While the summit of the world's twenty major economies is approaching, the United Nations 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda) is about to turn one year old. Seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets set the scene for economic, environmental, and social progress over the next 15 years. Eradicating poverty, achieving food security, fighting against climate change, promoting peaceful and inclusive societies and global partnership between public and private sectors leap out as stand-alone goals towards sustainability.
The SDGSs follow in the footsteps of the 2000 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which made it possible for more than 1 billion people to be lifted out of extreme poverty since 1990. The 2030 Agenda is expected to build upon MDGs’ best practices, while possibly learning from their shortcomings.
Lack of inclusiveness, of adequate means of implementation and monitoring triggered significant criticism of the MDGs. Against this background, the United Nations made sure that both states and civil society had a voice in negotiations for the new Agenda. Likewise, a High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) was created to monitor and implement the SDGs, bringing together member states, representatives of the business sector, as well as major stakeholders. The Forum soon became the reference platform for progress assessment, as well as the backbone of the pursuit of goals. While acknowledging the need for joint action, in its last meeting the HLPF encouraged member states to identify the most suitable regional or sub-regional forums as further means to contribute to the follow-up and review of the Agenda.
As a premier forum for global economic governance and international economic cooperation, the G20 is certainly well placed to promote implementation of the ambitious goals set by the 2030 Agenda. In light of the increasingly blurred North-South paradigm that still characterized the donor-based approach of the previous MDGs, developing and more industrialized countries alike are called upon to realign their development pathways. As confirmed by the preparatory documents of the upcoming summit in Hangzhou, the 2030 Agenda provides the framework within which G20 members, together with the other 173 States represented at the UN, have committed to carry out their development policies.
China, as the host country of the 2016 summit and home to 1.4 billion people, could provide an impetus to propel the G20’s priorities towards sustainable policies, also building on its remarkable achievements in eradicating poverty under the MDGs agenda. China’s leadership is however a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the Chinese economy is key to international cooperation and to the global progress towards sustainable development, particularly in light of its (not uncontroversial) trading partnership with a number of developing countries from the African region. On the other hand, the risk is there for issues such as the rule of law and the protection of human rights to engulf in an ideological debate, making it hard for the G20 to bridge the chasm between the Western and the Eastern approach to development.
Yet, China – just like the other nineteen members of the Group - should not forget that accountable and transparent institutions, inclusive decision-making, and access to justice are a major force in attracting foreign direct investments (FDIs), hence, boosting long-term economic growth. The chance is there to align investment policies with sustainability concerns, while proving that the trading system will not undermine the recently approved SDGs, but rather reinforce their means of implementation.
Financing sustainability, transforming markets, and leveraging business innovation need to be discussed further if the international community wants to achieve the SDGs within fifteen years. In doing so, the engagement of the business community, along with participation of civil society, will be of the utmost importance in pursuing coherent strategies. The business sector is a major driver of productivity, given the significant amount of investment needed in areas such as public services (including energy) and the agricultural sector. Investment facilitation should indeed focus on a new generation of foreign direct investments in strategic sectors such as food, water, renewable energies, health and education, in order to close the financing gap for implementation of the Agenda.
The “leaving no one behind” principle requires new and more inclusive global governance. Needless to say, the upcoming G20 cannot make the difference without a coherent commitment from the German presidency in 2017, as well as from presiding countries in the years to come. “Buttressing sustainability” was the slogan of last year’s G20 Turkish Presidency. It is to be hoped that “endorsing sustainability” will be the next step ahead.
Carlo Brenner Sgarbi, Former Advisor on Post 2015. Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein to the United Nations
Ludovica Chiussi, PhD Fellow at the University of Oslo, Norwegian Centre for Human Rights - University of Bologna, School of Law