WE LIVE IN AN age of global pandemics, economic shocks, endless wars, a climate crisis, an environmental emergency, extreme income inequality and social disparities of many varieties. Confronting these challenges requires a new economics, a new politics and a new social contract between governments and the governed.
The need for a new global development agenda was encapsulated in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which were adopted by all United Nations (UN) Member States in 2015. The SDGs represent a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.
Implicit in the SDGs is a recognition that action in one area will affect outcomes in others. Therefore, rather than a piecemeal approach to development, the SDGs demand a holistic approach whereby the pursuit of development must balance social, economic and environmental sustainability.
Across 10 distinct sectors, namely health, education, agriculture, flood protection, energy systems, transport infrastructure, social assistance, conservation, water and sanitation, and justice, it is estimated that spending to achieve the SDGs would be in the region of 300 United States Dollars (USD) per capita. At a more macro level, the UN estimates that developing countries will need between 3.3 to 4.5 trillion USD per year between 2015 and 2030 to achieve a set of SDGs, mainly for basic infrastructure, food security, climate change mitigation and adaptation, health and education.
A confluence of unfortunate events, the most notable of which are the ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic as well as the climate crisis and environmental emergency, are detracting from the ability of countries especially Small Island Developing States (SIDS), to achieve the SDGs. For example, a UN study conducted with the Pardee Center for International Futures at the University of Denver suggests that the pandemic could raise the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide by between 44 to 251 million people. The UN also sees climate change as a threat multiplier with the potential to worsen global health, poverty and hunger.
Michael Jacobs, professor of political economy at the University of Sheffield, contends that today’s challenges demand radical action. Some of the radical actions cited by Jacobs include welfare reform,
such as a guaranteed minimum income by all countries to end poverty; an active industrial strategy to support greener technologies and consumption patterns; and post-growth economics where the emphasis is on environmental sustainability, reducing inequalities, improving individual and social wellbeing, and ensuring the economic system is more resilient to shocks.
The UN-Pardee study also calls for ambitious and radical interventions to achieve sustainable development. The study highlights the need for governments and other partners to enhance access to basic services and improve health and social protection transfers, as well as increase connectivity to mobile and broadband services and strengthen investments in research and development (R& D). Furthermore, eating less meat, using water and energy more efficiently, boosting investments in renewable energy and introducing carbon taxes are also considered to be critical. Importantly, the study also recognises the significance of boosting access to inclusive, effective and accountable governance as part of the development process.
Achieving development against the backdrop of a world in crisis requires bold and decisive action on the part of decision makers. However, it is not a task for governments alone. Private enterprises also have a role to play in partnering with governments to provide public infrastructure and social goods which enhance human welfare. This means that private capital should be building schools, hospitals and green infrastructure as part of their corporate social responsibility. Afterall, development is everyone’s business.
Joel K Richards is a Vincentian national living and working in Europe in the field of international trade and development.
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