oversight is needed over spillover effects that national and regional policies may have, especially on the smaller and less powerful countries. This requires strong multilateral institutions such as the UN and World Trade Organization that set out soft or hard laws to protect smaller and less powerful countries, and foster global solidarity to achieve the SDGs. But institutions need to be reformed to ensure they are SDG-compatible. Fighting against poverty, inequality, biodiversity loss and climate change requires changing the rules of the international economic system to make it more ecological and fairer for the majority of the world’s population. We need a New Global Deal!

And there is an unprecedented opportunity to reform the international economic and trade system to align them with the SDGs. Reforms are already underway, supported by UNCTAD, of international investment treaties. The renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) includes talk of weakening the Investor-State Dispute Resolution mechanism that CSOs have been advocating against for years because it enables supranational arbitration to override national laws and in many cases, allows multinationals to sue countries they have investments in. We can only achieve these reforms by empowering grassroots, community and labour organisations at the national, regional and international levels. Their participation will ensure greater accountability in negotiated agreements and in domestic legal systems. Empowered civil society stakeholders should have a seat at the table to voice their concerns and have them included in negotiating positions, just as business representatives have a seat in these negotiations, and not unlike participatory decision-making processes at the city level. This would afford our governments the policy space to invest in health, education, water, energy, sanitation access, food security, the environment and poverty goals without the fear of being sued.

Opportunities offered by the UN reform for Agenda 2030

“We the peoples” are the first three words of the UN Charter. Since the UN’s founding conference in San Francisco in 1945, the global civil society community has been increasingly active in the work of the UN. At the UN headquarters in New York alone, around 7,000 representatives of civil society and other non-state stakeholders participate in multilateral discussions annually. Civil society is not a homogenous group. It is important to ensure that the voices and perspectives of various organised groups of society are taken into account in the work of the UN system. With attacks on democracy and multilateralism on the rise, the UN needs the support of non-state actors.

The ongoing UN reform process, which aims to restructure the UN to support member states in the implementation of Agenda 2030, also offers an opportunity to enhance the space for non-state actors at a time when they are seeing their space shrink at the national level, and at the same time to gather more support for strong reformed multilateralism.

The UN’s reform agenda

The UN Resolution that established the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on sustainable development recognised the increased interest and need of non-state stakeholders by:

“…Encourag(ing) the major groups identified in Agenda 21 and other stakeholders, such as private philanthropic organizations, educational and academic entities, persons with disabilities, volunteer groups and other stakeholders active in areas related to sustainable development, to autonomously establish and maintain effective coordination mechanisms for participation in the high-level political forum…”

In response to this resolution, the HLPF Major Groups and other stakeholders Coordination Mechanism was created to help CSOs self-organise. Major Groups and other stakeholders, including business and industry, local authorities, indigenous peoples and CSOs, are given the opportunity within the HLPF to speak at roundtables and respond to member states’ Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) of progress on implementing the SDGs. Though important, this level of participation is limited and does not include a space for CSOs to share their shadow reports, report on their mandates to support implementation of the SDGs, or have a thorough debate with member states and other partners on addressing priority issues at the country, regional and international levels. It does not enable the co-creation of solutions with member states, UN officials, the private sector, local authorities and other partners.

Examples that exist of enhanced participatory processes and forums to implement the SDGs with the private sector, local authorities and youth groups could be replicated for groups of CSOs. For instance, the UN Global Compact (UNGC) and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), a business organisation with observer status to the UN, with the support of the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), organise an SDG Business Forum annually during the HLPF for the private sector to present on and discuss with member states their contribution to implementation of the SDGs. The UNGC also convenes private sector focal points across the UN system several times a year, at least once a year face-to face. This support and the provision of predictable entry points into the UN, combined with an entity to channel and coordinate within the UN, allows the private sector to prepare a report documenting the contribution of business to implementing the SDGs, and showcasing its best practices. The UNGC is also supporting a UN system-wide due diligence process for the UN to leverage the capacity of the private sector, while minimising risks of mandate deviation from the pursuit of the public good and reputational risks to the UN. Finally, board members of the UNGC also have an opportunity to meet with the UN Secretary-General to have strategic discussion on implementation.

Similarly, Local2030, a multi-agency initiative that works across the UN system, brings together the UN system, local authorities and national governments to develop and implement solutions that advance the SDGs at the local level. The initiative is overseen by the UN Deputy Secretary-General (DSG) through a focal point in her office that works directly with the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG)’s Global Task Force of Local and Regional Governments.

The Secretary-General has also reappointed a Youth Envoy at the Assistant Secretary-General (ASG) level to help guide the UN system in stepping up support for the empowerment of young people, while ensuring that the UN’s work fully benefits from their insights and ideas, including through a UN Strategy on Youth: a UN-wide strategy addressing the needs and rights of young people, bringing the work of the UN closer to them. Working with the Children and Youth Major Groups, this role has significantly amplified the voice of young people and their empowerment around the world.

Reforms to take full advantage of and keep CSO voices accountable

To ensure successful implementation of the SDGs by 2030, it is important that UN reforms strategically enhance CSOs’ contributions to the follow-up and implementation process. The HLPF review scheduled for 2019-2020 provides a critical opportunity to institutionalise their enhanced engagement. Based on the above examples, along with a report prepared for the UN Major Groups programme following Rio+20 and the HLPF resolution (see annex), the following proposals should be considered.

A high-level UN champion for CSO voices

There needs to be an equivalent structure for CSOs to the UNGC or Youth Envoy on the UN side, the ICC on the private sector side and UCLG on the local authorities side. While the Major Groups and other stakeholders mechanisms include all non-state actors, a specific mechanism for CSOs does not exist and during the 2018 HLPF, CSOs could not agree with the business and industry group on a joint statement. The loosely coordinated CSO champions behind the UN Development Programme (UNDP)-led Millennium Campaign, the Open Working Group (OWG) on SDGs processes and UN-NGLS have all moved on to other positions. In addition, UN-NGLS resources have shrunk and its mandate has been narrowed. The DESA ASG in charge of, and champion for, the engagement of non-state actors, who took it upon himself to coordinate the UN CSO focal points, has also not been replaced.

The reform should aim at institutionalising this important role by including it in the ASG’s title or by creating a position in the DSG’s office to champion the role of CSO voices, advocate for and coordinate the engagement of CSOs within UN processes, and keep CSOs accountable on their support for SDGs implementation. It is also important to value the richness of voices instead of trying to collapse voices, such as those of women, workers, farmers, young people, indigenous peoples, scientific and technological communities, volunteers, academia, parliamentarians, older people and various civil society groups into one CSO voice. This would at same time help to give renewed value to the functions of CSO focal points within the UN and send a clear message to CSOs that the UN values their role, helping to counter the growing perception that the UN favours contributions from the private sector and local authorities over CSOs – a perception that has been reinforced by the growing number of focal points for partnership, while CSO focal points are not being systematically replaced, or support to CSOs is only one part of their multiple functions.

This champion could coordinate a UN-wide strategy for the various engagements with CSOs at the country, national and UN levels to support enhanced engagement in the global UN SDGs follow-up processes – the HLPF, Financing for Development (FfD) and Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) forums. As part of this reform, a network of CSO focal points from the UN regional commissions, country teams and various headquarters would help facilitate the inputs of CSOs to the processes and hold CSOs accountable for their contributions.

The champion would help coordinate this network and provide key secretariat functions, similar to those provided by the UNGC, including by helping to:

  1. facilitate processes of democratic selection of CSO organising partners that are as inclusive and representative as possible;
  2. advocate for and communicate engagement opportunities, such as a standalone CSO day within the HLPF to report back on and showcase CSO contributions and share best practices, and, to complement the Business Forum, review progress on SDGs, the VNRs and the means of implementation;
  3. coordinate activities and support the development of joint positions, not only among those present in New York, but around the world through online consultations;
  4. actively reach out to the most marginalised people and provide training and capacity building to ensure that their voices are included in language that can achieve impact in UN intergovernmental processes;
  5. conduct due diligence on, facilitate and bring up-to-speed the engagement of CSOs and match them with agencies, funds and programmes that could best use their skills;
  6. commission inputs on progress and bottlenecks, and crowdsource innovations, partnerships and policies for furthering the implementation of specific SDGs;
  7. collate inputs, including on VNRs, post them online and share them with appropriate UN entities, including agencies, funds, programmes, regional commissions and UN country teams, the governing bodies of UN processes, such as bureaus, co-chairs and boards, and UN high level officials;
  8. organise briefings and discussions with them to build reciprocal trust and convene constructive dialogues. This would build on the successful experience of the CSD multi-stakeholder dialogue segment, which lasted for two full days and was organised jointly by the UN Secretariat, the Major Groups organising partners, and the Bureau of the CSD. This unique participatory mechanism, first introduced in 1998, enabled direct interaction between Major Groups and governments on specific topics and with ample time, space, substance and importance given.

This will require that the reform of UN country teams necessitates the inclusion of at least one person with experience with stakeholder engagement in addition to engagement with the private sector. This would facilitate support for people-centred partnerships, as focal points hired to manage engagement with the private sector mostly come from the private sector, and may not have the skills and experience to engage with and gain the confidence of CSOs.


The time to act is now. We have a short window of opportunity to deliver on the SDGs and maintain the enthusiasm they created among all stakeholders. Agenda 2030 has paved a course for unprecedented opportunities to create wealth, balance systemic inequality and maintain stability. The rise of isolationist attitudes and the weakening of democracy in specific geographies, however, is a major obstacle to securing the multilateralism and engagement necessary to achieve the SDGs. Failings in policy, not multilateralism itself, have caused many to become disillusioned with the international system. Despite this, it is indeed this very spirit of international cooperation that has previously been instrumental in alleviating worldwide poverty and discord. By seizing the opportunity to reform the international system, foster cooperation, by lowering the barriers for civil society and other stakeholders to contribute, we can take the first steps to unlocking enthusiasm and support for achieving the ambitious goals we have set for ourselves and restore faith in multilateralism. In this, it is increased efforts to enhance democratic and inclusive participation that will be key to delivering on the SDGs.

To succeed in implementing Agenda 2030, we need these concerted efforts for the private sector and local authorities, youth and other non-state actors, including workers. We cannot achieve the needed changes in policies without all of them and without social debate among liberals and conservatives, poor and rich, urban and rural, women and men.

Agenda 2030 and its 17 SDGs provide an unprecedented map of opportunities to create wealth. Governments, corporations and non-state actors are expected to spend an estimated US$4.5 trillion per year to achieve the SDGs and end hunger and poverty, fight climate change and provide access to quality education, good healthcare and clean water. Many women, young people, indigenous peoples, micro, small and medium enterprises, and other groups often marginalised by macro-level policies, have a deep understanding of the unmet needs and problems of the poorest, and are uniquely positioned to help create solutions to help achieve the SDGs. By supporting them, we can help ensure that the wealth created between now and 2030 is better distributed among the population. This redistributive potential can be unlocked by enhancing democracy and participatory processes.

Partnerships are no doubt important, but people-centred multi-stakeholder partnerships are needed to help them flourish and build on and maintain existing enthusiasm. If not, such momentum may be waning as stakeholders frustrated with their lack of opportunities to engage substantively with the UN will eventually move on to something else. We are already feeling scepticism increasing.

But there are also signals that herald a change of orientation. For instance, HSBC, the large international bank, has found that the new generation of global entrepreneurs is going into business motivated by purpose rather than just profit. Similarly, over the next 30 years there will be an unprecedented transfer of inherited family wealth of an estimated US$30 trillion to millennials who are more likely to favour impact investments. These are people inspired by new motivations who can more easily align with Agenda 2030.

The year 2020 will also mark the 75th anniversary of the UN. As this milestone approaches, there is a widely shared sense that the sustainability of a rules-based international order cannot be taken for granted, and that multilateralism is under threat. At the August 2018 67th UN DPI NGO Conference, over 1,000 CSOs called on member states to, “Advance people-centered multilateralism by developing proposals to revitalize the United Nations on the occasion of its 75th Anniversary in 2020.” With growing questions regarding the role of the UN in a changing geopolitical environment, the 75th anniversary will provide another opportunity for the system-wide stocktaking, review and strengthening of the organisation that is needed if Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement on climate change are to be achieved.


Learning from the experience of the SDGs process: why did CSO groups and social movements succeed?

In the midst of the increased demand for organisations and groups not traditionally involved in the sustainable development process, the Major Group coordinator commissioned a paper to review current practices, and recommend how best to include the voice of these groups in the remits of the UNGA’s mandate. After months of consultations and research, the working paper, published in 2013, concluded that for interventions of CSOs in UN processes to be successful, they must be provided with the following:

Timely access to information

To ensure meaningful contributions of CSOs to UN processes, CSOs should be provided with timely and appropriate information. The effective participation of civil society and stakeholders will not happen if they are not given the agenda for meetings ahead of time so they can see when they can and should engage. For the SDGs negotiations in the OWG, the co-chairs published the schedule of meetings and areas to be addressed a year ahead of time, which allowed CSOs to fundraise, prepare, consult and develop joint positions.

In addition, timely access to relevant information should be provided in a language accessible to their targeted constituency. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) guidelines for Participation of Major Groups and Stakeholders in Policy Design offer excellent benchmarks for information sharing.

Access to all processes

The participation of non-state actors in the work of the UN is most effective if they are provided access to all of its processes, including preparatory meetings and informal consultations. At Rio+20 in 2012, Major Groups and other stakeholders had access to all negotiations, including the preparatory meetings and consultations. Biannual meetings of countries in preparation for the presentation of their progress reports on implementing the SDGs – the VNRs – should also be open to all relevant stakeholders for these countries as well as those that work on documenting best practices.

Agenda 2030 is the first intergovernmental agenda that is human-rights based. At a time when civil society’s space is being restricted in several countries, the UN must find ways to give civil society and stakeholders more space with enhanced participation in the HLPF, which replaced the DSD and where progress on Agenda 2030 is reviewed and VNRs presented, the FfD Forum, where progress on the AAAA is reviewed, regional commission meetings and the work of the UN country teams where such teams exist.

Speaking rights

The meaningfulness of participation of CSOs increases with speaking rights, which should be on par with those of other participants, including member states and private sector representatives. The Universal Periodic Review process of the Human Rights Council is an excellent example of a process that provides equal speaking rights to all participants. Even when events are intergovernmental in nature there are ways to engage CSOs. For instance, during the negotiations on the SDGs, morning hearings were held between the co-chairs of the process and Major Groups. These hearings were also open to other stakeholders specialising in the thematic areas to be discussed that day with member states. In order to allow for a constructive dialogue, member states were also invited to attend these meetings. The co-chairs sometimes gave an official summary statement from these morning hearings during the official meetings with member states so that issues raised were included in the main record. Other times, the co-chairs used points mentioned in a morning hearing to challenge member states to think of some issues or targets they might not have considered or consider them from a different angle.

Recognition of the diversity of expertise

UN expertise would benefit from expanding information sources beyond official and traditional sources, to include information gleaned from people living on the ground. People on the ground often offer advice on issues that could be considered as expert-level input. The practice of listening to farmers, individual practitioners, children and young people, indigenous people and others has become increasingly popular in the UN system. During the morning hearings with the co-chairs in the SDGs process, having all of these voices giving their views on a common subject proved to be an extremely rich experience and helped ensure that no one was left behind when discussing targets and goals. In addition, the costs associated with gathering disaggregated statistics that would help us understand how to “leave no one behind” could be reduced by crowdsourcing data from a wider community in a controlled way, by exploring ways to certify or accredit CSO, private sector and local authority data sources.

Recognition of civil society’s contribution in official documents

The UN could improve the way CSO contributions are taken into consideration in outcome documents to ensure continued high quality inputs. More importantly their support to this ambitious agenda may falter if they do not feel their input is valued. Of course, it is more powerful and useful when CSOs succeed in getting consensus views through active coalitions and using ICT tools such as Google Docs. But even when there is no consensus, the UN should continue to reflect these inputs, especially online. For instance, during the Rio+20 and SDGs negotiations, all inputs from Major Groups and other stakeholders were collated into an “alternative” zero draft that was posted online. Several member states stated that they had consulted this draft to develop their positions.

Capacity building

Civil society representatives newer to the process would benefit from capacity building or training in advance of an engagement with the UN. If people understand the rules of the game and how to participate efficiently, it helps ensure they make relevant inputs at the right time of the process, and in a manner most likely to be taken up by member states. During both the Rio+20 and SDGs negotiations, EU funding helped provide capacity-building workshops for regional CSOs alongside consultations by regional commissions. The UNDP and the Millennium Campaign did the same at the country level. The result was resounding, with more engagement than ever before. Using ICTs to provide webinars and other training proved also to be highly effective. The UN needs to continue providing these capacity-building activities.


The UN needs sufficient, predictable and timely funding to enable the effective engagement of Major Groups and other stakeholders. As funding for the UN systematically decreases, temptation to cut support for their participation and coordination is natural. Funding at the international level may be needed even more than before to stem attacks at the national level. Innovative funding is needed too. The recommendation of the 2001 report by the Secretary-General to make support for CSOs mandatory, just as it is for participants from the governments of developing countries, clearly did not have political traction.


Finally, the UN could more effectively reach out to civil society members not aware of UN processes but who have an important stake in such processes, especially as CSO space shrinks at the country level. Given the broad scope of the SDGs, all non-state stakeholders are either affected or could be key actors in implementing them. Recognising their role could strengthen their standing and legitimacy. There are thus compelling arguments for the UN proactively to identify such stakeholders and empower them. ICTs should also be used more actively in engaging participants outside UN headquarters.


[1] Chantal Line Carpentier, Chief, New York Office, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations.

[2] Most Middle East, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa countries never went through this golden age and their top 10 per cent of income earners command 55 to 60 per cent of total income. The heads of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and Oxfam found that in 2014 the richest 10 per cent of people in Latin America owned 71 per cent of the wealth, and if this trend continues it is expected that after six years the richest one per cent in Latin America will have accumulated more wealth than the remaining 99 per cent.

[3] The figures of 12 per cent and 23 per cent relate to Canada, China, India, Western Europe and the USA, for which data are available. The figures of 14 per cent and 27 cent relate to global income using assumptions for countries for which data are missing.

[4] The World Inequality Lab is a collective of more than 100 fellows that combines available sources such as national accounts and fiscal and wealth data to map trends over time and across and within countries to develop a World Wealth and Income Database, which is also the basis for the World Inequality Report.

Source: 2018 Reimagining Democracy. CIVICUS.

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What role for the people in public private partnerships?

2. Oktober 2018 - 21:08

By Roberto Bissio, Coordinator, Social Watch.

Introduction: the rise of corporate malpractice

Over the last months multinational corporations have jumped from the ‘economy and business’ pages of world newspapers to the sections on ‘crime and police’: Volkswagen was found guilty of programming its cars to cheat on emission tests enabling it to contaminate while on the streets way beyond the acceptable limits. The sugar industry was exposed as having a long record of fake scientific research aimed at blaming other factors for the health problems that they create. Goldman Sachs helped the Greek government in 2001 to lie about the state of its economy, in order to be admitted into the Eurozone. Between 2012 and 2015 the most powerful banks of the world, including Barclays, Chase Morgan, Citibank, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Lloyds, Royal Bank of Scotland and others, paid billions of dollars in fines for having manipulated for their own benefit the exchange rates among global currencies and the Libor interest rates that determine the cost of billions of credit operations around the world every day.

Reflecting on the magnitude of these scandals, Naomi Wolf wrote in The Guardian that:

“The notion that the entire global financial system is riddled with systemic fraud – and that key players in the gatekeeper roles, both in finance and in government, including regulatory bodies, know it and choose to quietly sustain this reality – is one that would have only recently seemed like the frenzied hypothesis of tin hat-wearers.”

In fact, many banks have been actively helping people in government around the world hide their assets, as widely exposed by the publication of the Panama Papers, while in South Korea, Lee Jae-yong, heir of Samsung, was arrested on charges of bribery, embezzlement, hiding of assets overseas and perjury, linked to the process that led to the impeachment of president Park Geun-hye.

The Report of the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa, known as the Mbeki Report after the Commission’s chair, former South African president Thabo Mbeki, concluded in 2015 that US$50 billion leaves the continent illegally every year, double the total Official Development Assistance (ODA) received by Africa. Contrary to public perception, the bulk of these illicit flows does not result from the actions of corrupt government figures, smugglers of arms or diamonds or drug traffic, although all of these obviously exist, but from tax-evading transfers originating from legally-established multinational corporations, particularly, but not exclusively, in the extractive sector.

Technology corporations such as Uber even went beyond operating without authorisation or openly against the law in many cities and developed a software known internally as Greyball to identify law enforcement officers and steer its drivers away from them.

The private sector, the UN and development

Of course these are just some ‘bad apples’ and we should not assume that any business entity is guilty of misconduct until otherwise proven. Yet the epidemic proportions of bad-appleness, linked to the fact that when caught, executives largely get away with paying a fine and retiring with hefty pensions, frequently at the expense of their victims, may be one of the factors that is leading frustrated voters around the world to empower those that promise to ‘drain the swamp’.

When it comes to the ambitious 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, the notoriously underfunded United Nations (UN) system, the multilateral development banks, and the donor countries that fund the UN and own the development banks, want to trust implementation to vague ‘partnerships’ with multinational corporations. Institutional hopes that business will come to the rescue seem so high that the UN General Assembly granted observer status to the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) from 1 January 2017. This is the first time that a business organisation has obtained observer status at the UN General Assembly. So far, the list of organisations with observer status was mainly limited to non-UN-member states, such as the Holy See and the State of Palestine, and intergovernmental organisations such as the African Union and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Trade unions and civil society organisations do not have such status.

The government of France justified this resolution on the grounds that “the private sector can bring key resources to the fore – knowledge, expertise, access and reach – that are often critical in order to advance United Nations Goals.”1

While money is not mentioned as a resource to be contributed, it is clear that the expectation is there: in 2014, when the new development agenda of the UN was still being discussed, the then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon proposed the creation of a “partnership facility to coordinate (and officialize) existing partnerships with the private sector (corporations, private foundations and civil society organizations) and encourage new ones” to “significantly increase existing resources and expand the effectiveness of their use,” globally and in developing countries.2

The initiatives to be formalised included Every Woman, Every Child, Sustainable Energy for All, Education First and several more. The official press releases are very optimistic. Every Woman, Every Child has purportedly ‘delivered’ US$10 billion and Sustainable Energy for All, saw pledges of US$50 billion in 2013, its first year. These amounts are impressive, considering that the total ODA of the richest countries is about US$100 billion dollars a year, and is falling.

However, what these numbers actually mean is not easy to figure out, as they only add up ‘commitments’ that in most cases extend over several years, sometimes decades into the future. These grants, and often also loans, are not received or controlled by any UN agency or developing country governments. There is no demonstrated additionality to ODA and other financial commitments made in inter-governmental fora. Nor is there any proof that those monies add to what those involved would have disbursed independent of any new initiatives. Ultimately the proposal was withdrawn by Ban Ki-moon, when it became clear that it was not supported by key governments from North and South that demanded more transparency and oversight.

Those partnerships are not a new idea. In 1998 the UN Development Programme (UNDP) launched a Global Sustainable Development Facility, which aimed to “create sustainable economic growth and allow the private sector to prosper through the inclusion of two billion new people in the global economy.”3 Then UNDP Administrator Gus Speth used to describe the partnership with the formula 2B4M:2020 – two billion people for the market by 2020. Fifteen multinationals paid US$50,000 each to be listed as co-sponsors. In response, more than a hundred civil society organisations (CSOs) signed a public letter to Speth and then Secretary-General Kofi Annan arguing that:

“The growing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of fundamentally undemocratic global corporations and other institutions of globalisation clashes with the overriding purpose of the United Nations to enhance human dignity and the capacity for self-governance.”4

Mark Malloch-Brown, who succeeded Gus Speth in 1999 in the middle of this debate, immediately dropped the initiative and appointed many of the signatories of the letter to serve in the first Civil Society Advisory Committee to the UNDP Administrator.5

Now, at a time when many global north countries have suffered recession and have cut their ODA budgets, the idea of a UN-related facility based on corporate contributions has resurfaced. It may seem obvious and reasonable to use private philanthropy funds to complement declining ODA. However, an alliance of civil society networks warned in 2013 about the possibility of precisely the opposite effect:

“Contrary to the perception that leveraging actually draws in private resources to available public funds, increasingly it is about using public money (ODA) to cover the risks of private investment. Losses will be socialized while profits continue to be private –and too often untaxed. Recent experience in many countries shows that these ‘innovative’ mechanisms are often ineffective, poorly regulated, and can lead to corruption in borrowing and lending countries.”

By joining these initiatives, corporations may be winning direct access to ODA monies, with the argument of ‘leveraging’ them, and indirectly benefit from access to the procurement budgets in ODA recipient countries, to the detriment of local small and medium enterprises. Similarly, the agency of local civil society actors might suffer as only large global CSOs specialising in service delivery may have access to these initiatives.

Several governments questioned the transparency and usefulness of the proposed Partnership Facility and it was never approved.

Who do partnerships serve?

In a pioneering study, ‘Fit for Whose Purpose? Private funding and corporate influence at the United Nations’, Barbara Adams and Jens Martens look at the proliferation of ‘partnerships’ and conclude that:

“They risk giving the UN stamp of approval and legitimacy to many initiatives not framed and shaped by UN values and standards of inclusiveness. These trends will not only continue to weaken global (economic) governance, they will endorse the replacement of a UN value-based framework for governance with a voluntary one, characterized by a hotchpotch of ad hoc deals that favour brand and image management over durable programmes that advance human rights and promote economic development founded on a true understanding of ecological sustainability.”

The official documents of the 2030 Agenda talk about “a revitalised Global Partnership for Sustainable Development.” The term is in singular because it remits to the Monterrey Declaration of 2002, where as an outcome of the first UN conference on Financing for Development, states concluded that “achieving the internationally agreed development goals, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration, demands a new partnership between developed and developing countries.” Goal 17 of the SDGs, which deals with implementing the other 16, wants to “enhance” the partnership, “complemented by multi-stakeholder partnerships that mobilize and share knowledge, expertise, technology and financial resources.”

While the diplomats in New York were agreeing on different stakeholders “complementing” public efforts, the multilateral development banks, in April 2015, issued a joint document titled ‘From Billions to Trillions: Transforming Development Finance’;6 where they argue that “the best possible use” of the US$135 billion in official grants for development is to leverage “the largest potential from private sector business, finance and investment,” mainly into infrastructure, in a “trajectory from billions to trillions.”

That promise to multiply grant money by hundreds of thousands comes with the standard neoliberal macro policy advice to provide guarantees and subsidies for private investment, plus a change in the use and nature of public development grants, which now become public-private partnerships (PPPs). This offers a moral hazard, as losses and failures will be ‘socialised’ and covered with taxpayers’ monies from donor and recipient countries, while the profits will only be in the hands of the investor.

PPPs are a ‘buy now-pay later’ form of procurement that usually cost more than any alternative, but are preferred by decision-makers because they conceal the generation of debt. They have frequently been associated with high-level corruption and inefficiency, and numerous studies quote PPPs as causing the financial crisis in Portugal and to some extent in Spain.

An expert group of the development directorate of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) specialised in investment recently concluded that:

“Private participation in infrastructure can be complex, time consuming and subject to frequent renegotiation and restructuring. If certain modalities are hugely unsuccessful in OECD countries, they are unlikely to succeed in less developed countries where cost recovery is more difficult.”

Yet, with the support of the G20, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the multilateral development banks, PPPs have become more and more frequent and laws and constitutions in more then 150 countries have been changed or are being changed to make PPPs possible. Those changes include, in the case of international development agencies, changes in their information disclosure policy to defend the commercial interests of the private partners.

Some developed donors have started to ‘leverage’ their donations by channelling them to private investments, usually by corporations from the donor country, and others have conditioned their support to CSOs to the beneficiaries receiving a substantial proportion of their income from corporations.
But just adding another ‘p’ to the formula and making them public-private-people partnerships by including some CSOs in the mix would sound like mere window-dressing, and might create serious reputational risks for the CSOs involved.

In the triangle formed by the state, the market and civil society, many forms of interaction, collaboration and partnership between different actors will always be explored, and that dynamic is healthy. But civil society entities should never forget that the source of their legitimacy is not the votes of citizens but the respect for their integrity, and the measure of their impact is not the money they administer but their contribution towards checking the power of the state and market.


1 “World’s largest business association gets direct voice in UN decision making,” blog by Svenja Brunkhorst and Jens Martens in Global Policy Watch:

2 The proposal by then secretary general of the UN Ban Ki-moon to create a “partnership facility” was included in page 66 and following of the “Proposed programme budget for the biennium 2014-2015” available as a UN General Asembly Document at

3 ‘The Global Sustainable Development Facility: 2B2M’, internal document, UN Development Programme, New York, July 1998, quoted by The Ecologist, Vol. 29, Number 5, 1999.

4 Joshua Karliner, ‘Co-opting the UN’, The Ecologist, August-September 1999.

5 The author was a member of the committee.

6 Prepared jointly as a discussion note for the Development Committee by the African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Investment Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group.

This article was originally published in the Civicus State of Civil Society Report 2017.

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Civil Society FfD Group’s Statement to the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Meeting on Financing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

27. September 2018 - 17:39

This document has been collectively developed by the Civil Society Financing for Development (FfD) Group, a very broad platform of civil society organizations, networks and federations from around the world, including the Women’s Working Group on FfD. The Group followed closely the FfD process since its origins, facilitated civil society’s contribution to the Third International Conference on FfD, and continues to provide a facilitation mechanism for the collective expression of civil society in the FfD Follow-up process. While the group is diverse, and positions might differ on specific issues, this document expresses the elements of common concern. For more information, please visit the Civil Society FfD Group’s website

We, participating organizations, networks and movements of the Civil Society FfD Group, welcome the initiative of the UN Secretary General to raise high level attention on key policy actions necessary to generate the means of implementation for the 2030 Agenda. However, we are deeply troubled by the almost exclusive focus of the meeting on mobilizing private investments. Not only does this overestimate the financial challenge, but also shifts attention away for the necessary policy and institutional transformations which are urgently required. We believe that to advance the 2030 Agenda the many structural barriers to socio- economic transformation need to be removed and systemic reform of the global economic framework is required to realign it with the imperatives of human rights, gender justice and people-centred sustainable development.

While aberrant inequalities, stagnating wages and limited investments in productive capacity continue to trap the world economy in a structural demand gap, signs of a new wave of “emerging economy crises” are increasingly evident. Debt levels have surged to record highs, while financial markets are in turmoil again with some developing countries particularly hit by financial outflows and currency speculation. In the case of Argentina, the largest ever credit line in IMF history does not seem effective in offsetting the high risk of currency collapse or arresting capital flight, exposing the inadequacy and replicating past policy responses. As a result, a growing class of working poor – particularly unpaid or underpaid young workers – are on the rise along with the feminization of poverty and old/new vulnerabilities. With less instead of better social protection, including for those most marginalized such as persons with disabilities, youth, small-scale food producers and migrants, socio-economic and political exclusion continues to increase.

Against this background, the framing of the HLM fails to place the necessary spotlight on overall system reform. We agree that the private sector should contribute much more to development finance. But we reject the dominant discourse that finance from the private sector comes in the form of investments, subjecting public goals to profitability and increasing public guarantees for private risks. On the contrary, we call for more effective taxation of private and corporate wealth, assets and income. This will provide States with adequate fiscal space to pursue their duty-bearer responsibilities and advance systemic policy reforms.

We therefore invite a stepping-up of leadership, ambition and concrete actions to change the current course and we reiterate all our existing asks, which can be found in our complete statement to the 2018 ECOSOC Forum on FfD (attached), including the call for an inclusive UN inter-governmental tax commission and the adoption of a Multilateral legal framework for sovereign debt restructuring.

We re-affirm the importance of multilateralism and demand firm and bold steps towards the necessary democratization of global economic governance. In this respect, the road map to the 2019 General Assembly’s High-Level Dialogue on FfD should be primarily centred on solid normative initiatives within the framework of the United Nations, with the ECOSOC Forum on FfD being the critical stepping stone. We stand ready to provide our untiring contribution to the process.

Annex: Civil Society FfD Group’s Statement to the 2018 ECOSOC FfD Follow-up Forum


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Public Event: Changing Course for Sustainable Development

12. September 2018 - 18:50
Bold Alternatives to Business as Usual Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2018 Geneva Launch of the Civil Society Reflection Group Report MONDAY 17 SEPTEMBER 2018, 1.00 – 3.00 PM; ROOM XII, PALAIS DES NATIONS

“The world is off-track in terms of achieving sustainable development and fundamental policy changes are necessary to unleash the transformative potential of the SDGs.” This is the main message of the Spotlight Report 2018.

Civil society organizations have a key role to play as independent watchdogs holding governments and international organizations accountable for their actions that help—or hinder—the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2018 report, produced by a global coalition of civil society organizations and trade unions, provides a wideranging independent assessment of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals.

The 2018 edition shines a light on existing bold alternatives to business as usual that can help to change the course towards more coherent policies for sustainable development aligned with human rights principles and standards.

But it goes far beyond that, seeing policy reform as necessary but not sufficient. More fundamental shifts in how and where power is vested are necessary to unleash the transformative potential of the SDGs. In particular, the report calls for more coherent fiscal and regulatory policies, and a “whole-of-government” approach towards sustainability.

At this event, co-organized by UNRISD and FES, some of the key findings and recommendations of this year’s global Spotlight Report will be presented and discussed from various perspectives.

  • Gita Sen (DAWN)
  • Kate Donald (Center for Economic and Social Rights)
  • Sandra Vermuyten (Public Services International)
  • Ziad Abdel Samad (Arab NGO Network for Development)
  • Paul Ladd (UNRISD)
  • Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples)

Hamish Jenkins (UNRISD)


Hubert René Schillinger (FES)

Sandwiches and light refreshments will be served prior to the event


Download the invitation here.

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