The Agenda 2030 and the development delusion

By APRN | April 19, 2023

Keynote address delivered by APRN board of convenors member Ajay K Jha in the 2023 Asia Pacific Peoples Forum (APPFSD), Bangkok, 24th March.

The last two years have been disastrous. The covid 19 pandemic coupled with climate crisis, debt crisis, energy and food crisis, war and conflict, increasing interest and cost of living crisis, and shrinking of civic space has seriously challenged Agenda 2030 and we stand at the juncture of withering promise of the Agenda.

Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) 2023 gives us a very sobering account of where we stand in terms of our progress toward Agenda 2030 and its SDGs. Poverty, hunger, and inequality have been increasing. A hundred billion children are in danger of falling behind in education. 2 million women went out of work due to increased care work and 1/4th of women face domestic violence. Five hundred seventy-four (574) million people will still be in extreme poverty at the end of 2030, and 760 million people will be still in abject hunger in 2030, almost the same number as when we started in 2015. Job recovery is yet far behind the pre-pandemic days.

In terms of SDGs, SDG 6, 2.8 billion people will not have access to sanitation even in 2030. In SDG 7, access to electricity increased but 75 million people lost affordability, and 100 million reverted to polluting solid fuels. In SDG 9, little increase in internet penetration but half of the global population does not have access to equipment and computers.

Asia Pacific is the battleground where the war with the SDGs or the climate action will be won or lost. AP region faces a triple whammy of huge population and emissions, development deficits, and high vulnerability. However, AP is performing extremely worryingly on the SDGs. The ESCAP report tells us that the overall progress on the SDGs is 14.44%. little improvement on SDG 7 and SDG 9 (as compared to others) but persistent regression in climate action (SDG 13). The least progress has been recorded on SDG 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 & SDG 17. However, Asia Pacific also has a very poor record on human rights. Myanmar completed two years of a coup in February, more than 2000 people have been killed and several thousand arrested since the coup. In Afghanistan, the Taliban made women virtual prisoners in their homes overnight. Indonesia, the Philippines have been highly dangerous countries for environmental and human rights defenders. Almost in all countries, freedom of association and expression have seen grave violations. 

As far as priorities for the region is concerned, reducing coal dependence (52% of global emissions), reducing pollution (more than half of deaths due to pollution take place in the region), managing transboundary rivers, managing floods and droughts (over 70 of casualties from floods and over 70% damage associated with droughts)  with improved early warning systems and increasing financing to address huge loss and damage, etc. should be the first task in the region.

The global outlook this year seems extremely weak. The global production is likely to decrease to 19.% (against 3% last year). The bigger economies like US, UK, and EU are around 0.5%. developing countries need ways to increase domestic resources. They have already been saddled with an unsustainable debt crisis. Common framework or the SDRs allocation has provided no help (less than 2% of 650 billion went to the LICs). In trade, the WTO MC failed to give patent waivers to medicines and therapeutics for the covid 19. The USA’s Inflation Reduction Act (July 2022) and the EU’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM, Dec 2022) aim to start new rounds of the trade war and reduce market access for developing countries. ODA/AID which at best reached 161 billion in 2021 but is still below 1% of fiscal stimulus (16 trillion). 

However, these scenarios you will get from various sources. I am not here to talk about these numbers which make no sense to us and mask the grave inequalities that we have been facing. We have been given a “growth narrative” or “development delusion,” which we must go beyond. In fact, there is a complete hijack of the sustainability agenda by corporations and capitalist states. There want to continue to give us a sense of development, progress, and growth to maintain the status quo. There could be no mistake in accepting that we cannot achieve Agenda 2030 unless there is a strong marriage of development with justice.

We have been hearing that hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty during the last three decades so we get a sense that we are growing. However, it leaves many critical questions: 1. Why despite the reduction in poverty, the difference in the per capita income in the global south and the north has quadrupled since the 1970s; 2. Why does a worker in the global south get 1/5th of the wages of the worker in north countries working in the same global supply chain; 3. Why the poverty line is 1.25$ (or 1.90$ at most) and why not 15$ which is the minimum wage in the US. The poverty line is the legacy of colonialism and domination of the imperialist countries. 

The truth is that the North is still dependent on the resources of the Global South for its riches. They need thousands of millions of our land, hundreds of thousands of our factories, and armies of cheap workers for their riches. This unequal exchange amounts to almost 25% of their collective GDP every year. It is continued colonialism in a slightly different form.

Let’s make no mistake. Charity will not get us the SDGs, market-based economies and only removing market imperfections will not get us the SDGs, Green Deals will not give us the SDGs, and 2 trillion military expenditure which perpetuates violence on us will not get us the SDGs.

We will have to compel our countries to stand up against continued colonialism. There would be backlash which needs that all countries do it collectively. It has happened in the past (in Iran, Indonesia, Guatemala, Chile, in DRC). It can happen again. The real hope is in recognizing the root cause and responding to it through people’s struggles. 

What we urgently need is to:

  • Go beyond this GDP-centric growth, and incorporate sustainability on a priority
  • Reduction of consumption and emissions in Northern countries
  • Cancel the debt of the poor countries, which has already been paid many times over
  • Reorganize the economy and society based on needs rather than luxuries

It needs to transform the asymmetry in global power structures. We need to change the system and shift the power.#

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