Participation of Vibrant Civil Society, Marginalized Communities Crucial for Achieving Global Goals, Speakers Tell High-Level Political Forum
With only 15 per cent of the Global Goals’ targets on track, a vibrant civil society is crucial to push Governments towards more ambitious efforts and ensure the participation of marginalized and vulnerable communities, speakers stressed, as the high-level political forum on sustainable development — held under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council — continued its discussion today.
Convened under the theme “Accelerating the recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at all levels”, the forum — which runs until 19 July — will explore policies and transformations needed to overcome the multiple crises that continue to threaten decades of progress made in development around the world. Particular emphasis will be placed on trends and policies related to Sustainable Development Goal 6 (clean water and sanitation); Goal 7 (affordable and clean energy); Goal 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure); Goal 11 (sustainable cities and communities); and Goal 17 (partnerships for the Goals and their linkages to other Goals).
Delivering a keynote address, Joan Carling, Executive Director, Indigenous Peoples Rights International, underlined that economic disparities — exacerbated by climate change impacts — have deepened in many countries. The current exploitative systems must be transformed and developed countries should provide development assistance and debt relief, she said, calling on them to “turn the pledge of leaving no one behind into general partnerships and actions, actions, actions”.
Cascading crises are turning decent work into an illusion for most labourers, said Paola Simonetti, International Trade Union Confederation, also delivering a keynote address. With the global jobs gap in 2022 at 473 million people, most of the world’s population lacks social protection, while 2 billion people are trapped in the informal economy. Accordingly, she called for the establishment of a social protection fund for the least wealthy countries, as well as debt restructuring and cancellation.
A panel discussion — “Perspectives from major groups and other stakeholders at the mid-point of the SDGs” — was also held today, with speakers outlining ways to advance human rights, intergenerational equity and sustainable development in multilateral global governance.
Painting a gloomy picture at the halfway mark of the 2030 Agenda, Surya Deva, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development, called for a new model of “planet-centred participatory development” to ensure that the entire planetary eco-system — people, biodiversity and the environment — is protected. To restore the dignity of the most disadvantaged individuals, developed States, wealthy individuals and large companies should contribute the required financial and technological resources.
Turning to the situation in Africa, Kofi Kankam, President and Chief Executive Officer, Elizka Relief Foundation, and Africa Civil Society Engagement Mechanism representative, said that the continent’s progress determines to a large extent whether the Global Goals’ commitment to “leave no one behind” remains rhetoric or becomes reality. The looming challenges in Africa — including shrinking civic space — will require innovative responses rooted in the shared values of justice, equity and solidarity, he emphasized.
The Asia and the Pacific region continues to be confronted with decaying socioeconomic and ecological systems, illicit financial flows, unfair trade and unscrupulous debt distress, reported Ali Jillani, Vice Chair, Karachi Research Chair, and Asia Pacific Regional Civil Society Engagement Mechanism representative. While official development assistance (ODA) barely reached a couple of hundred billion dollars in 2022, global military expenditure topped $2 trillion for the first time. “It’s high time that we prioritized bread and books over bombs,” he stated.
Recognizing the failure to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals as a measure of misery for refugees, Mary Maker, Goodwill Ambassador of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said: “I cannot possibly represent the Haitian denied the right to asylum, the Syrian living in misery wherever they could find at least the absence of violence; or for the Sudanese, Congolese, Rohingya… too many to count.” Every refugee is fighting for redemption, she said, declaring: “My hope is at this forum you will feel the same urgency as me, this Jeremiah standing before you, asking you to stop measuring my misery and instead join in my liberation.”
The Economic and Social Council’s high-level political forum will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Monday, 17 July.
Perspectives from Major Groups and Other Stakeholders
Delivering a keynote address, JOAN CARLING, Executive Director, Indigenous Peoples Rights International, emphasized that to accelerate recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, underlying structural inequalities and systemic discrimination must be addressed to tackle racism and ensure social protection for women, rural communities, persons with disabilities and Indigenous peoples. Accordingly, States and development partners should prioritize investments in public health systems and infrastructure, including access to clean water, nutritious food and safe housing. Economic disparities — further exacerbated by the impact of climate change — have deepened in many countries. Transforming the current exploitative systems is key to ensure that public welfare is the driver of economic sustainability.
Likewise, adequate resources, coupled with transparency and accountability, are needed, she continued. Developed countries should fulfil their obligations with regard to development assistance and debt relief. The rise of authoritarian States and unabated corruption are resulting in widespread human rights violations and undermine the effective participation of civil society in sustainable development processes. In light of the pressing issues undermining achieving the Sustainable Development Goals — such as climate change, biodiversity and environmental degradation — it is crucial to underpin the transition with human rights protection, social protection, solidarity, cooperation and allocation of adequate finance, including for loss and damages. To this end, she called on States to “turn the pledge of leaving no one behind into general partnerships and actions, actions, actions”.
Also delivering a keynote address, PAOLA SIMONETTI, International Trade Union Confederation, noted that cascading crises are turning decent work into an illusion for the majority of labourers. With the global jobs gap in 2022 at 473 million people, most of world’s population lacks social protection, with women facing structural challenges, including the global wage gap. A fundamental shift is required, with a new social contract built on multiple pillars, beginning with the creation of climate friendly jobs. The care economy is key, with jobs premised on rights for all workers with minimum living wages. Stressing that 2 billion people are trapped in the informal economy, she called for the establishment of a social protection fund for the least wealthy countries.
The new social contract should be premised on equality and ending all discrimination on the basis of race, gender or LGBTQI+ status, she continued. Inclusive labour market policies must be based on collective bargaining and freedom of association and ensure developing countries have policy space to define their development models. A new social contract is economically feasible under the paradigm of shared prosperity rather than austerity. She called for debt restructuring and cancellation, as well as fair taxation, and alignment of all investment with the Goals. “National Governments urgently need to step up their political financial commitments to deliver the 2030 Agenda,” she stated, adding that the forum must provide not just inspiration but also concrete solutions, also spotlighting current United Nations initiatives such as the Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection for Just Transition.
Moderating the panel discussion “Perspectives from major groups and other stakeholders at the mid-point of the SDGs: Towards inclusive transformation” was Rashima Kwatra, Co-Chair of the Major Groups and other Stakeholders Coordination Mechanism and Senior International Advocacy Adviser, Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Rights. The featured panellists included: Ali Jillani, Vice-Chair, Karachi Research Chair, and Asia Pacific Regional Civil Society Engagement Mechanism representative; Kofi Kankam, President and Chief Executive Officer, Elizka Relief Foundation and Africa Civil Society Engagement Mechanism representative; Bruno Ibarra, the Millennials Movement representative and Global Deputy Focal Point of the Group of Children and Young People in the Regional Coordination Mechanism of the Civil Society Engagement Mechanism (Latin American and Caribbean); and Marianne Haslegrave, Director, Commonwealth Medical Trust and representative of the Economic Commission for Europe Regional Civil Society Mechanism. The lead discussants were: Mary Maker, Goodwill Ambassador of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Surya Deva, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to development.
Mr. JILLANI underscored that the Asia and the Pacific region continues to be confronted with decaying socioeconomic and ecological systems, policy and fiscal space constraints, illicit financial flows, unfair trade and investment regimes and unscrupulous debt distress. Asia and the Pacific has been declared the most vulnerable region to catastrophic consequences of climate change, with Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal among the most vulnerable across climate risk indexes, compounded by increasing pollution and biodiversity loss. Moreover, COVID-19-enforced downturns led to unprecedented debt to gross domestic product (GDP) ratios rising to almost 49 per cent across developing countries in the region, with Sri Lanka, Fiji, Maldives, Myanmar, Philippines, Cambodia and Viet Nam among the hardest hit. Yet, the demands for permanent cancellation of sovereign debt were not met. In fact, the loan programmes negotiated during the pandemic pushed for further belt-tightening measures, not recognizing COVID-19 as a wake-up call. In the face of clear failures, with the entire regions falling behind on the Sustainable Development Goals, he called for fundamental reforms.
Mr. KANKAM said that Africa’s progress determines to a large extent whether the Global Goals commitment to “leave no one behind” remains rhetoric or becomes reality. Presently, the continent is saddled with three significant gaps in data, financing and implementation, and achieving the Goals requires a new generation and category of sustainability professionals who can broker between global, national, and local issues. Although many African Governments have committed to upholding fundamental rights, civic space in Africa is shrinking — a downward trend precipitated by laws, policies, physical attacks, threats and demonization of those who stand up for the rights of citizens. He called on development partners to offer support through partnerships to strengthen capacity-building, as well as sustainable and long-term financing. The looming challenges in Africa are wide and deep and will require innovative responses rooted in the shared values of justice, fairness, equity and solidarity, he emphasized.
Mr. IBARRA, sharing his perspective from the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries, called for a new social contract that places at its heart people and human rights, restoring the balance with nature. He called for a region free of violence that affects, inter alia, women, children, older persons, persons with disabilities, migrants, workers and Indigenous peoples. To revitalize efforts and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, greater participation from various stakeholders is crucial. He also spotlighted the need to widen civic space which is under threat of increasingly repressive policies.
Ms. HASLEGRAVE noted that the European region, stretching from the Caucasus to the Canadian Pacific coast, has a vibrant and active civil society, while including most of the donor countries and major foundations. While civil society is a global concern, its shrinking space is particularly prevalent in the European region. Organizations were already experiencing the effects of shrinking space before the outbreak of COVID-19 and it has taken longer for them to return to meetings, such as this one. Further, that region’s civil society organizations have also witnessed a backsliding on issues such as gender and sexual and gender-based violence. The financial, economic and environmental and climate change crises, the rise of populist Governments and the war in Ukraine have also impacted negatively on the region. In light of the upcoming the SDG Summit this September, she appealed “to Member States, the UN system and others in the European, and all other regions, to ensure the restoration of civil society space, coupled with the availability of adequate funding for civil society organizations.”
Ms. MAKER, echoing the words of James Baldwin, said: “I find myself, not for the first time, in the position of a kind of Jeremiah.“ However, she continued, “I cannot speak as told because I cannot possibly represent the Haitian denied the right to asylum, the Syrian living in misery wherever they could find at least the absence of violence; or for the Sudanese, Congolese, Rohingya… too many to count.” Noting that so many stories are absent from this room, she said refugees cannot be put in one monolith, as the experiences are vast. For the 110 million people displaced right now, failure to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals is a measure of misery. She called on the forum to invite more people like her who suffer from the collective failure to achieve the Goals to speak their truth, tell their stories and provide a model for what to do “when you find your world on fire”. Urging the forum to not leave refugees behind, she said she hoped that next year, “I won’t be the only person in this room speaking on behalf of 110 million displaced.” Stressing that every refugee is fighting for redemption, she declared: “My hope is at this forum you will feel the same urgency as me, this Jeremiah standing before you, asking you to stop measuring my misery and instead join in my liberation.”
Mr. DEVA said that, with only 15 per cent of targets on track, the picture looks very gloomy at the halfway mark of the 2030 Agenda. The pandemic merely exposed systemic flaws in the current economic order, which is geared to promoting cumulative economic growth, excluding voices of disadvantaged people and States, creating inequalities and disregarding the planetary boundaries. The world needs a new model of “planet-centred participatory development”, he stated, calling for a number of measures, beginning with centring the planet in the development process to ensure that the entire planetary ecosystem (people, biodiversity and the environment) is protected. Developed States, wealthy individuals and large companies should contribute the required financial and technological resources to restore the dignity of the most disadvantaged individuals. “The time for tweaks is over,” he stressed, as the world needs a fundamental shift in how the current economic order approaches governance, finance, investment, debt, trade, aid, taxation, migration, technology transfer and climate change.
In the ensuing interactive discussion, speakers stressed the central role played by civil society, especially for marginalized and vulnerable communities.
The representative of the LGBTI Stakeholder Group noted the prevalence of current anti-LGBTI laws “parading as family protection bills” across the Global South and Global North. “Not only do these bills criminalize LGBTI people, they criminalize anyone who cares about us,” he stated. Quoting Voltaire, he said: “If I can get you to believe absurdities, I can get you to commit atrocities.” Governments should include LGBTI people in sustainable cities action plans.
In a similar vein, the speaker for the Stakeholder Group of Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent underscored that most marginalized communities, including migrants, Dalits and Roma people, have not been sufficiently involved in the Agenda. “We have to continue to keep the farthest behind at the centre of the discourse,” he stressed.
Noting that half of Internet users are under 30, the representative of the Major Group for Children and Youth stated that everyone should have access to the digital world and the benefits that come with it — including protection of privacy. He asked delegates to emphasize privacy and digital rights in various United Nations fora, which “are not optional extras but foundational building blocks”.
Norway’s delegate stressed that “loud and vibrant civil society and engaged youth is crucial to push Governments to wiser and more targeted actions — and sometimes, more ambitious goals”. All leaders should be glad to be watched by someone else, as it simply means “somebody cares about what you do”.
At the opposite end of the age spectrum, the representative of the Stakeholders Group on Aging said the Goals cannot be achieved if older people’s rights — which are lagging behind — are not protected. He pointed to the Government of Rwanda’s prioritizing older people for COVID-19 vaccination.
Spotlighting the Black Women’s Institute — a crucial variable — Brazil’s delegate stressed that there can be no sustainable development without addressing racism.
Responding, Ms. CARLING noted that there must be changes on the ground, uplifting the poor and tearing down systems that isolate different communities. “We have the resources, we have the finance” to leave no one behind, she said.
Ms. SIMONETTI said the new social contract in the world of work must be premised on the Goals, with climate friendly jobs and universal social protection — but these policies cannot be made by Governments alone, implying inclusion.
Mr. JILLANI observed that while official development assistance (ODA) barely reached a couple of hundred billion dollars in 2022, global military expenditure topped $2 trillion for the first time. “It’s high time that we prioritized bread and books over bombs,” he stated.
For his part, Mr. KANKAM called upon all development partners to redeem their commitments to Africa so that the continent can make meaningful progress towards the Goals.
Noting that financing for civil society has always been low and is increasingly scant, Mr. IBARRA stressed: “Two monologues do not make a dialogue.” He recalled that at the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development, when civil society spoke, many countries were not in the room.
Ms. HASLEGRAVE called for action from global to local, reaching out to small villages where people are suffering and being left behind. She urged participants to go home and reach out to local civil society “not next year, not later in the year, but soon”.
Ms. MAKER stressed that everyone in the room is a part of the bureaucracy and “refugees are not going to wait for you to achieve the SDGS”. Time is important, and they want to strip off the refugee identity. “Can you champion for us?” she asked. “Can you actually employ us and help us to become financially stable? Because we can also contribute to the SDGS.”
Mr. DEVA noted the gap between statements made in New York and the reality on the ground in countries, asking how to bridge that divide. He highlighted the importance of bottom-up participation rather than top-down decision-making.