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Warnings of a new global financial crisis

14. Juni 2018 - 15:39

By Martin Khor

versión en español

There are increasing warnings of an imminent new financial crisis, not only from the billionaire investor George Soros, but also from eminent economists associated with the Bank for International Settlements, the bank of central banks.

The warnings come at a moment when there are signs of international capital flowing out of some emerging economies, including Turkey, Argentina and Indonesia.

Some economists have been warning that the boom-bust cycle in capital flows to developing countries will cause disruption, when there is a turn from boom to bust.

All it needs is a trigger, which may then snowball as investors in herd-like manner head for the exit door.  Their behaviour is akin to a self-fulfilling prophecy:  if enough speculative investors think this is the time to move back to the global financial capitals, then the exodus will happen, as it did in previous “bust” phases of the cycle.

Soros recently told a seminar in Paris:  “The strength of the dollar is already precipitating a flight from emerging-market currencies.   We may be heading for another major financial crisis.  The economic stimulus of a Marshall Plan for Africa and other parts of the developing world should kick in just at the right time.”

If Soros is right about an imminent crisis, its trigger could come from another European crisis. Or it could be outflow of funds from several developing countries.  Some had received huge inflows when returns were low or even zero in the rich countries.  With US interest rates and bond prices going up, the reverse flow is now taking place and it is only the start with more expected to take place.

Soros’ prediction may not be widely shared.  “Honestly I think that’s ridiculous,” said the head of investment bank Morgan Stanley commenting on Soros.

The Soros warning reminded me of a South Centre debate held in Geneva in April, when we hosted two eminent main speakers to launch their book, Revolution Required: The Ticking Bombs of the G7 Model.

The authors were Peter Dittus, former Secretary General of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), and Hervé Hannoun, the former Deputy General Manager of BIS.  The BIS is a club of 60 central banks, known as the bank for central banks.

You can’t get more a more respected conservative establishment than the BIS, also famous for the quality of its research.

Yet the two recently retired top BIS leaders wrote a book in simple direct language warning of “ticking time bombs” in the global financial system waiting to explode because of the reckless and wrong policies of the major developed countries. Nothing short of a revolution in policy is required, to minimise the damage of a crisis that is about to come, they say.

At the Geneva meeting, Dittus and Hannoun pointed to several problems or “time bombs” that had developed in the developed countries, with potential to harm the world.

The main problem is what they call the G7 debt-driven growth model.  The major countries, except Germany, have lax fiscal policies with high government liabilities as percent of GDP.  In  particular the United States has an irresponsible fiscal policy which it has exported to other G7 countries, except Germany.

The US administration has expanded new expenditure and tax cuts by over a trillion dollars, with no funding other than more debt. This “reckless behaviour”, leading to a US fiscal deficit projected to be around 1 trillion USD in 2019, was made possible by the permissive monetary policy conducted by the Fed since 2009, the silence or complacency of the big three US based ratings agencies, and the IMF’s blessing.

The G7 central banks have also become the facilitators of unfettered debt
accumulation, according to the authors. The near zero or negative nominal interest rates are a huge incentive to borrow and extreme monetary policies have destroyed any incentive to fiscal rectitude.

G7 total debt in the 3rd quarter 2017 was around USD 100 trillion. Together the US, the UK, Canada, Japan and the Eurozone account for 64% of the world total debt.

The authors assert that the G7 extreme monetary policies since 2012 have undermined the foundations of the market economy.   There are now centrally planned financial markets and the break up of key elements of the market economy model.

Long-term interest rates are manipulated, valuations of all asset classes are deeply distorted, sovereign risk in advanced economies is deliberately mispriced, and all these do not reflect fundamentals.

They warn that the unprecedented asset price bubble engineered by G7 central banks is a ticking time bomb that is ready to burst, after seven years of near zero interest rates and speculative excesses in bonds, stocks and real estate. The Federal Reserve has dealt with the bursting of every asset bubble of the last 20 years by creating another, larger bubble.

They also warn that the quantitative easing policy of recent years may shift to a worse policy of government debt monetisation.

Although central banks have made it very clear that large scale government bond purchases are a temporary measure taken for monetary policy reasons, they are slipping into a different concept – that of a permanent intervention of central banks in government bond markets.

This is seen as a way to solve the sovereign debt crisis in major advanced economies, by transferring a growing part of government debt to the central bank: 43 per cent of G7 government bonds in major reserve currencies are now held by central banks and other public entities.

G7 central banks are at risk of heading towards the slippery slope which ultimately leads to government debt monetisation.

G7 central banks at the cross roads: normalisation or debt monetisation?
They are facing a dilemma, the authors point out.  They have to choose between highly risky scenarios: policy normalisation or government debt monetisation?

For the time being, the Fed and the Bank of Canada are leaning towards normalisation, albeit at a slow pace, while the ECB and the Bank of Japan are dangerously heading towards a continuation in a way or another of the debt monetisation experiment.

Here is the dilemma: G7 central banks’ policy normalisation is the only option consistent with their mandate and with a return to the rules of a market economy. But when G7 central banks eventually exit from their unconventional policies, they will contribute to the bursting of the asset price bubbles engendered by their monetary experiment.

This could well be the worst financial crisis ever experienced, as the level of debt and the artificial level of asset prices have no precedent.

But an even worse systemic crisis would result from the continuation of current unconventional policies leading central banks to cross the rubicon of government debt monetisation. The perpetuation of these policies, with their zero or negative interest rate policy and large-scale purchases of government debt, would encourage fiscal deficits and the continued expansion of public

Public debt monetisation, through the transfer of always more government bonds on G7 central banks’ balance sheets, would destroy the market economy as it would pave the way for an unlimited expansion of the public sector, say the authors.

The above shows why the former BIS officials believe a new financial crisis is brewing.  Changing the recent policy will lead to an explosion, but continuing with the same policy while buying time will lead to an even bigger crisis.

Their analysis of the crisis in the G7 countries matches that of Yılmaz Akyüz, the South Centre’s Chief Economist and author of the book, Playing With Fire.

Akyüz goes further, in analysing the impact a global crisis will have on developing countries.  Since the 2008-09 global crisis, the developing countries have built up new and increased vulnerabilities to global financial shocks.

Their financial sector has established even more and deeper links to international financial markets, shown for example by a high percentage of the ownership of foreign funds and investors in the domestic stock markets and in government bonds of developing countries.

Therefore if there is a significant or big outflow of these foreign funds, the same economies may suffer from loss of foreign reserves, currency depreciation, higher external debt servicing, higher import prices, falling prices of houses and equities and in worse cases an external debt crisis.  A few developing countries are already facing a crisis and seeking IMF bail-outs.

Many developing countries still have strong econo­mic fundamentals.  But in many cases, their economies are weakening in one way or other, and the worsening global economic prospects (including the real possibility of a trade war) do not augur well.  The conditions for an external-debt problem have increased.

It would thus be wise for them to monitor and analyse what is happening globally, as these will significantly affect the economy. Scenarios should be established on what may happen externally, including the onset of a new global crisis, how this may affect the economy in various ways, and to prepare for various measures that can be taken.  Crisis prevention and crisis aversion should now be a priority.

Dealing with the domestic economic issues should go together with preparations to cope with changing external situations. Though we may not be able to control what happens abroad, we can take measures to respond appropriately.

Martin Khor is Executive Director of the South Centre.

Kategorien: english, Ticker

The semantics of partnership

29. Mai 2018 - 22:57

By Barbara Adams and Laraine Mills

Download this briefing (pdf version).

Partnerships for Sustainable Development – inclusive and accountable or laissez-faire marketplace?

Current conventional wisdom has it that partnerships are crucial for the success of the of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

However, the UN approach to engaging in stakeholder partnerships is rooted in pre-2030 Agenda practices and perspectives. It has been shepherded by UN offices mainly concerned with resource mobilization and often amounts to fitting UN development activities into a pipeline of bankable projects.

The concept of public-private partnership engagement has been pursued on a one-way track, designed to adjust the public sphere to leverage the private interests and neglecting the public responsibilities of private sector partners.

Accountability to the 2030 Agenda and UN reform proposals must include a two-way re-orientation – from focusing primarily on making the UN business-ready to that of enabling the UN to engage with an SDG-ready business community.

“It is not first and foremost about getting more resources. It is really about having a UN that helps facilitate resources where different actors get together in order to push the agenda to in the end reach those furthest left behind…This concept of partnerships is almost a philosophical issue. It has to be dealt with in a different manner than the simplistic way that we very often fall back into.”

Tatjana von Steiger Weber, Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN, ECOSOC, February 2018


Multi-stakeholder partnerships are not new to the UN agenda. Growing interest in collaboration between the UN and non-State actors led to the establishment of the UN Office of Partnerships in 1998 and the UN Global Compact Office in 2000, charged with attracting and managing partnerships for the UN.

Since the launch of the Global Compact, global partnerships have been formally considered by Member States in the General Assembly, with the first GA resolution on the topic adopted in 2001. Since that time, the issue has been on the GA agenda biennially, under the heading “Towards Global Partnerships”. With the exception of this past year (2017)1, a report on the issue by the Secretary-General has been accompanied by a GA resolution.2

In his December 2017 report on UN reform, “Repositioning the United Nations development system (UNDS) to deliver on the 2030 Agenda: our promise for dignity, prosperity and peace on a healthy planet” (A/72/684), the Secretary-General notes that the UN is “uniquely placed to offer the platforms needed for all actors to come together, build trust and mobilize their respective assets to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”. The report outlines six partnership-focused workstreams3 and makes concrete proposals for improving UN partnership engagements, including measures to ensure increased transparency and accountability.

The Secretary-General’s proposals on UN reform and their consideration by Member States present an opportunity to review commitments and players and highlight critical areas for attention in shaping a UN approach to partnerships that is grounded in the commitment to “leave no one behind”.

A Framework of Good Intentions: Partnerships for sustainable development

In 1992, Agenda 21 called for a “Global Partnership for Sustainable Development”. This call was reiterated at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg in 2002, which positioned so-called “Type II” partnerships as central to enabling the UN system to implement its sustainable development agenda. “Type II” partnerships – between governments, private sector and civil society actors to meet specific SDGs – were intended to complement “Type I” outcomes, intergovernmentally agreed commitments by Member States. The UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in 2012 reinforced the primary concept of a global partnership between Member States, but furthered attention to Type II partnerships, collaboration amongst different stakeholders as a dynamic part of its implementation.

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, defines Type II partnerships as “multi-stakeholder initiatives voluntarily undertaken by Governments, intergovernmental organizations, major groups and others stakeholders, which efforts are contributing to the implementation of inter-governmentally agreed development goals and commitments, as included in Agenda 21, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, the Millennium Declaration, the outcome document of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) entitled ‘The Future We Want’, the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

In response to a mandate from the Rio+20 “The Future We Want” to make information about partnerships “fully transparent and accessible to the public”, DESA publishes an annual report on “Voluntary commitments and partnerships for sustainable development”. The 2013 report includes information on 1,382 voluntary commitments, partnerships, initiatives and networks for sustainable development registered with the Secretariat of the Rio+20 conference, the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative (SE4All), the UN Global Compact, Every Woman Every Child, the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative, the Sustainable Transport Action Network, and other similar initiatives.

A related initiative was the Partnerships for SDGs online platform, launched as a beta/draft in September 2015, in the lead-up to the UN Sustainable Development Summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda. It was updated to a “United Nations global registry of voluntary commitments and multi-stakeholder partnerships” and launched in 2016 as a tool to inform stakeholders on initiatives carried out by multi-stakeholder partnerships in support of the SDGs.

The growing interest in multi-stakeholder collaboration for development in recent decades has prompted numerous analyses from business, civil society and academia aimed at unpacking the concept of partnership and examining the role of partnerships in sustainable development.4

Findings show mixed results. For example, an evaluation by the International Civil Society Centre in 2014 found that of 330 “Type II” partnerships:5

  • 38% are not active or do not have measurable output; 26% show activities but those are not directly related to their publicly stated goals and ambitions.
  • A lack of monitoring and reporting mechanisms have generally limited the effectiveness of multi-stakeholder partnerships.
  • Some of the monitoring systems are external, but they are not public, and also not always independent.
  • Risks and side-effects include the growing influence of the business sector on agenda-setting and decision-making by governments; risks to the reputation of the UN when a partner is selected who does not respect UN norms and standards.
  • A proliferation of uncoordinated partnership initiatives can result in isolated solutions and contribute to the institutional weakening of the UN partners involved.

Preferred partner – private sector?

Despite the broad vision of a “revitalized and enhanced Global Partnership” in the 2030 Agenda, the measure of progress has so far focused on funding, either coming from or committed to partnerships, leading to a preference for large money-rich private entities as partners.

For example, under SDG 17 on a revitalized global partnership, Target 17.17 to “Encourage and promote effective public, private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships” is measured by “amount of United States dollars committed to a) public-private partnerships and b) civil society partnerships” (Indicator 17.17.1).

A similar approach is evident in the Member State mandated Common Chapter across the Strategic Plans of UNDP/UNICEF/UN WOMEN/UNFPA. The Common Chapter commits to “enhance multi-stakeholder partnerships….” and “…intensify collaboration through multi-stakeholder partnerships at national, regional and global levels” and pledges to assist in improving mutual accountability for the SDGs in partnerships, as measured by the “(a) percentage of total resources from contributions by donors other than the top 15; and (b) percentage share of total funding coming from private sector partners”.

One might conclude from these measures that partnerships are of interest primarily as an income stream from the private sector. Additionally, some Member States and UN offices and entities promote the potential of these partnerships to contribute private sector innovation and expertise. The USA reiterated its firmly-held view in the 2017 Operational Activities for Development (OAD) segment of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC): “The UNDS must make the best use of limited resources and best practices, including from the private sector”.

In the following year’s ECOSOC OAD, the USA stated: “We strongly encourage the UN and its agencies to not only view the private sector as a source of funding, but as a source of expertise and innovation from which the UN can learn from to improve its work.” China noted that “The private sector and other stakeholders can play an even bigger role in implementing the 2030 Agenda”, while the EU highlighted the “need to create incentives that encourage all types of investors to bolster their commitments.”

Despite the emphasis across the UNDS on the importance of partnerships among a variety of actors, there remains a lack of understanding and differentiation regarding the roles and contributions of different stakeholders. There has also been a lack of criteria on what constitutes an appropriate UN partnership, allowing this to be shaped by self-selected voluntary groups of “UN supporters and champions”, based on the assumption they can best generate the kind of public awareness and buy-in needed to support sustainable development.

To date, the two primary entry points for partner engagement with the UN – the UN Office for Partnerships and the UN Global Compact Office – have had a clear business orientation. Moreover, throughout its history, the UN General Assembly resolution on partnerships addresses “all relevant partners, in particular the private sector”6 with an overall emphasis on private sector for-profit collaboration. In addition, the reports of the Secretary-General to support the Member State deliberations have been prepared by the UN Global Compact, which defines itself as the “world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative” and have contained a disproportionate weight on the activities of the Global Compact and its local networks.7

This orientation towards the private sector – both for resources and for expertise – and the pressure on the UN to adopt a business model mindset have been echoed in the Financing for Development (FfD) deliberations. The post-2015 shift to a narrative of blended finance and the sought-for trillions has led to even greater emphasis on private sector institutions, including those of the financial sector.

The partnerships dialogue, however, omits attention to the broader analysis taking place in the discussions on FfD and economic policies. A recent report by the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on FfD, “Financing for Development: Progress and Prospects 2018” discusses the framework that is needed for private sector investment to be effective in advancing sustainable development.

Highlights from “Financing for Development: Progress and Prospects 2018

The IATF report highlights the importance of long-term investment horizons in risk assessment, to ensure that major risks, such as those from climate change, are incorporated into investment decision-making.

The report notes that “pension funds, insurance companies and other institutional investors hold around US$80 trillion in assets” but the majority of these resources are invested in liquid assets, such as listed equities and bonds in developed countries. Investment in infrastructure represents less than three percent of pension fund assets, with investment in sustainable infrastructure in developing countries even lower.

Moreover, “Tax information exchange is critical, as greater information allows tax authorities to better enforce tax rules and collect more revenue…A key milestone was passed in 2017, as 49 jurisdictions began exchanging information…A further 53 jurisdictions will start such exchanges in 2018. However, there is a systemic imbalance in application of these norms, as developing countries are not participating for a variety of reasons. For example, actual exchange of country-by-country information on multinational enterprises (MNEs) requires activation through a bilateral matching process, more than 1400 of which have now been activated. Of these, only 477 involve middle-income countries, and no LDCs have any matches.”

The report emphasizes the need for analysis that takes into account the different stages of development of a country. Not all countries are (equally) attractive to investors / partners. As articulated by Under-Secretary-General, Liu Zhenmin: “The good economic news in some regions masks the very real risk that the poorest will be left behind.”

However, there is a systemic imbalance in application of these norms, as developing countries are not participating for a variety of reasons. For example, actual exchange of country-by-country information on multinational enterprises (MNEs) requires activation through a bilateral matching process, more than 1400 of which have now been activated. Of these, only 477 involve middle-income countries, and no LDCs have any matches. Tax information exchange is critical, as greater information allows tax authorities to better enforce tax rules and collect more revenue.

Partnerships at the cross roads – proceed with caution

Partnerships were once viewed as something pursued by different parts of the UN system to implement development programmes, mainly at country-level and agency by agency. They no longer occupy such limited space and their potential to be a “force for good” is increasingly championed. However, the rules, institutional capacity, reporting, and governance modalities have not made the transition.

The framework provided by the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs promotes unique and important opportunities for multi-stakeholder collaboration to advance sustainable development. To be successful, however, the UN must go beyond relying on the voluntary approaches currently promoted through existing UN partnership initiatives.

To begin to maximize partnerships’ potential benefits – and minimize risks – will require, at minimum, addressing and/or implementing a number of elements, ranging from an initial assessment whether the partnerships modality is relevant, to the details of partnership selection and due diligence, to tracking and measuring impact and value added at both global and country levels.

Moreover, corporate partnerships are resource-intensive and more often than not are designed to demonstrate the benefit to the business entity (i.e., the business case). The UN system must demonstrate whether / how this is in keeping with UN goals and mandates and show, in the context of already stretched UN resources, how the benefits arising from these partnerships justify the costs and risks that can range from reputational damage to undue gains in political gains to decision-making. This will necessitate a reexamination of the current “business mentality” of the UN and the establishment of a new office of risk assessment and impartial reporting.

1.  Framing and overall approach

“Partnership” is not always the answer to implementing either the 2030 Agenda or the mandate of the UN – and not all partnerships add value to development efforts. The very first task is to assess whether the partnership modality is relevant at all. Many UN activities and programmes are embedded in peace and human rights and public-sector mandates that are the preserve of Member States alone or require Member States to ensure a regulatory framework for any partner engagement.

Partnership relevance also varies country by country according to the stages and strategies of development. The policy expertise of the Regional Economic Commissions (RECs) and non-resident agencies is valuable not only to advise governments especially in developing countries on trade and investment policies but also in assessing the pros and cons of partnerships.

Alicia Barcena, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, notes that “[RECs] are bringing to the table financing for development initiatives, like tax evasion. We are calculating tax evasion in a region like ours, and it is 6% of GDP. Those funds should go to the SDGs”.

Where it is an appropriate modality:

  • The UN system must demonstrate where a proposed or existing partnership adds value as measured against the 2030 Agenda; and show that the UN values espoused by the partnership are communicated and internalized.
  • The partnership must promote a holistic approach to SDG implementation, so that it supports and is assessed by its contributions to integrated SDG outcomes, and safeguards against collaboration that advances a particular goal at the expense of another.
  • The overall approach to partnerships must find the right balance between mechanisms and processes that are streamlined and system-wide to promote coherence and consistency, including common standards and guidelines, and those that allow for and reflect the differentiated needs, capacities and external environments of a particular country or region.
  • The UN must commit to building institutional capacity for partnerships, in particular, for key functions related to upholding integrity measures. In this context, the UN needs to establish an independent Office of Risk Management responsible for risk assessment. Oversight and verification of due diligence and integrity measures cannot be performed by the same agencies and/or unit(s) tasked with promoting and engaging in partnerships.
  • Any newly established high-level mechanism on due diligence decision-making – such as the Secretary-General’s proposed High Level Integrity Task Force8 – would not be able to fulfill its responsibilities without this new capacity, or the clear delineation between oversight and implementation responsibilities. This new function would also include the responsibility to ensure transparent reporting to Member States on a regular basis as called for in GA resolution 70/224.9
  • Assessment of partnership relevance and risk must be based on a broad analysis covering the full set of SDGs. In addition to ensuring that proposed gains for one SDG are not at the expense of others, this would include factors such as externalities measurement, responsible investing, tax and decent work contributions, compliance with human rights, labour laws and environment treaties.
  • The new approach to partnerships must ensure differentiation of functions and reporting on partnership engagement at national, regional and global levels, including the role of the UN Resident Coordinator Offices (RCOs), UN Country Teams (UNCT), RECs, UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) etc.

2. Inclusion of beneficiaries

The 2015 Guidelines on a Principle-based Approach to the Cooperation between the United Nations and the Business Sector recognized that the “monitoring and evaluation process should seek to ensure that the partnership’s activities have been responsive to the concerns and objectives of the communities that the activities were intended to address”. However, to date, the majority of efforts to facilitate and develop partnerships have focused on the participation of self-selected partners. Therefore:

  • Any revitalized partnerships process at the UN needs to ensure the deliberate, active engagement of beneficiaries throughout the life cycle of the partnership, from design to evaluation, including through a public comment period, and must ensure proper mechanisms for redressing negative impacts.

3. Guidelines for managing partnerships: due diligence and risk management

Guidelines for managing partnerships need to be clearly distinguished from processes for assessing whether or not to engage (i.e., integrity measures, due diligence, risk assessment) and recognize that the determinants in vetting procedures are not static but subject to many variables including changing market dynamics and regulations. The starting point for development of due diligence and risk management measures needs to be a critical assessment of existing best practices and experiences of individual agencies and their application system-wide. Considerations include:

  • A strengthened, streamlined set of partnerships guidelines and criteria – both positive and negative – must be firmly anchored in existing UN norms and standards, in particular those articulated in the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.
  • Existing principles and guidelines must recognize Member State decisions such those laid out in the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights adopted by consensus. Other principles and guidelines, including the 10 Principles of the Global Compact, the Guidelines on a Principle-based approach to cooperation between the United Nations and the Business Sector, and the criteria and guidelines of individual funds, programmes and agencies, should be revisited and assessed for relevance and reviewed holistically in the context of the 2030 Agenda.10
  • System-wide due diligence processes should include a rigourous analysis of risks and envisioned benefits and an independent assessment of a potential partner’s contribution to human rights standards. Standards should be strengthened to include, for example, specific criteria excluding, inter alia, companies engaged in tax avoidance, evasion and as channels for illicit financial flows. Such criteria should also extend to companies that have benefited from or used clauses in trade agreements that supersede human rights or infringe on abilities to achieve the SDGs.
  • The Secretary-General’s proposal to establish a “pool of partner-ready companies” does not take into account the dynamic nature of an organization’s practices, performance and impacts. Once agreed criteria are in place and an initial assessment of a potential partner has been made, how often is it reviewed and updated?  Moreover, how are assessments conducted and recorded in a way that reflects the “readiness” of a partner and partnership according to its capacities to contribute to specific SDG outcomes?
  • Integrity measures should also address financing. The UN should not consider individual projects with individual companies until they have shown their intent by contributing to pooled funding, according to specific criteria that would need to be developed.
  • Due diligence processes should include an analysis of market factors, including an assessment of the long-term economic risks, domestic and external, of engaging with a particular partner in a particular context, keeping in mind the importance of aligning with countries’ priorities. Supply dimensions should not push out those of demand.11

4. System-wide capacity building

Different stakeholders bring different kinds of expertise. Recognizing that no one size fits all, the UN system must be equipped to deal with the full range of partnership types. This requires:

  • Addressing the gaps in capacities and requirements to assess the opportunity cost of partnerships and their impact on its work, including the resulting fragmentation and competition and their consequences. This includes 1) capacity of the UN system itself to engage in partnerships to support Member States to achieve the SDGs and 2) capacity to provide policy advice and technical support to Member States as to if/when/and how to engage in partnerships that are line with their responsibilities on the SDGs.
  • Determining when to use more than one entry point, building on the capacity that already exists, with differentiated capacities for engaging a variety of stakeholders, rather than designating a single entity for this function.
  • Providing the institutional capacity to close gaps on due diligence and risk assessment, which require a more impartial orientation than that of ‘partnership promoter’.
  • Accounting for the tailored approaches to capacity development that are needed at global, regional and national levels, dependent upon mandates, needs and external context as well as the diversity of stakeholders within and across stakeholder categories.

5. Transparency, management and reporting

The UN must lead the way on recognizing and rebalancing the burden of risk, ill-defined in partnerships, so that it does not fall to those least able to pass it on – the poorest and most vulnerable – and is compatible with the commitment to “leave no-one behind”. System-wide oversight and management of partnerships should ensure:

  • Partners, contributions and matching funds [in cash and in kind] for all partnerships, including at country levels disclosed;
  • Sources and amounts of funding per result outcome area clearly identified in strategic plans and budgets of individual entities;
  • Scope, objectives and results of partnerships are part of regular, periodic reporting of the UN system to Member States in the relevant intergovernmental fora, in particular, with regard to the 2030 agenda and the QPCR;
  • Independent assessment undertaken every four years of the UN system-wide partnership policy, modalities and overall results.
  • Monitoring and evaluation of partnerships must include external checks to ensure that the partnership remains on track to achieve stated objectives linked to SDG outcomes within the determined timeframe.

6. Tracking and measuring financial resources and impact

To the extent that partnerships are promoted to generate funding, the UN system must be able to demonstrate impact in financial terms. Partnerships are hailed as a critical source of financial support for UN mandates and programmes, however this is not borne out in practice and data on existing UN partnerships is not systematically collected and made available. Demonstrating impact requires, at minimum:

  • System-wide information on total resources generated and for what, including partnership-related expenditures.
  • All contributions – including in-kind – be assessed and reported according to a consistent standard, conflict of interest and public disclosure policies and supported by risk and impact assessments.
  • Impact assessments include a clear analysis of opportunity cost and show how impact is measured in the short, medium and long term.
  • Where partnerships are said to contribute non-financial benefits – e.g. expertise, job development, innovation – clarity in how these are defined and measured.

Conclusion: New generation in partnership thinking

The UN business of partner engagement is at a crossroads. Much of the UN’s work on partnerships to date has been focused on what is needed to attract and encourage private sector interest and resources.  What is missing is a robust and appropriate framework and UN capacity to determine if and how to engage.

The current orientation, which encourages the adoption of a business and investor mindset by the UN, needs to be revisioned so that UN partnerships support business to be SDG-ready and remain grounded in and be demonstrably accountable to the UN’s values and mandates on human rights and sustainable development.


1 In 2017, there was a procedural decision A/C.2/72/L.42/Rev.1 to defer consideration of the resolution to the 73rd session of the General Assembly.

2 “Towards Global Partnerships” A/RES/55/215 (6 March 2001), A/RES/56/76 (24 January 2002), A/RES/58/129 (19 February 2004), A/RES/60/215 (29 March 2006), A/RES/62/211 (11 March 2008), A/RES/64/223 (25 March 2010), A/RES/66/223 (28 March 2012), A/RES/68/234 (7 February 2014), A/RES/70/224 (23 February 2016).

3 “Repositioning the United Nations development system to deliver on the 2030 Agenda: our promise for dignity, prosperity and peace on a healthy planet” (A/72/684), paragraphs 130-143.

4 Recent examples include the Analytical Paper for the 2016 ECOSOC Partnership Forum, March 11, 2016, “Multi-stakeholder partnerships for implementing the 2030 Agenda: Improving accountability and transparency” by Dr. Marianne Beisheim and Dr. Nils Simon; the 2016 Global Policy Forum publication, Fit for whose purpose? Private funding and corporate influence in the United Nations, by Barbara Adams and Jens Martens.

5Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships: Building Blocks for Success”, International Civil Society Centre, 2014.

6 Ibid 2

7 See for example, A/72/310, Enhanced cooperation between the United Nations and all relevant partners, in particular the private sector, Report of the Secretary-General, 10 August 2017.

8 Secretary-General’report “Repositioning the United Nations development system to deliver on the 2030 Agenda: our promise for dignity, prosperity and peace on a healthy planet” (A/72/684).

9 A/RES/72/224 “Towards global partnerships: a principle-based approach to enhanced cooperation between the United Nations and all relevant partners” calls for “discussion on the best practices and ways to improve, inter alia, transparency, accountability and the sharing of experiences of multi-stakeholder partnerships and on the review and monitoring of these partnerships, including the role of Member States in the review and monitoring process”.

10 The Global Compact notes that “participation in the Global Compact is not a certification that a company has achieved a certain level of environmental, social or governance performance” and that its focus on “fostering effective learning, dialogue and partnerships” is a “complementary contribution to – not a substitute for – other approaches aimed at enhancing business’ contribution to sustainable development and other UN goals”.

11 The 2018 report of the Inter-agency Task Force on Financing for Development states that the current system rewards investors, financiers and project managers that prioritize short-term profits, leaving small businesses and women excluded from the financial system.

Kategorien: english, Ticker

The Ups and Downs of Tiers: Measuring SDG Progress

26. April 2018 - 16:58

By Barbara Adams and Karen Judd

Download this briefing (pdf version).

After two years of measuring for SDG implementation the emphasis has shifted from the pressure to develop a global indicator framework to the need for capacity development. This has generated a significant increase in interest in national statistical offices (NSOs) for data disaggregation, not only by income, gender and population group but also by municipal and neighborhood levels in an effort to ’leave no one behind’. The shift to implementation and capacity-building has also spawned a host of initiatives and partnerships, designed primarily to enable NSOs to integrate data from non-traditional sources, such as satellite imagery, mobile phones, and social media and scanning data.

Member States at the 49th session of the UN Statistical Commission addressed the work of the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDGs Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) and the High Level Group for Partnership, Coordination and Capacity-Building for Statistics for the 2030 Agenda (HLG-PCCB), along with a large number of other reports, ranging from household surveys and systems of national accounts to gender statistics, open data and big data for official statistics.[1]

Commenting on the IAEG-SDGs background document “Guidelines on Data Flows and Global Data Reporting for the Sustainable Development Goals”, Member States emphasized that consultations with NSOs should be regular and ongoing on each indicator and that more time was needed for feedback and revision; they urged that the Guidelines should come back to the Commission in 2019. They also drew attention to the large number of SDG indicators that lack agreed methodology for measurement (Tier III).

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) 2017 Statistical Yearbook points to the large number of data gaps in critical areas such as poverty, climate change, environment, gender, inequality, and governance. Overall only 50 of the 169 SDG targets are ready for progress assessment. Over half of the 230 indicators lack agreed measurement criteria (68) or sufficient data coverage (66) for regular monitoring or reporting or both.

Lack of progress on Tier III indicators was also a concern of civil society organizations (CSOs), who pointed to the lack of clarity on work plans for advancement to the next tier. Another concern was that many of the proposed indicators, particularly those under Goal 10 on inequality, dilute the aims of their targets.

These concerns were also shared by women’s rights advocates, who pointed out that the tweaking and refinements had weakened some of the indicators, particularly those related to sexual and reproductive health and rights. The 2018 UN Women (UNW) report “Turning Promises into Action: Gender equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, points out that less than a third of the data needed for monitoring the gender-specific indicators are currently available, only 24 percent of the data available for gender-specific indicators are from 2010 or later, and only 17 percent have information for two or more points in time, allowing for trend analysis. The UNW report concludes that many of the gender-specific indicators rely on data collection mechanisms that are ad hoc or one-off exercises and are not integrated into national statistical plans and strategies. Further analysis of other goals might reveal similar problems.

While there is more openness to CSO and other stakeholder participation in the indicator refinement process, the volume and breadth of players and processes have made it difficult for CSOs to track and engage. CSOs that attended the meetings of the IAEG-SDGs during last year appreciated the opportunity to offer suggestions for revised indicators but noted that there was no feedback concerning decision-making about indicator refinement and revisions. Some Member States at the Commission meeting flagged concerns more broadly about the lack of transparency regarding decisions on the ups and downs of indicators between tiers.

As the focus of efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda shifts from identifying the global indicator framework to national-level capacity building, involving a multi-player set of initiatives, there is an apparent disconnect between the indicator measurement process and the high-level political forum (HLPF) review process now underway, a process that has garnered quantity and some quality engagement from Member States, CSOs and others.

Member States and CSOs alike are confronted with parallel processes whereby the HLPF has a multi-year programme to review clusters of the SDGs at the same time as indicators are being re-tiered and refined. This makes it unclear whether to press for better indicators such as those initially proposed by CSOs on public-private partnerships (PPPs) and inequalities. Would committing resources to improving relatively neglected or under-assessed indicators for Goals 10 and 12 be well spent?

Box 1: HLPF 2018 and 2019 SDGs for review


SDG 6:    Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

SDG 7:    Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

SDG 11:  Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe resilient and sustainable

SDG 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production

SDG 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

SDG 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development


SDG 4:  Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

SDG 8:  Promote sustained, inclusive & sustainable economic growth, full & productive employment & decent work for all

SDG 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries

SDG 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

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

SDG 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development

This paper offers initial comments on the ups and downs of SDG indicators among the tiers with a focus on the substantial number of indicators lacking progress, including some that concern SDGs to be reviewed in 2018 and 2019. It also introduces some of the possible new indicators being considered. In addition to observations on the progress regarding the tiers and indicators, it looks briefly at some challenges for NSOs going forward, notably with regard to capacity building, engaging with the private sector and big data and linking indicators to policy-making. An assessment of the quality of the agreed Tier I indicators is offered in GPW briefing 23, “SDG Indicators: the forest is missing”.

Tier classifications

As of December 2017, there are 93 Tier I indicators, classified as such because they are conceptually clear, with established methodology and standards and data regularly produced by 50 percent of countries and of population in every region where the indicator is relevant; 66 Tier II indicators, which are conceptually clear, with established methodology and standards, but data not regularly produced by countries; and 68 Tier III indicators, for which there are no internationally established methodology or standards yet available but are to be developed and tested. There are also five indicators with multiple tiers, owing to different components, while four indicators have been refined, breaking down targets with multiple components into separate parts, with indicators for each. Additionally, some 37 new indicators have been proposed for review.

Indicators stalled at Tier III

The large number of indicators stalled in Tier III includes 11 refined indicators adopted at the 48th Statistical Commission, which were newly classed into tiers by the IAEG-SDGs in March 2017 based on their methodological soundness and data availability.

A number of indicators stalled in Tier III are relevant for the 2018 HLPF review. In addition to those related to SDG 12 on consumption and production, which has by far the largest number of such indicators, these include water pollution and land degradation indicators (Goals 6 and 15), as well as access to energy (Goal 7), and those related to cities (Goal 11). Indicators that relate to SDGs under review at the 2018 and 2019 HLPFs are indicated in bold.

Goals that have over 50 percent of their indicators stalled in Tier III include:

  • Goal 12 on consumption and production, with 10 out of 13 indicators still in Tier III, including two on migrant workers’ rights, three on jobs and labour rights, one on global food loss index; one on material footprint, one on fossil fuel subsidies and two on recycling, both of which remain inadequate.
  • Goal 13 on climate change, with five out of 8 indicators still in Tier III, ranging from the adoption of strategic plans to address climate change to measures of their implementation and communication.
  • Goal 14 on marine ecosystems, with 7 out of 10 indicators still in Tier III, ranging from marine acidity and sustainable fisheries to floating plastic debris to expenditure on conservation and ecosystems. In addition, one of the stalled indicators, 14.b.1 relates to the recognition and protection of access rights for small-scale fisheries.
  • Goal 17 on means of implementation, with seven indicators still in Tier III, including 17.3.1, Macroeconomic Dashboard,[2] for which the custodian agency is the World Bank; 17.14.1, policy coherence for sustainable development, for which the custodian agency is the UN Environment Programme, 17.17.1, financial commitments to civil society partnerships; and 17.18.1, proportion of national sustainable development indicators with full disaggregation when relevant to the target.

Indicators for SDGs scheduled for review at the 2019 HLPF stalled in Tier III include:

  • Goal 10 on inequality, with 5 out of 11 indicators still in Tier III, including the proportion of population living below 50 percent of median income, by sex, age and disabilities (10.2.1) for which the custodian agency is the World Bank; and Financial Soundness Indicators (10.5.1) for which the custodian agency, the IMF, reports that more work is needed on regional and global data However, as civil society points out, the indicator has little to do with inequality; and
  • Goal 16 on inclusive institutions and access to justice, with six indicators still in Tier III, three of which focus on perceptions of public decision-making and public service delivery, and one on the value of inward and outward illicit financial flows. In addition, the revised indicator 16.4.2 addresses illicit arms seizure.

In two cases the tier classification reflects the fact that the indicator has been revised to be closer to the target, and therefore has been classified for the first time in Tier III:

  • SDG 8 Indicator 8.8.2 ─ a revised indicator on the level of national compliance with labour rights based on International Labour Organization sources and national legislation, by sex and migrant status, has replaced the original indicator on the number of ILO Conventions ratified, by type of convention; and
  • SDG 16 Indicator 16.4.2 ─ a revised indicator on the proportion of seized, found or surrendered arms whose illicit origin or context has been traded or established by a competent authority replaced an indicator that measured only small arms and did not measure illicit nature. While this indicator is now closer to the target, for progress to be made there should be a complementary target on arms sales, legal and illegal, and from which country.

In addition, three Goal 1 indicators (1.a.1, 1.2.3 and 1.b.1) intended to assess progress on means of implementation on poverty eradication, still lack a custodian agency, leaving them to stagnate in Tier III. The IAEG-SDGs has indicated that if an indicator remains without a custodian agency, it may be refined or removed at the comprehensive review in 2020. This could result in failing to measure the multidimensional nature of poverty, adopted in the 2030 Agenda, thereby undermining the integrated nature of the SDGs and risking a slip back to the silo-specific orientation of the MDGs (see GPW Briefing 23, “SDG Indicators: the forest is missing”).

Up from Tier II to Tier I

In 2017, responding to concerns that some countries will use the lack of data coverage as a way to avoid reporting on an issue, the IAEG-SDGs identified those indicators whose development is quite advanced and could be ‘fast tracked’ into Tier I. Following a first-time review of global data availability, 19 Tier II indicators were moved up to Tier I, which means there is sufficiently wide coverage to begin reporting, while 18 remained in Tier II.

Tier I indicators reflect this review  process, along with previous work done in connection with the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which still predominate among Tier I indicators. However, the number of indicators to be monitored for the MDGs has increased greatly, reflecting the far greater breadth and ambition of the SDG targets.  A large number of Tier I indicators are also in new goals, such as access to energy and industrialization.

The dynamics of the indicator selection process and their classification into tiers, has been more in line with / responsive to national efforts to realize development, not just accomplish a few goals, and has benefited greatly from the active engagement of civil society. It is important that the process of upgrading the indicators speeds up in order to make sure that reporting is not done only on a limited set of Tier I indicators, which by no means measure up to the scope and ambition of the 2030 Agenda (see GPW Briefing 23, “SDG Indicators: The forest is missing”).

Indicators that moved up in 2017 include six indicators for Goal 3 on health and wellbeing, which has been championed by high-level initiatives and focus largely on mortality, along with health emergency preparedness, which has become a global concern. Another indicator that has moved to Tier I is the proportion of individuals who own mobile phones, by sex (5.b.1), which reflects the participation of mobile phone companies through data partnerships.

Also moving up to Tier I is indicator 15.6.1 on number of countries with legislative administrative and policy frameworks to ensure fair share of benefits from genetic resources. However, this indicator is focused only on domestic frameworks, and should include impact of global treaties, protections, redress, and so on.

Tier I indicators that lacked sufficient data coverage and were relegated to Tier II include one on social protection floors (1.3.1), two on food security (2.1.2 and 2.a.1), two on gender equality (5.3.1 on early marriage and 5.3.2 on female genital mutilation), two on water and sanitation (6.1.1 and 6.2.1) one on land ecosystems and biodiversity (15.9.1), and three on violence, trafficking and institutional corruption (16.2.1, 16.2.2 and 16.5.1). While in some cases the lack of adequate coverage may be due to insufficient technical capacity, it also may reflect the fact that some indicators, especially those on gender, are not high priorities for NSOs or line ministries.

Up from Tier III to Tier II

In addition to the 18 remaining in Tier II after the global review of data availability, 21 indicators moved up from Tier III to Tier II including two for Goal 1 on poverty eradication; one for Goal 2 on food security; five for Goal 5 on gender equality; two for Goal 15 on terrestrial ecosystems; one for Goal 16 on effective and accountable institutions; and one for Goal 17 on means of implementation, which is reviewed every year at the HLPF.

Proposed additional indicators

Of potentially greatest interest to CSOs, there are 37 proposed new indicators currently under review for 14 goals. The IAEG-SDGs will review these to determine those to be included in an open consultation to be held before the end of 2018. Following any changes or deletions, it will hold a second open consultation and by the end of 2019 prepare a final proposal for the Statistical Commission 2020, giving preference to indicators with an established methodology and available data.[3] The final proposal will be posted on the UN Statistics Division (UNSD) website.

The possible new indicators include one for Goal 1 on poverty reduction, one for Goal 6 on water and sanitation, one for Goal 7 on access to energy, and three for Goal 16 on access to justice and inclusive institutions. There are also four proposed new indicators for Goal 8 on employment and decent work and four for Goal 10 on inequality, as well as three for Goal 17 on means of implementation.[4] In addition, six new indicators are being reviewed for Goal 3 on health and well-being.

Some indicators that are of concern to human rights advocates and are pertinent to current and upcoming reports and debate are listed in Box 2.

Box 2: Proposed new indicators (For a complete list see E/CN.3/2017/2, Annex IV)

Target 1a on resource mobilization in order to implement programmes and policies to end poverty: to indicators on domestic resource mobilization, add indicator on ‘international cooperation for education, health and social protection’Target 4.1 on completion of primary and secondary education, to an existing indicator with multi-components, some of which are stalled in Tier III, add two new indicators, including ‘the number of children not in school’ and ‘the number of guaranteed years of free and compulsory education mandated by law’

Target 6.4 on water-use efficiency add indicator on ‘the number of individuals who experience water stress or water shortages’. CSOs have pointed out indicators on perception such as this one this should be disaggregated by sex, age and income level at a minimum.

Target 7.1 on access to affordable and sustainable energy for all, to indicators on proportion of population with access to electricity, add an indicator on ‘affordability of electricity’

Target 8.5 on full employment and decent work: to unemployment data by sex, age and disabilities, add a new indicator on ‘additional aspects of decent work’

Target 8.10 on expanding access to financial services: to indicator on bank branches per 100,000 adults and ATM machines, add an indicator on ‘access to social insurance’

Target 10.2 on promoting social, economic and political inclusion: to indicator on proportion of population living below 50 percent of median income, add an indicator on ‘political inclusion of all’

Target 10.4 on fiscal, wage and social protection policies and the achievement of greater equality, to indicator on labour share of GDP comprising wages and social protection transfers, add an indicator on ‘economic inequality’

Target 10.7 on safe migration, to indicators on recruitment costs borne by employee and number of countries that have implemented well managed migration plans, add an indicator on ‘deaths, injuries and crimes committed against migrants’

Target 12.6 on encouraging companies, especially TNCs to adopt sustainable practices and include information in their reporting cycle, add indicator on ‘sustainable practices’

Target 16.3 to promote the rule of law at national and global levels and ensure equal access to justice, add indicator on ‘access to civil justice’

Target 16.6 on effective, accountable and transparent institutions, to share of population satisfied with their last experience of public services, add indicator on ‘trust in different public institutions’

Target 17.19 on initiatives to measure progress of sustainable development that complements GDP and support to statistical capacity building in developing countries, add indicator on ‘additional measures of progress on sustainable development that complement GDP’

Challenges of capacity, and demand and supply of data

The scope of capacity development ranges from data disaggregation to skills to negotiate contracts with private sector entities, like phone companies. The UNSD reports that the use of cell phone data is already used as a supplement to a myriad of surveys, like poverty, relocation, disease patterns. In many countries the NSOs are independent agencies but they are related in different ways to different line ministries, including Finance, Education, Agriculture and Health.

The capacity to negotiate contracts is also a factor in establishing data partnerships. Statistics Ireland, for example, partnered with its Ordnance Survey office to start building a ‘data hub’. The advantage, as the Statistics Ireland representative explained, is that the Ordnance Survey office had a preexisting relationship with Esri, an international private sector firm that supplies geographic information system (GIS) software, which greatly facilitated licensing agreements.

Esri, and its partners (Microsoft, Public Foundation, Voltaic Systems, Sharemeister, Computer Associates) are working in a number of pilot countries, including Ireland and Mexico, as well as several low-income countries. The UNSD considers this an ‘entry point’ with the private sector and is now working with Esri to set up a Federated Information System for the SDGs (FIS).

At the national level, the Division explains the main purpose of the FIS “is to strengthen interconnectedness of data providers, analysts, and users from multiple communities…to enable the use of high-quality data and information by making the data accessible to different audiences in a convenient and engaging manner, maintaining its credibility, and putting the needs of users at the center”.  It is also designed to enable national SDG data hubs “to scale and connect with each other and with regional and global data hubs”, allowing national data to be “fully visible, accessible, and usable also at the global level”. [5]

There is increased emphasis on efforts to communicate data and statistics to the media and the public and make them accessible through open data. Member States showed support for this at the 2018 Statistical Commission meetings, although different points were emphasized. The UK said: “Of course, we should be open, but we have a particular interest in ensuring that data held by others is also open”, while Tunisia, on behalf of the Africa Group stated: “Countries remain hugely dependent on donors’ support for delivering on open data initiatives. Sustainable capacities and skills are not being built in-house as expected.” And Suriname pointed out: “We have not heard anyone speak against open data. Still, we must make sure that openness does not share the same fate as coordination – while most of us believe that coordination is a good thing, few of us want to be coordinated.”

The emphasis on partnerships and communication strategies also raises the question of how much NSOs will be expected to take on, and how to prioritize. Are the NSOs being overstretched as statisticians – and facilitators, mediators, and message crafters? At the Statistical Commission meeting it was pointed out that “as the data ecosystem evolves, statisticians need to become information managers and not just producers of statistics”.

Different views on big data for development: who is winning and who is losing?

Greatly adding to the capacity building challenges is the need to integrate so-called ‘Big Data’ into the data collected at country level. As there is already a proliferation of partnerships and initiatives on Big Data, a Global Working Group on Big Data for Official Statistics (GWG) has been set up to identify the proliferation of partnerships and initiatives on Big Data and try to “harness their use in research and capacity building” for statistics production. The appeal of this data is widespread. CARICOM pointed out that given the region’s susceptibility to natural disasters, satellite imagery can be very helpful.

Presenting the report of the GWG, including progress made on setting up a GWG Platform under the auspices of the Commission, Denmark stated: “Several countries and private sector companies have committed to projects on data, projects which will be executed in the next 18 months as proof of data collaboration.”

The UK echoed this saying: “We will move forward to set up a range of collaborative, innovative projects”, and added: “Newly emerging research and development partnerships, focusing on use of big data for statistics, will allow us to explore the options of future business case, which are of benefit to all partners.” The USA, outlining its use of big data in its own statistics stated: “The platform would be a very useful tool to promote collaboration, innovation, and knowledge transfer.” The Netherlands, noting that surveys are not adequate methods to measure internet-based operations like Airbnb and Uber, stated: “We are supportive of exploring possible collaboration with tech companies in the international platform… It is extremely important to focus on delivering concrete results in the short run.”

A number of countries – notably the USA, the UK and the Netherlands – are very supportive; others – such as Switzerland and Malaysia – urged caution, noting the concerns around confidentiality as well as the costs of adding yet another task – data management—to the NSO roles and responsibilities. Switzerland said: “We strongly believe that the use of this platform should not be compulsory and national legislation regarding data protection should be given precedence.” Malaysia stressed challenges in managing, saying: “The data has not been managed and cannot be used for analytics. The ability to actually manage the data in a reasonable time frame is costly in terms of wasted time and wasted storage capacity.”

France stated its reservations on the platform to centralize data on the global level, stating: “It is not completely clear to us what is envisaged. It seems to us that the global centralization of data has risks.” Romania echoed this, saying: “We think that there is currently a paradox in official statistics. Most statistics are offered for free, but there are more problems for accessing metadata that could be used to produce statistics and to reduce the costs of official statistics. Concerning this paradox, the question is who is winning and who is losing.”

Data-policy interface

As the monitoring and review process continues, it is important to address the gaps and unevenness in the process as a whole – one of which concerns a disconnect between the review process of the HLPF and through the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), and the monitoring-by-indicators process.

The High Level Forum on Official Statistics convened by the Statistics Division prior to the Statistical Commission meeting addressed ways to establish more systematic communication between statisticians and policy-makers. The Vice-President of the ECOSOC Bureau urged statisticians to “participate fully in political discussions at the global level and inter-governmental process to ensure that strong statistical systems and proper use of data are a top priority for the full realization of the 2030 Agenda”. It was emphasized that “statisticians can and should be engaged throughout all reviews at the HLPF, and the data statisticians report to the HLPF should be used to shape evidence-based policy recommendations”.

Stressing that “data produced must be policy-relevant and not exist for its own sake”, the session emphasized that NSOs should put a greater effort into data analysis and its application to policy-making. It was pointed out that while strong data generating capacity already exists in many countries, the capacity to analyse it is weak.

The existence of better data and statistics does not guarantee their use, including in the policy-making process. Engagement across sectors and professions as well as public awareness, transparency, and accountability are essential elements in closing the science-policy gap. The 2030 Agenda has provided momentum for capacity development and can be a driving force in bridging gaps in the indicator framework and its policy value, but the high expectations generated must show results to stave off disillusionment.


[1] See:

[2] The Macroeconomic Dashboard is a replacement for “current account surplus and deficit/GDP” in measuring macro-economic stability, including through policy coordination and policy coherence”. See:

[3] See:

[4] CSOs, while welcoming the additional indicators under Goal 10, have repeatedly noted that there is still no indicator to measure inequality between countries, proposing an indicator based on either the Gini coefficient or the Palma ratio which will not require additional data from countries but will provide a crucial guide to the effectiveness of the entire agenda.

[5] See:

[6] See:

Kategorien: english, Ticker

SDG indicators: The forest is missing

25. April 2018 - 23:44

By Roberto Bissio

Almost three years after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda at the highest level of the United Nations, the indicators to assess its progress are still being debated. The set of indicators around which there is agreed methodology and available data (known as Tier I in the insiders’ jargon) shows a great degree of overlap with the existing indicators for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and misses most aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that make them transformative or represent a paradigm change.

There are 93 indicators in Tier I of the SDGs (see Table 1), of which 42 are either identical to or an elaboration of (e.g., disaggregated by sex, etc.) the already existing MDG indicators. And some important MDG indicators, particularly those related to implementation, have been lost.

Ten of the Tier I indicators relate to SDG 3 on health and well-being and seven illustrate the Agenda 2030-specific SDG 9 on infrastructure and industrialization. SDG 16, on governance issues has 12 targets but only five of them have indicators on the Tier I list. SDG 10 on reducing inequalities only has three agreed indicators, two of which were already part of the MDGs. None of them relate, not even vaguely, to inequalities within countries, even when the application of the Gini index to income or wealth meets all the methodological and data availability requirements that define Tier I. Under both goals, there is a Tier I indicator about voting rights of developing countries in international institutions. At the UN, developing countries have a large majority of the General Assembly votes, but in the World Bank and the IMF weighted voting reflects the big asymmetries in wealth and power among countries that are not otherwise measured by the SDG indicators. For an analysis of the indicator classification by tiers and their significance see GPW Briefing 23, “The Ups and Downs of Tiers: Measuring SDG Progress”.

SDG 17, on implementation, has now nine additional indicators when compared with the MDGs, three of them measuring support to national statistics offices. But the MDGs assessed implementation with indicators for key policies that are not on the current list of the SDGs (see “Lost in Translation” below). For example, the measure of “untied” Official Development Assistance (ODA) has disappeared, and three indicators addressing basic trade concerns of developing countries (on tariffs for developing countries exports and agricultural subsidies of OECD countries) are also lost in the new set.

Similarly, the MDG 8 indicators for debt relief under HIPC have disappeared, even when those have all the characteristics required for Tier I and SDG Target 17.4 explicitly demands debt relief and debt restructuring, for which those indicators would be appropriate. Instead the agreed indicator for this target is only a figure for debt service in relation to exports. This is, of course, very important in order to diagnose the magnitude of the problem, but it gives no hint as to the efforts made to solve it, as the previous MDG indicators did.

A similar “downgrade” of the MDG indicators happens with regard to climate change. While MDG indicator 7.2 measured the total CO2 emissions, as well as their ratio, per capita and per dollar of GDP, the equivalent SDG indicator 9.4.1 only measures “CO2 emission per unit of value added”, thus losing the total and per capita figures. This clearly conceals the responsibility of developed countries, some of which have high efficiency in terms of CO2 emissions per income produced, but also much higher totals and per capita values.

While considerable efforts are going into producing many SDG indicators disaggregated by gender, which helps diagnose the situation of women, the SDGs have lost the previously existing MDG indicator for the share of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector. Instead, the new indicator 8.3.1 measures the proportion of informal employment in non-agricultural sectors, disaggregated by sex, which should complement but not substitute for the previous one. In fact, according to the comprehensive UN Women report on gender equality in the 2030 Agenda, “only 10 of the 54 gender-specific indicators are produced with enough regularity to be classified as Tier I. Only two indicators under SDG 5 are currently classified as Tier I. These are indicators 5.5.2 on women in managerial positions and 5.b.1 on individuals who own a mobile phone, by sex.”[1]

The previously existing MDG indicator on the ratios of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education also disappeared from the agreed list. It is not to be found under the gender goal, nor under education, where the previously existing MDG indicator on enrollment in primary education have also disappeared. Under 4.5.1 the official list demands “parity indices (female/male, rural/urban, bottom/top wealth quintile and others such as disability status, indigenous peoples and conflict-affected, as data become available) for all education indicators on this list that can be disaggregated”.

It is unconceivable that well established and widely used indicators, such as school enrollment or illiteracy rate stop being relevant and fall off the list. These indicators are certainly not enough and that is the reason behind the formulation of the very first educational target of the SDGs: “4.1 By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.”

The suggested indicator for that target reads: “4.1.1 Proportion of children and young people (a) in grades 2/3; (b) at the end of primary; and (c) at the end of lower secondary achieving at least a minimum proficiency level in (i) reading and (ii) mathematics, by sex.” The methodology for the lower age group (a) needs more work, relegating it to Tier III while for the other categories the availability of data is poor, leaving it as Tier II. As a result, the old and insufficient but existing enrollment indicators were dropped before having sufficient measures to replace them.

This odd situation derives from the “counting each tree and missing the forest methodology” used so far by the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) that attempts to find one indicator for each of the 169 targets but doesn’t consider the goal itself, under the apparent assumption that the goal is the sum of the targets. With that methodology not only is school enrollment lost from the education indicators, but Gini or the Palma ratio (between the top 10 per cent and the bottom 40 per cent), the indicators used in all academic literature about inequalities are not there to measure the SDG 10 that promises to “reduce inequality within and among countries”.

Similarly, Goal 1 of the SDGs is titled “end poverty in all its forms everywhere” (emphasis added) but the Multidimensional Poverty Index used by UN agencies since 2010 to measure poverty beyond income is not included. The new indicators 1.2.2 on “proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions” and 1.3.1 on “population covered by social protection floors/systems” are not yet in Tier I, owing to insufficient coverage.

The indicator selection process has been far from consistent: the old school enrollment and literacy indicators were dropped in favour of new ones, more loyal to the target but not mature enough to be used. But new indicators with a powerful agency defending (and with resources to measure) them got included, and are classed as Tier I even when similarly “immature”. This is the case with the proposed indicator for total official international support infrastructure, proposed by the OECD for Target 9.a: “Facilitate (…) infrastructure development in developing countries through enhanced financial, technological and technical support to African countries, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and Small Island Developing States”.

The proposed indicator is a subset of the new OECD indicator on total official support for sustainable development (TOSSD), which adds ODA plus non-concessional loans plus official support for the private sector. The definition of “economic infrastructure” used by the OECD includes “transport and storage, communications and energy, as well as banking, business and other services”.

The TOSSD itself was severely criticized by NGOs and many developing countries because, as stated by Eurodad in a letter to the OECD “rather than focusing on improving the existing statistics and information that are used by developing countries – which are largely the product of national collection efforts – the (indicator) focuses on collecting information from providers”. Further, the indicator does not net flows out by subtracting loan repayments or profits repatriated by the subsidized private investors. Nevertheless the indicator made it into Tier I.

The SDGs were rightly celebrated as a paradigm shift in how the international community understands sustainable development, by expanding the definition of poverty, including a concern about inequalities, being universally applicable and transformative. This is not the picture that will emerge from the current set of Tier I indicators. And the work underway to “upgrade” indicators from Tiers II and III is going to take much time and might help better count some varieties of trees, but will not provide a better picture of the forest. Perhaps it’s time to start the other way around, consider the intent of the 17 SDGs and find the best available proxy indicators for those promises in a parallel process to the exhaustive and painfully slow interpretation and data gathering for each of the 169 targets.

This will take some creativity, yes, but Target 17.19, the very last one, asks the statistics experts to be daring and “develop measurements of progress on sustainable development that complement gross domestic product”. The universalization of Gross Domestic Product as a measure of economic performance was an historic achievement of the UN Statistics Division in the 1950s. But already in 1992, the Earth Summit concluded that the concept of sustainable development requires GDP to be complemented with new measures. Target 17.19 reiterates that demand, but the two Tier I indicators that should measure it are merely “dollar value of all resources made available to strengthen statistical capacity in developing countries” and “proportion of countries that (a) have conducted at least one population and housing census in the last 10 years; and (b) have achieved 100 per cent birth registration and 80 per cent death registration”.  More resources to count the trees are undoubtedly needed, but sustainable development still needs the tools to make the forest visible.

Lost in translation

The following indicators were part of the official list of MDG indicators of 2008, but are not part of the approved Tier I of SDG indicators:

Poverty1.2 Poverty gap ratio
1.3 Share of poorest quintile in national consumption
1.6 Proportion of employed people living below $1.25 (PPP) per day

2.1 Net enrollment ratio in primary education
2.2 Proportion of pupils starting grade 1 who reach last grade of  primary
2.3 Literacy rate of 15-24 year-olds, women and men

3.1 Ratios of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education
3.2 Share of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector

Environment and climate
7.2 CO2 emissions, total, per capita and per $1 GDP (PPP) was substituted by 9.4.1 CO2 emission per unit of value added, thus losing the total and per capita values

8.2 Proportion of total bilateral, sector-allocable ODA of OECD/DAC donors to basic social services (basic education, primary health care, nutrition, safe water and sanitation)  (relate to SDG 1.a)
8.3 Proportion of bilateral official development assistance of OECD/DAC donors that is untied

Market access
8.6 Proportion of total developed country imports (by value and excluding arms) from developing countries and least developed countries, admitted free of duty
8.7 Average tariffs imposed by developed countries on agricultural products and textiles and clothing from developing countries
8.8 Agricultural support estimate for OECD countries as a percentage of their gross domestic product

Debt sustainability
8.10 Total number of countries that have reached their HIPC decision points and number that have reached their HIPC completion points (cumulative)
8.11 Debt relief committed under HIPC and MDRI Initiatives

Table 1: What’s new in the SDG Tier I indicators?

The following is the list of SDG indicators listed as Tier I (as of the latest revision, 12/2017) and the comparable MDG indicators (per the 2008 revision). When comparable MDG indicators existed, both are indicated in bold.

SDG Target SDG Indicator MDG Indicator

SDG1  End poverty in all its forms everywhere

1.1 By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day

1.1.1 Proportion of population below the international poverty line, by sex, age, employment status and geographical location (urban/rural)

1.1 Proportion of population below $1.25 (PPP) per day

1.2 By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions

1.2.1 Proportion of population living below the national poverty line, by sex and age

Footnote to MDG 1.1:  “For monitoring country poverty trends, indicators based on national poverty lines should be used, where available.”

1.5.3 Number of countries that adopt and implement national disaster risk reduction strategies (Sendai Framework)

SDG2 End hunger, achieve food security and promote sustainable agriculture >2.1 By 2030, end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round

2.1.1 Prevalence of undernourishment

1.9 Proportion of population below minimum level of dietary energy consumption

2.2 By 2030, end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons

2.2.1 Prevalence of stunting (height for age <-2 standard deviation from the median of the WHO Child Growth Standards) among children under 5 years of age

1.8 Prevalence of underweight children under-five years of age

2.2.2 Prevalence of malnutrition (weight for height >+2 or <-2 standard deviation from the median of the WHO Child Growth Standards) among children under 5 years of age, by type (wasting and overweight)

2.5 By 2020, maintain the genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals and their related wild species, including through soundly managed and diversified seed and plant banks at the national, regional and international levels, and promote access to and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, as internationally agreed

2.5.1 Number of plant and animal genetic resources for food and agriculture secured in either medium- or long-term conservation facilities

2.5.2 Proportion of local breeds classified as being at risk, not at risk or at unknown level of risk of extinction

2.a.2 Total official flows (official development assistance plus other official flows) to the agriculture sector

This is a further disaggregation of MDG indicator 8.2

8.2 Proportion of total bilateral, sector-allocable ODA of OECD/DAC donors to basic social services (basic education, primary health care, nutrition, safe water and sanitation)

2.b Correct and prevent trade restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets, including through the parallel elimination of all forms of agricultural export subsidies and all export measures with equivalent effect, in accordance with the mandate of the Doha Development Round

2.b.1 Agricultural export subsidies


This indicator does not distinguish between developed and developing countries as the WTO rules do.

MDG indicator 8.8: Agricultural support estimate for OECD countries as a percentage of their gross domestic product.

SDG3 Health

3.1 By 2030, reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births

3.1.1 Maternal mortality ratio

5.1 Maternal mortality ratio

3.1.2 Proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel

5.2 Proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel

3.2 By 2030, end preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 years of age (…)

3.2.1 Under‑5 mortality rate

4.1 Under-five mortality rate

3.2.2 Neonatal mortality rate

4.2 Infant mortality rate

3.3 By 2030, end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases

3.3.2 Tuberculosis incidence per 100,000 population

6.9 Incidence, prevalence and death rates associated with tuberculosis

3.3.3 Malaria incidence per 1,000 population 6.6 Incidence and death rates associated with malaria

3.3.5 Number of people requiring interventions against neglected tropical diseases

This indicator is an expansion of MDG indicators 6.7 and 6.8 (on children requiring protection against malaria)

3.4  By 2030, reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being

3.4.1 Mortality rate attributed to cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes or chronic respiratory disease

3.4.2 Suicide mortality rate

3.5 Strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol

3.5.2 Harmful use of alcohol, defined according to the national context as alcohol per capita consumption (aged 15 years and older) within a calendar year in litres of pure alcohol

3.6 By 2020, halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents

3.6.1 Death rate due to road traffic injuries

3.7 By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes

3.7.1 Proportion of women of reproductive age (aged 15–49 years) who have their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods

5.3 Contraceptive prevalence rate

5.6 Unmet need for family planning

3.9 By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination

3.9.1 Mortality rate attributed to household and ambient air pollution

3.9.2 Mortality rate attributed to unsafe water, unsafe sanitation and lack of hygiene

3.9.3 Mortality rate attributed to unintentional poisoning

3.a Strengthen the implementation of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in all countries, as appropriate

3.a.1 Age-standardized prevalence of current tobacco use among persons aged 15 years and older

3.b Support the research and development of vaccines and medicines for the communicable and non‑communicable diseases that primarily affect developing countries, provide access to affordable essential medicines and vaccines, in accordance with the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, which affirms the right of developing countries to use to the full the provisions in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights regarding flexibilities to protect public health, and, in particular, provide access to medicines for all

3.b.2 Total net official development assistance to medical research and basic health sectors

8.2 Proportion of total bilateral, sector-allocable ODA of OECD/DAC donors to basic social services (basic education, primary health care, nutrition, safe water and sanitation)

8.13 Proportion of population with access to affordable essential drugs on a sustainable basis

3.c Substantially increase health financing and the recruitment, development, training and retention of the health workforce in developing countries, especially in least developed countries and small island developing States

3.c.1 Health worker density and distribution

3.d Strengthen the capacity of all countries, in particular developing countries, for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks

3.d.1 International Health Regulations (IHR) capacity and health emergency preparedness

SDG 4 Education

4.2 By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education

4.2.2 Participation rate in organized learning (one year before the official primary entry age), by sex

This is a new indicator, but the SDGs lack an indicator for primary and secondary education enrollment similar to MDG indicators 2.1 and 2.2

4.5 By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations

4.5.1 Parity indices (female/male, rural/urban, bottom/top wealth quintile and others such as disability status, indigenous peoples and conflict-affected, as data become available) for all education indicators on this list that can be disaggregated

3.1 Ratios of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education

4.b By 2020, substantially expand globally the number of scholarships available to developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States and African countries, for enrolment in higher education (…)

4.b.1 Volume of official development assistance flows for scholarships by sector and type of study

This is a further disaggregation of MDG indicator 8.2: Proportion of total bilateral, sector-allocable ODA of OECD/DAC donors to basic social services (basic education, primary health care, nutrition, safe water and sanitation)

SDG5 Gender equality

5.5 Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life 5.5.1 Proportion of seats held by women in (a) national parliaments and (b) local governments 3.3 Proportion of seats held by women in national parliament 5.5.2 Proportion of women in managerial positions 5.b Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women 5.b.1 Proportion of individuals who own a mobile telephone, by sex 8.15 Mobile-cellular subscriptions per 100 inhabitants SDG6 Water and sanitation 6.4 By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity 6.4.2 Level of water stress: freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available freshwater resources 7.5 Proportion of total water resources used 6.5 By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate 6.5.1 Degree of integrated water resources management implementation (0–100) 6.a By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies 6.a.1 Amount of water- and sanitation-related official development assistance that is part of a government-coordinated spending plan Further disaggregation of MDG 8.2: Proportion of total bilateral, sector-allocable ODA of OECD/DAC donors to basic social services (basic education, primary health care, nutrition, safe water and sanitation) 6.b Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management 6.b.1 Proportion of local administrative units with established and operational policies and procedures for participation of local communities in water and sanitation management SDG7 Energy 7.1 By 2030, ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services 7.1.1 Proportion of population with access to electricity 7.1.2 Proportion of population with primary reliance on clean fuels and technology 7.2 By 2030, increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix 7.2.1 Renewable energy share in the total final energy consumption 7.3 By 2030, double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency 7.3.1 Energy intensity measured in terms of primary energy and GDP SDG 8 Economic growth, employment and decent work 8.1 Sustain per capita economic growth in accordance with national circumstances and, in particular, at least 7 per cent gross domestic product growth per annum in the least developed countries 8.1.1 Annual growth rate of real GDP per capita This is a variation from MDG 1.4: Growth rate of GDP per person employed 8.10 Strengthen the capacity of domestic financial institutions to encourage and expand access to banking, insurance and financial services for all 8.10.1 (a) Number of commercial bank branches per 100,000 adults and (b) number of automated teller machines (ATMs) per 100,000 adults 8.10.2 Proportion of adults (15 years and older) with an account at a bank or other financial institution or with a mobile-money-service provider 8.2 Achieve higher levels of economic productivity through diversification, technological upgrading and innovation, including through a focus on high-value added and labour-intensive sectors 8.2.1 Annual growth rate of real GDP per employed person 1.4 Growth rate of GDP per person employed 8.4 Improve progressively, through 2030, global resource efficiency in consumption and production and endeavour to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation (…) with developed countries taking the lead 8.4.2 Domestic material consumption, domestic material consumption per capita, and domestic material consumption per GDP 8.5 By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value 8.5.2 Unemployment rate, by sex, age and persons with disabilities This requires a disaggregation of MDG 1.5: Employment-to-population ratio 8.6 By 2020, substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training 8.6.1 Proportion of youth (aged 15–24 years) not in education, employment or training 8.a Increase Aid for Trade support for developing countries (…) 8.a.1 Aid for Trade commitments and disbursements 8.9 Proportion of ODA provided to help build trade capacity SDG 9 Infrastructure, industrialization and innovation 9.1 Develop quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure, including regional and trans-border infrastructure, to support economic development and human well-being, with a focus on affordable and equitable access for all 9.1.2 Passenger and freight volumes, by mode of transport 9.2 Promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and, by 2030, significantly raise industry’s share of employment and gross domestic product (…) 9.2.1 Manufacturing value added as a proportion of GDP and per capita 9.2.2 Manufacturing employment as a proportion of total employment 9.4 By 2030, upgrade infrastructure and retrofit industries to make them sustainable, with increased resource-use efficiency and greater adoption of clean and environmentally sound technologies and industrial processes (…) 9.4.1 CO2 emission per unit of value added This indicator actually measures less than MDG indicator 7.2: CO2 emissions, total, per capita and per $1 GDP (PPP) 9.5 Enhance scientific research, upgrade the technological capabilities (…) increasing the number of research and development workers per 1 million people and public and private research and development spending 9.5.1 Research and development expenditure as a proportion of GDP 9.5.2 Researchers (in full-time equivalent) per million inhabitants 9.a Facilitate sustainable and resilient infrastructure development in developing countries through enhanced financial, technological and technical support to African countries, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States 9.a.1 Total official international support (official development assistance plus other official flows) to infrastructure 9.b Support domestic technology development, research and innovation in developing countries, including by ensuring a conducive policy environment for, inter alia, industrial diversification and value addition to commodities 9.b.1 Proportion of medium and high-tech industry value added in total value added 9.c Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020 9.c.1 Proportion of population covered by a mobile network, by technology 8.15 Mobile-cellular subscriptions per 100 inhabitants SDG10 Reduce inequality within and among countries 10.6 Ensure enhanced representation and voice for developing countries in decision-making in global international economic and financial institutions in order to deliver more effective, credible, accountable and legitimate institutions 10.6.1 Proportion of members and voting rights of developing countries in international organizations   10.a Implement the principle of special and differential treatment for developing countries, in particular least developed countries, in accordance with World Trade Organization agreements 10.a.1 Proportion of tariff lines applied to imports from least developed countries and developing countries with zero-tariff 8.6 Proportion of total developed country imports (by value and excluding arms) from developing countries and least developed countries, admitted free of duty 10.b Encourage official development assistance and financial flows, including foreign direct investment, to States where the need is greatest, in particular least developed countries, African countries, small island developing States and landlocked developing countries, in accordance with their national plans and programmes 10.b.1 Total resource flows for development, by recipient and donor countries and type of flow (e.g. official development assistance, foreign direct investment and other flows) 8.1 Net ODA, total and to the least developed countries, as percentage of OECD/DAC donors’ gross national income.
The FDI component of 10.b.1 is still classified as Tier II SDG 11 Cities and human settlements 11.1 By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums 11.1.1 Proportion of urban population living in slums, informal settlements or inadequate housing 7.10 Proportion of urban population living in slums 11.5 By 2030, significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to global gross domestic product caused by disasters, including water-related disasters (…) 11.5.2 Direct economic loss in relation to global GDP, damage to critical infrastructure and number of disruptions to basic services, attributed to disasters 11.6 By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management 11.6.2 Annual mean levels of fine particulate matter (e.g. PM2.5 and PM10) in cities (population weighted) 11.b By 2020, substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, holistic disaster risk management at all levels 11.b.1 Number of countries that adopt and implement national disaster risk reduction strategies in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 SDG 12  Consumption and production patterns 12.2 By 2030, achieve the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources 12.2.2 Domestic material consumption, domestic material consumption per capita, and domestic material consumption per GDP 12.4 By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment 12.4.1 Number of parties to international multilateral environmental agreements on hazardous waste, and other chemicals that meet their commitments and obligations in transmitting information as required by each relevant agreement SDG13 Combat climate change 13.1 Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries 13.1.2 Number of countries that adopt and implement national disaster risk reduction strategies in line with the Sendai Framework SDG 14 Oceans, seas and marine resources 14.4 By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices  (…) 14.4.1 Proportion of fish stocks within biologically sustainable levels 7.4 Proportion of fish stocks within biologically sustainable levels 14.5 By 2020, conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas (…) 14.5.1 Coverage of protected areas in relation to marine areas 7.6 Proportion of terrestrial and marine areas protected SDG15 Terrestrial ecosystems, forests, desertification, biodiversity 15.1 By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands (…) 15.1.1 Forest area as a proportion of total land area 7.1 Proportion of land area covered by forest 15.1.2 Proportion of important sites for terrestrial and freshwater biodiversity that are covered by protected areas, by ecosystem type 7.6 Proportion of terrestrial and marine areas protected 15.2 By 2020, promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally 15.2.1 Progress towards sustainable forest management 15.4 By 2030, ensure the conservation of mountain ecosystems, including their biodiversity, in order to enhance their capacity to provide benefits that are essential for sustainable development 15.4.1 Coverage by protected areas of important sites for mountain biodiversity Disaggregation of MDG indicator 7.6: Proportion of terrestrial and marine areas protected 15.4.2 Mountain Green Cover Index 15.5 Take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity and, by 2020, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species 15.5.1 Red List Index 15.6 Promote fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources and promote appropriate access to such resources (…) 15.6.1 Number of countries that have adopted legislative, administrative and policy frameworks to ensure fair and equitable sharing of benefits 15.a Mobilize and significantly increase financial resources from all sources to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity and ecosystems 15.a.1 Official development assistance and public expenditure on conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystems Further disaggregation of MDG 8.2: 8.2 Proportion of total bilateral, sector-allocable ODA of OECD/DAC donors to basic social services SDG 16 Peaceful and inclusive societies, justice for all, accountable institutions 16.1 Significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere 16.1.1 Number of victims of intentional homicide per 100,000 population, by sex and age 16.3 Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all 16.3.2 Unsentenced detainees as a proportion of overall prison population 16.6 Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels 16.6.1 Primary government expenditures as a proportion of original approved budget, by sector 16.9 By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration 16.9.1 Proportion of children under 5 years of age whose births have been registered with a civil authority, by age 16.a Strengthen relevant national institutions, including through international cooperation, for building capacity at all levels, in particular in developing countries, to prevent violence and combat terrorism and crime 16.a.1 Existence of independent national human rights institutions in compliance with the Paris Principles SDG 17 Means of implementation 17.1 Strengthen domestic resource mobilization, including through international support to developing countries, to improve domestic capacity for tax and other revenue collection 17.1.1 Total government revenue as a proportion of GDP, by source 17.1.2 Proportion of domestic budget funded by domestic taxes 17.10 Promote a universal, rules-based, open, non‑discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organization, including through the conclusion of negotiations under its Doha Development Agenda 17.10.1 Worldwide weighted tariff-average

This indicator seems less to the point than the MDG indicator 8.7 8.7 Average tariffs imposed by developed countries on agricultural products and textiles and clothing from developing countries 17.11 Significantly increase the exports of developing countries, in particular with a view to doubling the least developed countries’ share of global exports by 2020 17.11.1 Developing countries’ and least developed countries’ share of global exports 17.12 Realize timely implementation of duty-free and quota-free market access on a lasting basis for all least developed countries, consistent with World Trade Organization decisions, including by ensuring that preferential rules of origin applicable to imports from least developed countries are transparent and simple, and contribute to facilitating market access 17.12.1 Average tariffs faced by developing countries, least developed countries and small island developing States 8.6 Proportion of total developed country imports (by value and excluding arms) from developing countries and least developed countries, admitted free of duty
8.7 Average tariffs imposed by developed countries on agricultural products and textiles and clothing from developing countries 17.18 By 2020, enhance capacity-building support to developing countries (…) to increase significantly the availability of high-quality, timely and reliable [disaggregated] data  (…) 17.18.3 Number of countries with a national statistical plan that is fully funded and under implementation, by source of funding 17.19 By 2030, build on existing initiatives to develop measurements of progress on sustainable development that complement gross domestic product, and support statistical capacity-building in developing countries 17.19.1 Dollar value of all resources made available to strengthen statistical capacity in developing countries 17.19.2 Proportion of countries that (a) have conducted at least one population and housing census in the last 10 years; and (b) have achieved 100 per cent birth registration and 80 per cent death registration 17.2 Developed countries to implement fully their official development assistance commitments, including the commitment by many developed countries to achieve the target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income for official development assistance (ODA/GNI) (…) 17.2.1 Net official development assistance, total and to least developed countries, as a proportion of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee donors’ gross national income (GNI) 8.1 Net ODA, total and to the least developed countries, as percentage of OECD/DAC donors’ gross national income 17.3 Mobilize additional financial resources for developing countries from multiple sources 17.3.1 Foreign direct investment (FDI), official development assistance and South-South cooperation as a proportion of total domestic budget 17.3.2 Volume of remittances (in United States dollars) as a proportion of total GDP 17.4 Assist developing countries in attaining long-term debt sustainability through coordinated policies aimed at fostering debt financing, debt relief and debt restructuring, as appropriate, and address the external debt of highly indebted poor countries to reduce debt distress 17.4.1 Debt service as a proportion of exports of goods and services 8.10 Total number of countries that have reached their HIPC decision points and number that have reached their HIPC completion points (cumulative)

8.11 Debt relief committed under HIPC and MDRI Initiatives

8.12 Debt service as a percentage of exports of goods and services 17.6 Enhance North-South, South-South and triangular regional and international cooperation on and access to science, technology and innovation (…) through a global technology facilitation mechanism 17.6.2 Fixed Internet broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, by speed 8.16 Internet users per 100 inhabitants 17.8 Fully operationalize the technology bank and science, technology and innovation capacity-building mechanism for least developed countries by 2017 and enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology 17.8.1 Proportion of individuals using the Internet 8.16 Internet users per 100 inhabitants 17.9 Enhance international support for implementing effective and targeted capacity-building in developing countries to support national plans to implement all the Sustainable Development Goals, including through North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation 17.9.1 Dollar value of financial and technical assistance (including through North-South, South‑South and triangular cooperation) committed to developing countries


[1]             UN Women, “Turning promises into action: Gender equality in the 2030 agenda for sustainable development”, New York, 2018, available at

Kategorien: english, Ticker

Looking forward: How can the FfD Follow-up live up to its full potential?

19. April 2018 - 10:40
Side-event during the 2018 ECOSOC Forum on Financing for Development April 26, 2018 – 1:15pm | Conference Room A | UNHQ, New York Co-organized by the Civil Society FfD Group (including the Women’s Working Group on Financing for Development) and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (Germany). Facilitated by: Global Policy Forum, MISEREOR, Social Watch, Brot für die Welt and Society for International Development

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) has defined the follow-up process for the Financing for Development process as well as the means of implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This includes assessing progress, obstacles, challenges as well as new and emerging topics of relevance, and “provide policy recommendations for action by the international community” (para. 131).

After three fora—from 2016 to 2018—it is time to assess if they have managed to live up to their full potential. Some of the challenges raised by observers have been:

  • Is the current FfD follow-up process providing an adequate framework not only to assess progress but also to identify and remove obstacles to implementation?
  • How can the normative tasks and challenges outlined in the AAAA be clearly spelled out, programmed and tackled? These include, inter alia, elaborating on the principles for blended finance and public-private partnerships included in the AAAA (para. 48); “work towards a global consensus on guidelines for debtor and creditor responsibilities in borrowing by and lending to sovereigns” (para. 97); and “strengthen international cooperation to support efforts for the mobilization of domestic resources” (paras. 20ff).
  • How can the FfD follow-up process be reinvigorated for it to provide a vibrant space to identify, assess and tackle cross-cutting, structural and systemic issues as well as emerging new risks that may hinder progress towards sustainable development?
  • Is the link between the FfD Forum and the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development close enough to deliver meaningful outcomes strengthening the Addis outcomes as well as the means of implementation for the 2030 Agenda? What could be done to improve this link and mutually reinforce both processes?

At the side-event, participants will be invited to provide their insights into their assessment of previous FfD Fora, their link with other international processes, and discuss with participants about opportunities and challenges, also with view to the upcoming High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development of the General Assembly in 2019. The format of the side event will be highly interactive. After a short framing presentation, the moderator will facilitate active dialogue with a small panel of respondents and the audience.

Participation is open to everybody attending the 2018 FfD Forum (for which registration/a UN grounds pass is required).

Please rsvp by sending a short e-mail to

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New Financing for Development report “Progress and Prospects 2018” shows short-termism impedes progress of hundreds of millions of people

16. April 2018 - 16:58
Major report released in advance of the G20 and World Bank/IMF Spring Meetings

(Press Release: Financing for Development: Progress and Prospects 2018 originally published on the website of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Financing for Development.

NEW YORK, 13 April 2018 – The prospects of around 800 million of the world’s poorest people remain dire. The global economy is experiencing a moderate upturn, and momentum around sustainable investing is growing, the UN said today.

But the vast majority of investment is still short-term oriented and commitments by the international community to create sustainable economies are not being met.

There is an increasing interest in socially responsible investing, but that is no substitute for a broader transformation in the financial system. The report  states that the current system rewards investors, financiers and project managers that prioritize short-term profits. Similarly, policy makers are excessively focused on short-term considerations. But there is a price to pay. Infrastructure projects are shelved in favour of short term priorities. Small businesses and women remain excluded from the financial system.

“The good economic news in some regions masks the very real risk that the poorest will be left behind,” said LIU Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. “There is no room for complacency.”

“If we don’t invest in infrastructure projects like bridges, roads and sewage systems, if the poorest and women are cut off from access to credit and other financial services, we have little prospect of achieving our global goals,” he added.

Per capita growth remains negative or insignificant in many countries where the poverty rate is already high, entrenching inequality.

Overcoming the short-term outlook of many investors is a complex but urgent issue.  according to “Financing for Development: Progress and Prospects,” the 2018 comprehensive annual progress report on how to finance the Sustainable Development Goals.

Pension funds, insurance companies and other institutional investors hold around $80 trillion in assets. But the majority of their resources are invested in liquid assets, such as listed equities and bonds in developed countries.  Investment in infrastructure still represents less than 3 per cent of pension fund assets, with investment in sustainable infrastructure in developing countries even lower.

The lack of long-term investment horizons also means that major risks, such as those from climate change, are not incorporated into decision-making.

According to the report, the solution lies in a multifaceted approach. It includes changing payment practices: the compensation of financial advisors and portfolio managers is too often linked to short term results. More transparency also helps: some countries now require all listed companies to disclose financial risks they face from climate change.

Short-sighted policies also result in a lack of access to finance for countries in urgent need. Support for countries affected by disasters is often too little, too late. Innovative financial instruments exist that provide quicker access to funding. Countries can set up insurance-like mechanisms, and the international community can support those that can’t afford premiums. Loans can be set up to reduce repayments automatically during crises. But so far, major funders have not taken up these promising tools.

“We have to reach beyond the quick fix if we are going to create a world that can sustain all of us,” said Navid Hanif, Director of Financing for Sustainable Development Office. “Political leadership and public policies are indispensable.”

It takes leadership to overcome short-term political cycles, devise and enforce rules which have widespread benefits but may face resistance by powerful groups, for example tax reforms and stopping illicit financial flows, the report notes.

The report emphasizes that in donor countries, political leaders must do more to meet their commitment to provide financial assistance to the world’s most vulnerable countries.

Beyond financing, the report highlights several cross-cutting areas that impact sustainable financing and that require policy makers attention. For example:

  • New technologies present boundless opportunities. However, in analyzing the potential of new technologies, the report warns that the transformative power of technology raises complex ethical, socio-economic and human rights challenges and risks. In the short-term, technological change could lead to job losses and increased polarization in labour markets. The report argues for adopting a long-term perspective, and calls on governments to make complementary investments, strengthen social protection and urgently develop regulatory frameworks so that benefits of technological change are shared broadly, and risks to privacy and data protection, financial stability and integrity are addressed.
  • Gender inequalities persist in access to finance, technology, public services, decent jobs, unpaid care and domestic work, participation in policy-making processes and many other areas. Bank account ownership among women is about 58 per cent, and for men, 65 per cent.  In Asia, only 16 per cent of businesses are women owned. Such inequality threatens achievement of the 2030 Agenda, but also weakens inclusive growth prospects by denying women opportunities to fully participate in the economy.

In the foreword to the report, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said, “The world has the resources to deliver, but they are not allocated where they are needed most. The choices we make now on financing will be pivotal.”

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Smallholder Farmers’ Rights are Women’s Rights

20. März 2018 - 21:29

By Barbara Adams

Download this briefing (pdf version).

Most farms in developing and least developed countries are small, generally plots of less than two hectares of land. Smallholder farmers manage over 80% of the world’s estimated 500 million small farms and provide over 80% of the food consumed in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, contributing significantly to poverty reduction and food security. As much as 75% of global seed diversity in staple food crops is held and actively used by smallholder farms. However, despite their vital role in the global agricultural community, the participation and priorities of smallholder farmers – most of whom are women – are often neglected. Effective mechanisms giving smallholder farmers a voice in policymaking are imperative to address their needs and interests, to promote the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources and more broadly, to ensure food security.

The crucial role of smallholder farmers is acknowledged in myriad international agreements. Most recently, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Goal 2, commits Member States to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” and includes a comprehensive target on the rights of small-scale food producers:

SDG Target 2.3: “By 2030, double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, indigenous people, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment.”

The rights of small-scale producers, alongside the integrally related rights of rural women and girls, which is the priority theme for the 2018 session of the Commission on the Status of Women, have been long-standing issues on the UN agenda and the subject of numerous resolutions.

In his December 2017 report (E/CN.6/2018/3) to the Economic and Social Council, on challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls, the Secretary-General stated that “in the 2030 Agenda, in particular Goal 2, Member States addressed the structural barriers that place rural women and girls at a disadvantage in their realization of food security and nutrition”. He went on to say:

“A recent assessment of progress indicates, however, that it is unlikely that hunger and malnutrition will be eradicated by 2030 unless more coordinated efforts and greater investments are made to respond effectively to food crises around the world. Doing so would entail expanding decent work and social protection in rural areas, increasing agricultural productivity and smallholder incomes, supporting smallholder sustainable agriculture and food production systems and conserving and equitably sharing the benefits of agricultural biodiversity. It would also entail negotiating trade rules that protect domestic policy space for agricultural development and food security, while prioritizing women’s empowerment and gender equality.”

The Secretary-General’s report to the General Assembly (A/72/207) on the situation of women and girls in rural areas echoed the importance of Goal 2, adding that “the implementation of the framework constitutes an unrivalled opportunity to achieve gender equality and realize the rights and empowerment of women and girls in rural areas.”  (A/72/207 Paragraph 11).

CSW – policy directions

In preparation for the 2018 session of the CSW, UN Women convened together with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP), an Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on the primary theme, “Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls”.

The analysis and recommendations of the EGM were comprehensive, addressing the enabling environment needed to facilitate a just and equitable transition towards a sustainable future for rural women and the obstacles to be overcome to achieve this. The recommendations include actions to be taken by Member States and international development stakeholders to:

  • Support global tax cooperation through establishment of a Global Tax body which facilitates global tax cooperation in tax and financial transfers data, works to close tax havens and establishes a global corporate tax floor to end tax competition;
  • Take measures to establish inter-regional tax cooperation;
  • Build and strengthen existing public-public partnerships (PuPs) based on the principle of solidarity and with the purpose of public good, rather than profit;
  • Support the transition to energy, water and resource democracy within the transition to universally available renewable, clean energies.
The Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on the CSW 62 Priority Theme Recommendations

1. Implement land tenure reforms in a gender-equitable manner, ensuring that women have recognized equal rights with men on private or household lands, and that on communal and collective lands, communities have recognized security of tenure and women have representation in community decision-making bodies for such lands;

2. Recognize, guarantee, and protect women’s land rights by law, including in plural legal systems, whether or not they are recognized by customary or religious systems, by family members, by a woman’s community and its leaders and ensure rural women’s access to justice without discrimination, including in official bodies, courts, and other relevant dispute resolution bodies, such as customary institutions, and to gender-responsive dispute resolution processes that are available, accessible, affordable;

3. Ensure women’s full and meaningful participation in decision-making, management and governance, and dispute resolution bodies addressing land and natural resources and respect rural women’s right to exercise free prior and informed consent (FPIC) as per CEDAW General Recommendation 34;

4. Regulate international financial markets and foreign trade agreements to protect against land and water grabbing by foreign corporations and individuals and prevent land and food speculation;

5. Ensure adequate investment in the collection of sex-disaggregated data and analysis for the implementation and monitoring of SDG indicators on secure tenure rights (1.4.2., 5.a.1 and 5.a.2), and other land related indicators at the country level with collaboration of CSOs and other stakeholders;

6. Recognize customary water tenure and protect water resources to realize women’s human rights to health, food and an adequate standard of living;

7. Invest in water infrastructure, including the existing community-based water infrastructure investments for multiple uses and their water resource sharing arrangements as common property, developed with the full and meaningful participation of rural women;

8. Transition to renewable, clean, safe, predictable sources of energy that rural women can affordably access and participate in the distribution and control of energy;

9. Implement The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (the Voluntary Guidelines) adopted by the UN Committee on Food Security (CFS) and Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment (PRAI) more rigorously, particularly those guidelines pertaining to women’s land rights.

Women and small farmers’ rights to participate in decision-making

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA) was adopted in 2001 and came into effect in 2004. Article 9.2 (c) states that “each Contracting Party should, as appropriate, and subject to its national legislation, take measures to protect and promote Farmers’ Rights, including:

  • protection of traditional knowledge relevant to plant genetic resources for food and Agriculture;
  • the right to equitably participate in sharing benefits arising from the utilization of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture; and
  • the right to participate in making decisions, at the national level, on matters related to the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.”

However, as noted in a 2016 working paper of the Association for Plant Breeding for the Benefit of Society (APBREBES), “Farmers’ Right to Participate in Decision-making”, the operationalization of Article 9.2(c) at the national, regional and international levels is severely lacking. Farmers face considerable challenges in exercising their right to participate at all these levels, with the consequence that legal and policy decisions not only ignore their needs, but also adversely affect their freedom to operate and in some cases criminalize farmers’ right to freely use, save, exchange and sell farm saved seed/propagating material.1

The right to participate in decision-making is also protected in several human rights treaties, including CEDAW, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Moreover, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)’s March 2016 General Recommendation 34 on the rights of rural women recommends that State Parties “ensure that rural women and their organizations can influence policy formulation, implementation and monitoring at all levels and in all areas that affect them” and ensure rural women and their representatives are able “to participate directly in the assessment, analysis, planning, design, budgeting, financing, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all agricultural and rural development strategies”. Additionally, the Human Rights Council is currently drafting a new UN declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas.

In adopting the Beijing Platform, Member States committed to “implement policies and programmes that enhance the access of women agricultural and fisheries producers (including subsistence farmers and producers), to extend financial, technical, extension and marketing services; provide access to and control of land, appropriate infrastructure and technology in order to increase women’s incomes and promote household food security, especially in rural areas and, where appropriate, encourage the development of producer-owned, market-based cooperatives.”

Farmer organizations could use the UN Human Rights Council accountability mechansim, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR),2 to support implementation of Article 9.2(c), in particular its operationalization through a legal framework at the national level.  At the same time, CEDAW and women’s rights processes and mechanisms can be powerful tools for farmers’ rights realization, the starting point being the activation of the right to participate in drafting national and regional laws.

The trade and investment regime – a key impediment to farmers’ rights

A major obstacle to ensuring the rights of women farmers is the intellectual property and related protections contained in many trade agreements. As highlighted in the report of the EGM, “States and UN treaty bodies have recognized the detrimental impact that the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) can have on rural women’s human rights”; several trade agreements include intellectual property protections that go beyond the requirements of the World Trade Organization’s agreement on TRIPS.

One of the most concerning elements of trade agreements is Investor State Dispute Settlements (ISDS), which allow corporations to sue governments in specifically convened tribunals. This mechanism essentially allows for the protection of investors over and above the human rights of community members – often rural women – working to prohibit extractive industries in their communities or to seek remedies and clean-up of their environments. UN Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, states that “far from contributing to human rights and development, ISDS has compromised the State’s regulatory functions and resulted in growing inequality among States and within them.”

A second feature of the trade regime which contributes to undermining farmers’ rights is the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV Convention)3 Recent trade agreements, including the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (CPTPP), require that States parties sign the UPOV Convention (UPOV 91).4 UPOV 91 grants and protects plant breeders’ rights, resulting in monopoly rights over ‘the sale, reproduction, import, and export of new varieties of plants’. By providing protections for agri-food companies – both through plant breeder rights restrictions and patent protections – the Convention inhibits farmers’ abilities to save and exchange seeds.

Civil society organizations (CSOs) have repeatedly raised concerns that both UPOV programming and the constituencies consulted tend to represent the industry interests, in particular the interests of multinational corporations involved in industrialized agriculture, with hardly any representation of organizations of small farmers or those that champion women rights.5

Another critical issue faced by small farmers is regional seed policy harmonization, the process of creating common standards for a particular regional economic bloc. Harmonization processes center on three core aspects: variety testing, registration and release; seed certification; and phytosanitary measures. High costs, intensive labour demands, and stringent international standards make it difficult to certify and trade farmers’ varieties. There are no mechanisms for redress by and compensation to farmers in the event that a variety fails to perform. Seed laws – whether regional or national – make it unlawful to market and trade seed that is uncertified, thereby effectively criminalizing the sale and exchange of farmers’ varieties, and eroding farmers’ seed sovereignty.

The EGM recognized that the harmonization of seed laws will favour the expansion of the formal seed system and the spread of corporate seed, while at the same time further neglecting and marginalizing farmer varieties and farmer-managed seed systems, thus threatening agricultural biodiversity. This will have major implications for the availability of seed and the future of food production across continents, as “rural women routinely save and share seeds as a way of ensuring sustainability, resilience, and biodiversity, and reducing input costs.” Considering rural women’s rights to food sovereignty and nutritional empowerment, the EGM urged Member States and international development stakeholders to: “Strengthen, conserve, and revive local and traditional sustainable food production and consumption practices through, inter alia, recognizing the importance of seed saving and refraining from acceding to conventions and agreements that make seeds subject to the rights of intellectual property rights holders and prevent women farmers from saving and sharing seeds.”6

The 2018 Status report on the Southern African Development Committee (SADC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), and the East African Community (EAC) harmonized seed trade regulations notes: “Farmers require access to good quality seed in sufficient quantities at the right time, but it is questionable whether these harmonized formal systems, which tend to support large-scale seed corporations, are suitable or appropriate to the seed needs in the region. Currently, by far the majority of seed is provided through farmer seed networks, and it is therefore the farmer-managed seed systems that should be protected, strengthened and supported, including farmer-led quality control systems. All harmonization efforts currently underway should assure the rights of farmers, and particularly the rights of women farmers.”


In spite of fast urbanization, half of the women of the world still live in rural areas and of them two thirds in developing countries. To fully implement the rights of rural women and girls, it is critical to effectively operationalize their rights to participate in decision-making processes and address barriers created by incoherent or unfair trade and investment policies.

Meaningful participation in decision-making is not just about online consultations and surveys, or even a few face-to-face meetings that purport to seek views and inputs which have little or no bearing on the outcomes and decisions. A fundamental principle of rights to public participation is that they encompass the right to be consulted at each phase of legislative drafting and policy-making, to voice opinions and criticism, and to submit proposals. This entails a long-term and genuine commitment to engage in processes of intensive dialogue. Since actual decision-making remains the prerogative of the State, essential to the right to participation is also the right to seek a review of a decision and redress/remedies if it results in adverse effects on the individual or group concerned. Access to justice with appropriate administrative and judicial procedures and the right to participate are thus inextricably linked.

As it works to protect and promote the rights of rural women, a priority for CSW62 should include attention to the full implementation of treaties that guarantee the rights of small farmers, the majority of whom are women, and to be a rigorous part of their monitoring and accountability. Policy recommendations should include addressing obstacles, such as agricultural trade rules, seed patenting, and policies that protect big corporate investors over women farmers.


1 Farmers’ Right to Participate in Decision-making – implementing Article 9.2 (c) of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, Working Paper, APBREBES, September 2016, by Chee Yoke Ling and Barbara Adams with contributions from Sangeeta Shashikant and Laurent Gaberell. Published by the Association for Plant Breeding for the Benefit of Society (APBREBES) and its member organisations: Development Fund, Public Eye, SEARICE and Third World Network. 2 The UPR was established when the Human Rights Council was created on 15 March 2006 by the UN General Assembly in resolution 60/251. This mandated the Council to “undertake a universal periodic review, based on objective and reliable information, of the fulfilment by each State of its human rights obligations and commitments in a manner which ensures universality of coverage and equal treatment with respect to all States”. 3 The International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (“UPOV Convention”) was adopted on December 2, 1961 and came into force on August 10, 1968. It established the International Union for Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), an intergovernmental organization headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, whose stated mission is to “provide and promote an effective system of plant variety protection, with the aim of encouraging the development of new varieties of plants, for the benefit of society.” 4 This provision was retained in the just-signed Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) 5 See, for example, the 2015 report by Third World Network, “International Contradictions on Farmers’ Rights” 6 Report of the Expert Group Meeting on the CSW 62 Priority Theme: Challenges and Opportunities in Achieving Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Rural Women and Girls, 20-22 September 2017
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Is the private sector the “preferred partner” of the UN over civil society?

12. März 2018 - 13:15

“Civil society organizations are natural allies of the United Nations, but the partnership modality is not the primary way for civil society to engage with the UN” argued Barbara Adams at a panel discussion on “Strengthening partnerships and stakeholder engagement” that took place in the framework of the ECOSOC Operational Activities for Development on 27 February 2018. From a CSO perspective, she added, the primary way of leveraging resources for the Sustainable Development Goals is fair and progressive taxation.

See the video here.

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Invitation side-event CSW: Strategies for Empowering Rural Women

12. März 2018 - 13:06

This public panel will discuss the multiple roles of rural women and girls for enhancing food sovereignty, preserving biodiversity, reducing inequalities, and combating climate change. The presentations will affirm the importance of engaging women in policy-making around more equitable and sustainable production and consumption.

Panelists will offer perspectives from the local level, addressing challenges such as intellectual property rights and land ownership for small-scale women farmers. We will also discuss the opportunities and shortcomings of a human rights approach and global advocacy efforts to increasing women’s participation in decision-making to tackle poverty, malnutrition, and environmental degradation.

Additionally, the panel will discuss approaches to advancing gender equality for rural women by analyzing the challenges small-scale women farmers face due to economic stressors such as food insecurity, hunger, and poverty. Taking into account women’s organizing movements in rural communities, it will highlight women’s contributions to implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including in them informal sector of farm workers. The conversation will enhance policy debates focused on increasing rural women’s access to and control over resources at the global level and in local communities.

Monday 12 March 2018, 2:30 p.m.
10th Floor, Church Center for the United Nations, 777 United Nations Plaza

Speakers include: Barbara Adams, Global Policy Forum; María Graciela Cuervo, DAWN; Vidhya Das, Agragamee Agnes Kirabo, Food Rights Alliance; Carolyn Sachs, Penn State University; and moderated by Stefanie Ehmsen, RLS–NYC.

Organized by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York Office (RLS-NYC), Co-sponsored by Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), Global Policy Forum (GPF), and Social Watch.

More information can be found here, including instructions on how to RSVP for the side-event.

For more information on CSW please visit the CSW website here.

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