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Q&A: Making equality central to the development agenda

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Speed read

  • Goals should be ‘decolonised’ — that is, apply to all countries

  • Developing countries should have the means to meet goals themselves

  • Equality should be both the aim and the driver of sustainable development

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This month’s 69th session of the UN General Assembly will consider proposals from a special working group on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the post-2015 development agenda.
 
Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), tells SciDev.Net that the future development agenda and its SDGs must be universal and apply not just to developing countries.
 
She also speaks of how knowledge economies and access to technology are vital parts of sustainable development. She notes how having access to technologies — through financing arrangements and patent agreements — will be key to the post-2015 development agenda.
 
You have called for the post-2015 development agenda to be ‘decolonised’. What would this look like?
 
The post-2015 development agenda and related SDGs should move away from national targets focused on developing countries and into universal objectives that include obligations, responsibilities and opportunities for all nations.
 
As things are right now, only one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) — goal eight to develop a global partnership for development — includes developed countries. It’s the goal that, by the way, has seen the least progress so far.
 
The aims and commitment must be universal, but implementation should respect countries’ sovereignty while taking into account the different levels of development among countries, as well as their particular vulnerabilities, challenges and geography. 
 
Allowances must be made for different approaches and instruments for implementation, and possibly for targets and indicators.
 
What should be the underlying objectives of the post-2015 development agenda?
 
From our perspective, a new global development agenda and its SDGs should help to close gaps between developed and developing countries. This will require addressing trade and financial asymmetries, avoiding conditionality on development financing, and devising innovative sources and forms of financing.
 
Another key aim must be to foster more resilient, self-sufficient, secure and balanced economies.

Sustainability should be the conceptual basis, with equality at the centre of a new development paradigm: growth for equality and equality as a driver of growth. 
 
If the main objective is equality, it can be achieved with inclusion activities such as closing gaps in productivity, capabilities and employment.
 
The concept of equality must be broadened to encompass autonomy, recognition and dignity. This means that all individuals must be recognised as equal in civil and political rights.
 
This concept goes beyond distributive fairness in terms of income, assets and resources. It considers other dimensions: capabilities, social protection and broad access to public goods, respect and dignity.
It connects identity and discrimination, gender, ethnicity and generations.
 
Reducing inequality requires a new equilibrium between state, society and market, which should be specific to each country. The central objective is for the state to recover the capacity to enforce redistributive policies and ensure public access to financing, technology and innovation.
 
What is your list of Sustainable Development Goals? Are they reflected in the zero draft on SDGs released on 2 June?
 
We are extremely happy that the report from the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals has reintroduced equality as its own SDG.
 
Equality, which ECLAC has adopted as its core value, is the cornerstone of political action because it enshrines a universal aspiration that incorporates and reconciles the rapid cultural changes taking place worldwide.
 
The working group has suggested that the core aspects of the Millennium Development Goals — particularly poverty eradication — remain at the centre of the post-2015 agenda and its goals.
 
These goals must address the three dimensions — environmental, social and economic — of sustainable development in an integrated manner.
 
What is the best way of achieving these goals?
 
In the context of the post-2015 development agenda, global challenges would be best tackled by a global partnership with effective means of implementation and strong accountability mechanisms.
 
But collective action can only be attained through international democracy that gives a voice to the most diverse range of actors possible, including civil society and academia.
 
Regional and sub-regional institutions are best placed to ensure the inclusion and protection of weaker players such as the least developed countries and small island developing states.
 
The SDGs should each have their own means of implementation with priority given to financing for development beyond overseas development assistance, including credit, investment and innovation.
 
To meet these goals we must design feasible indicators with a robust assessment of data gaps and statistical capacity to ensure monitoring.
 
What is the role of science and technology in the SDGs?
 
Within the scope of development strategies, it is necessary to link up information and communication technology strategies, innovation systems, and industrial and social policies.
 
Only then will it be possible to make significant strides toward a new, more knowledge-intensive economy that can generate the better productivity rates and high-quality jobs needed for making steady progress towards greater equality and more sustainable economic and social development.
 
Sustainable development requires a greater share of higher knowledge-content activities. Many countries that export natural resources are making considerable efforts to absorb more technologies (as shown by the number of patents sought and expenditure on research and development) or are moving towards a more knowledge-intensive type of development.
 
However, most environmental technology patents — which the Latin American and Caribbean region needs to progress towards sustainable development — are still awarded to the developed world.

Latin America and the Caribbean must focus their negotiations with developed countries around access to new technologies and innovations, particularly those relating to social inclusion and the environment.
 
Also, there should be a more committed effort from developed countries to contribute seriously to the process of appropriation of environmentally sound technology.
 
Technology transfer to a region should be supplemented with endogenous efforts to close gaps. At a minimum, conditions relating to patents and intellectual property rights should be eased.
 
What goals relating to science should form part of the final SDG goals list?
 
The focus areas in the post-2015 development agenda can be organised and classified in terms of economic, social and environmental inclusion.
 
Social inclusion should be oriented towards the progressive compliance and fulfillment of rights to attain critical aspirations of society: safety, health and a prosperous society.
 
Economic inclusion should focus on closing structural gaps such as productivity and technology to achieve income distribution, full employment opportunities and universal social protection.
 
Environmental inclusion should enhance redistribution of rents and productive gains from extraction of natural resources, quality of life for all and access to global public goods.
 
Many of the priorities in the region are in the working group’s outcome document.
 
What we need now is to identify the effective means of implementation — innovative financing mechanisms, technology and industrialisation, better statistical information for public policy and accountability frameworks.
 
Q&As are edited for length and clarity.


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