UN high level political forum nudges SDGs forward
Bishow Parajuli and Amarakoon Bandara
Zimbabwe presented its progress report on the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) from 10 to 19 July 2017 at the UN headquarters in New York.
Under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the HLPF is the central, all-member states’ follow-up and review platform of the Agenda 2030 and its 17 SDGs.
Zimbabwe’s delegation led by the Minister of Macroeconomic Planning and Investment Promotion, Dr Obert Mpofu was comprised of Permanent Secretary to the Ministry, Dr Judith Kateera and other government officials, representatives of civil society and youth organisations.
The forum was chaired by the president of ECOSOC, Ambassador Frederick Shava, Zimbabwe’s permanent representative to the UN.
This year’s HLPF was significant for Zimbabwe, one of the 44 countries (7 from Africa) that undertook a Voluntary National Review (VNR) of the SDGs.
Zimbabwe has put in place institutional structures and is articulating a prioritised agenda for achieving the SDGs, one of the first few countries to do so even before the SDGs were formally adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2015.
Zimbabwe’s commitment was reconfirmed at the HLPF by Dr Mpofu, who said: “To us in Zimbabwe, SDGs represent a core constitutional value and an overall strategic development imperative”.
The forum was an eye opener with rich discussions on the issues, challenges and opportunities in implementing the SDGs and emphasis on country experiences so far in the process.
The UN Secretary General, Mr Antonio Guterres was forthright in his statement on the shortcomings of globalisation, especially its adverse effects on inequality, despite dramatic progress in trade, global wealth and improved living conditions all over the world.
Mr Guterres lamented that youth unemployment presents a severe challenge in different parts of the world, undermining the future of the youth but also making them a target by extremist groups threatening global peace and security.
The answer lies in the multilateral governance structures, and the Agenda 2030 has enormous potential to overcome this deficit of trust.
The Secretary General underscored that it is only by working together that we can build the trust and multilateral governance needed to lead the Agenda 2030.
He emphasized the reform of the UN development system to make it fit to help countries achieve the SDGs.
In his keynote speech, Professor Jeffrey Sachs, special advisor to UN Secretary-General on the SDGs was very critical of the vested interests of fossil fuel lobbies that are “killing” the planet and the paltry level of funding to implement the Agenda 2030 despite the world being richer than ever.
His call for “big, bold thinking” warrants attention by all the key players in the global political economic scene as the success of a complex and comprehensive global development agenda such as the Agenda 2030 depends very much on the technical and financial support to developing countries to take initiatives to build domestic capacities, including strengthening fiscal space, to implement SDGs.
The two specific proposals made by Professor Sachs that is the “SDG Fund” for low income countries and compensation based on the polluter pay principle for climate related loss and damage, merit further consideration.
The VNR reports provided ample evidence of what governments could do to achieve agenda 2030.
The following are some observations from these reports of interest to Zimbabwe:
First, Innovation is the key driver for growth, not only to cater for the immediate needs of the people but also to Zimbabwe’s development aspirations in the medium to long run.
Zimbabwe could adopt many good practices from around the world, some of which were presented at the HLPF. For example, Thailand’s e-payment system to support the livelihoods of 12 million people and the “New Theory of Farming” under the sufficiency economy philosophy as well as Kenya’s “Beyond Zero campaign” to accelerate economic and social development through the health facet were cited as innovative approaches. In addition, Malaysia’s “philosophy of growth with equity” based on a two-pronged strategy of poverty eradication and restructuring of society and Netherlands’ “Green Deals”-cross sector partnerships on themes like energy, biodiversity, water, resources, climate, food and construction, were highlighted as cost effective approaches that could have significant beneficial effects on development. Zimbabwe’s own initiative to mobilise domestic resources through the AIDS levy to fight against the disease is considered a good practice for others to adopt.
Secondly, Zimbabwe has ample resources and capacities to successfully implement SDGs, if decisive action is taken in policy design and sustained implementation, institutional change and allocation of funds. And that action should be taken now looking to the future, but without forgetting the past.
As expressed at the Financing for Development Conference held in Addis Ababa in July 2015 and well-articulated in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA), the primary responsibility of implementing the Agenda 2030 rests with national governments, which was acknowledged at the HLPF. The UN, the International Financial Institutions and Official Development Assistance should continue to play a catalytic role by leveraging their resource bases and comparative advantages.
Third, the successor to ZIM ASSET, the national development plan – provides a great window of opportunity for designing a development strategy that is forward looking, inclusive practical and funded through a healthy mix of domestic financing, private sector financing, development assistance and so on.
A common message of most VNR reports was an inclusive and multi-stakeholder approach to designing national development policies that involves communities, youths, the private sector, civil society, the media, different vulnerable groups and parliamentarians, among others, would leave no one behind.
Such an approach will enable for the building of strong ownership of strategies in achieving national development objectives and the SDGs. Sustained partnerships matter for development, especially in a natural resource rich country like Zimbabwe where availability of technology and capital make a huge difference in making maximum use of such resources for growth and improved well-being.
At the heart of it all, well-functioning accountability and transparency mechanisms at all levels are key for the above-mentioned initiatives to effectively work. Curbing corruption, closing the tap on resource leakages and loopholes as well as international efforts to cap illicit financial flows which drain financial resources along with the use of ODA to supplement national efforts would increase the momentum in implementation of SDGs.
In addressing some of these issues and taking the SDG implementation agenda forward, we are pleased to note plans by the government to convene a Zimbabwe Financing for Development Conference to explore domestic and external financial resources.
The UN Development System in Zimbabwe stands ready to partner with the government and all other stakeholders to make the SDGs a reality for all Zimbabweans.