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In the midst of global hope and fears

In the midst of global hope and fears
In his book “A Tale of Two Cities”, Charles Dickens said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going directly to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on it being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

While the binary contrasts still hold true in today’s times, in case of the ongoing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Summit (September 25-27, 2015), it holds more so. This is because this meet, the mother of all summits, for determining the future of our world, our shared destinies, and our children’s future is happening in the backdrop of some of the worst challenges of our times—the European refugee crisis, climate change-induced disasters, a world still reeling under the 2008 meltdown, and the rise of religious fundamentalism. That Official Development Assistance (ODA) is still frozen at 0.7 percent of the Gross National Income of the richest countries, also begs the question. Not to forget, the season of opaque laws sweeping across the world with shrinking civic spaces and criminalising dissent!

But all is not lost. As various analysis of the previous set of global goals, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), have shown that the citizens’ energy around monitoring and holding their governments accountable, the new energy on international development finance, achieving impressive fall in maternal and infant mortality, and spurring education enrollment and environmental consciousness (be it around the inter-linked messes and disasters, or the centrality of human rights and dignity to global development discourse) were the major takeaways.  Unlike MDGs, the SDGs are not an outcome of a bunch of technocrats in the United Nations (UN) basement. The SDGs drafting process holds out hope though pragmatists would call it the ultimate triumph of dream over ambition! In an unprecedented consultation, unheard of in the UN’s history, spanning almost a year, the expectations were set for the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel of Experts. This was further sharpened at the Open Working Group in July in 2014 and later reinforced by the Secretary-General in December. The zero draft, comprising 17 goals and 169 targets in May/June 2015, was the outcome of these shared efforts. While naysayers will point out that 17 goals are too many, and 169 targets is a joke, the process of participation has been one of the main reasons for this expansive, all-encompassing ambition. On September 25, 2015, New York will be the centre of the universe. The Pope, pop-stars and 160+ heads of states/governments will culminate together to officially sign on and launch the goals in the SDGs summit. Pope Francis will open the proceedings, where he is expected to exhort on the rich nations to pay their debt to the world and pay up fair finance for climate adaptation and sustainable consumption.

Famous celebrities, ranging from Shakira, Richard Curtis and Stephen Colbert to Salma Hayek, will engage with millions of public campaigners and civil society members to popularise the SDGs and kick-start popular engagement. And before the ink is dry, the statistical commission of the UN and country governments will deliberate to finalise the list of indicators to tracks the SDGs.

While hope floats, one cannot but be circumspect to remember the washout that happened in the recently-concluded Financing for Development Summit in Addis Ababa, which was supposed to finance the SDGs. And the challenges around means of implementation of the SDGs, which is financing, an institutional framework with all countries and citizens having a voice, is still continuing to be the Achilles Heel. Many citizens groups’ and thinkers’ scepticism notwithstanding, private finance has made a strong presence in UN processes. In what are essentially sovereign states’ and their citizens’ platform, the private sector has made inroads too.  

That it is also the 70th anniversary of the founding of United Nations Organization is not just a matter of mere detail. The symbolism is high and so is the expectation. UN is meant to promote peacekeeping, human rights protection and promotion and development. And we are living in the world where, increasingly, these three strands are inter-linked. It is only befitting that global goals are being signed on in the midst of global hope and global fears! 

UN becoming increasingly dependent on corporate funding
However, a new report published by the Global Policy Forum (an organisation that seeks to promote the accountability of international organisations) has warned that the United Nations (UN) is becoming increasingly dependent on corporate funding and private partnerships in the face of intergovernmental policy impasses. This, according to authors of the report, obfuscates the UN’s model for public welfare and development.

According to the report, “In contrast to the mounting global problems faced by the UN and its expanding responsibilities and mandates, public funding flowing to the organisation’s programmes, funds and specialised agencies have failed to keep pace. The UN has remained notoriously underfunded and has had to tackle repeated financial crises. In 2013, funding of all UN system-wide activities reached US$42.6 billion. While at first glance, around US$40 billion per year may seem to be a substantial sum, in reality the overall budget of the whole UN system is smaller than the budget of New York City (US$68.5 billion in FY 2012– 2013), less than a quarter of the budget of the European Union (US$180 billion in 2013) and only 2.3 percent of the world’s military expenditures (US$1,747 billion in 2013). The structural underfunding of the UN system and its dependence on a limited number of donors has led the UN to search for new funding sources, particularly in the private and business sectors.”

 (Additional inputs from Down to Earth)
Biraj Swain

Biraj Swain

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