THE UN AGENDA FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AND GERMANY'S SUSTAINABILITY STRATEGY
I.) The 2030 Agenda between transformation and cooptation
The UN 2030 Agenda for sustainable development commits to “transform our world”; both the Agenda and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change invoke human rights, an eradication of poverty, universal access to social services, and safeguarding the planet.
Implementing the Agenda would require challenging the dominant economic rationale and political powers. At intra-country, inter-country and global levels, the economic system is characterised by extreme asymmetries in wealth, productivity and power. Individuals, communities and societies face systemic economic, social and political exclusions, based on myriad vectors – from gender and age through ascribed identities. In and between countries, the exploitation of planet earth is the privilege of those with power.
One could argue that the 2030 Agenda is thereby caught up between transformation and cooptation.
II.) Need for 3 shifts
If the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is to have real impact, there need to be three major shifts:
- around principles or norms towards a common vision of economic, social, gender and climate justice. This would necessitate reversing the prevalent hierarchy and replacing the rationale of unfettered capital accumulation and profit maximization with a different set of goals around social and climate justice. This has been termed “hierarchy reversal” (UNRISD 2016).
- at the policy level. This would necessitate coherent policies for decent work and full employment, for guaranteed incomes and access to high-quality and inclusive social services, with sustainability or ecological goals. Income and wealth inequalities would also need to be addressed. There are many policy outcome conflicts here that need to be reconciled.
- around practice. Alternative forms of productive collaboration, or free and equitable exchanges, often referred to as the sharing economy and the social and solidarity economy, would need to gain more traction. It would need different employment profiles and time use, which would in turn alter the work-life balance. If scaled up, it would help to rebalance global and regional production patterns, and move the high income countries into a de-growth or altered growth (services instead of manufactures) mode.
The 2030 Agenda could be measured against these three shifts.
III.) Germany’s ‘performance’ as an example
It is of interest to me, as a German citizen, to look at the German experience: how do the German government’s commitments to the 2030 Agenda and its national Sustainability Strategy (German Sustainability Strategy (GSS)), adopted in 2017, tally with, ignore or contravene sustainability goals? Superficially, Germany compares favourably to many other countries, which made the same commitment to the 2030 Agenda, but have not taken similar steps in terms of national policy making. Germany with the Energiewende, its self-definition as a ‘social state’, and a performant civil society, could – at the face of it - be a policy leader.
However, a critical examination of the GSS with its commitments, examined for 7 of the SDGs, shows a mixed picture at best:
The GSS sees employment as the main route to overcoming all forms of poverty, and connects the poverty goal with the employment goal, which is positive.
- it does not look at the structural causes of poverty – including the lacunae in decent work which it mentions.
- it downplays the extent of income poverty and ignores child poverty which is betwem 15 and 21 per cent
- the income minimums of the social assistance transfers are extremely low, making participation in social life extremely difficult and reinforcing intergenerational poverty
So, while some normative positives, there is policy and practice failure.
The GSS normatively ascribes to the right to food. However, hunger is cast narrowly as an issue of sustainable agriculture, agricultural productivity and of awareness of healthy eating patterns.
Issues of food security in low-income households are not broached, even though in Germany, 1.8 million people have to resort to free food banks.
Again: policy and practice failure
- · SDG 5. gender empowerment and equality
The GSS confirms the commitment to gender equality – made in the German constitution. However,
· women in Germany remain systemically disadvantaged, the gender pay gap is 21%.
· Women spend 50% more time than men on care work – the gender care gap (a newly devised indicator) is double
· old age poverty is rising sharply, and affects women more than men.
The GSS documents these challenges to gender equality, but the structural issues producing this unequal situation are not explored, and the remedies proposed by the GSS remain piecemeal. A much wider range of policies would on offer for example from the CEDAW 2017 review of Germany:
· strengthening the mandate of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency;
· creating a comprehensive national gender strategy, policy and action plan addressing the structural factors causing persistent inequalities;
· introducing gender-budgeting of the fiscal, state and municipal budgets;
· reviewing the tax system and social benefit provisions;
· introducing adequate staffing ratios for day-care centres, ensuring high-quality and reliable after-school care for children, and increasing all-day-care options, and strengthening the statutory pension as a means of ensuring a decent standard of living for retired women. Interestingly this last proposal has entered the political party programmes for the September 2017 election.
So, regarding SDG5 – normatively positive, but weak in terms of policy and practice.
- SDG 8: Decent work and growth
The 2030 Agenda is problematic on this topic as it has a strong orientation to GDP growth and does not confront the incompatibility at the global, planetary level of growth and sustainability. Germany is quite conform with the 2030 Agenda on that point. Thus, despite the nominal commitments to renewables and decarbonisation, the GSS does not question the export drive; Germany continues to exploit coal, including in the form of CO2-intensive overseas imports, and to mine lignite; and has an enormous external footprint in the import of inputs. There is a total disconnect between commitments and policy and practice. So, on this point both the norms and the practice are weak.
The GSS gives some attention to decent work and to the issue of unemployment. However, it does not face the actual unemployment situation: 2 million persons in Germany are unemployed, at an unemployment rate of 3.9 per cent ; youth unemployment is 7 per cent. De facto tolerating that such a large number of persons is excluded from decent work and full employment can hardly be considered sustainable, let alone transformative.
- SDG 7: Energy and SDG 13 Climate change
At the normative level, Germany projects itself as moving in the direction of ecological sustainability – the much vaunted Energiewende. It pursues energy efficiency and the expansion of renewable sources of energy, subscribes to the analysis of the IPCC regarding the dangers of global warming, and is committed to keeping global temperature increases under 2 degrees Celsius, and if possible to limit it to 1.5 degrees. In the Indicated Nationally Determined Contributions submitted for the EU, Germany committs to an at least 40 per cent domestic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990, and there is an additional German commitment to decrease the CO2 emissions by 40 per cent by 2020.
Conversely, at the practice level, CO2 emissions in Germany increased in 2016 vis-a-vis 2015 by 0.4 per cent or by 4 million CO2 tonnes. The climate conservation plan prepared by the Ministry of Environment for the UNFCCC COP 22 had aimed for a 55 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030, but this was vetoed by the German cabinet, citing the employment impact.
- SDG 10: Inequality within and between countries
At the normative level, the GSS initially aligns with the vision of the Agenda and more fundamentally with human rights commitments. It then, however, argues that income and wealth inequality are constituent of a “dynamic market economy” and merely need to be contained. The GSS reinforces the current government’s austerity policies which are socially not sustainable. It simplifies the inequalities that Germany experiences and reduces them to two domains:
- educational inequalities – where it has some progressive education and labour market policy proposals; and
- income and wealth inequality. While reporting the considerable wealth inequality of 0.8 in the Gini scale, the GSS glosses over this issue which will exasperate income inequality in the years to come.
IV. Summing up: cooptation rather than transformation
In sum then:
- at the normative level, the GSS is oriented to fulfilling human rights and gender equality, and nominally commits to halting climate change. It refers to gender justice, distributional justice, and to “intergenerational justice” which is used to point to the case for climate justice. While the GSS lacks the transformational rhetoric of the 2030 agenda text, it does profess a commitment to sustainable, equitable development. Thus, in terms of its professed ambitions, the GSS can be seen as corresponding to the aspirations of the 2030 Agenda, and the GSS can be used as an anchor to claim a transformative vision.
- at the level of policy decisions and practice, the 7 areas examined show a very mixed picture. In some areas, key issues are completely ignored, such as regarding hunger, or child poverty. In others, such as unemployment or wealth inequality, the issues are downplayed. In the SDG areas of decent work and growth, there are major contradictions between aspirations and practice. In the overarching goal of overcoming inequality, the conceptualisation is weak. Finally, regarding energy and climate change – in many ways at the core of sustainability and social as well as ecological resilience - even the aspirations are not transformative.
The policies showcased in the GSS do not challenge the status quo. Many of the provisions in the Strategy are ultimately geared to assure investment and growth; Germany’s growth and export orientation and the fixation on austerity are not put to question. There is no vision towards changing the pattern of growth – e.g. shifting the economy to the (care) services sector, or significantly downsizing consumption of commodities or of energy resources. This suggests cooptation rather than transformation – using the rhetoric to do more of the same!
Taten müssen folgen
Damit die Nachhaltigkeitsziele einen Beitrag zur Verringerung der Ungleichheit leisten können, muss man sie beim Wort nehmen.
Kaum jemand leugnet mehr, dass soziale Ungleichheit weltweit ein Problem darstellt. Die UN-Agenda 2030 für Nachhaltige Entwicklung bietet einige Anhaltspunkte, was gegen die wachsende Einkommenskluft getan werden könnte. Speziell das Nachhaltigkeitsziel SDG 10 bezieht sich ausdrücklich auf die Verringerung der Ungleichheit. Doch solange dabei die Machtverhältnisse ausgeklammert werden, können die ambitionierten Ziele nur marginal umgesetzt werden.
Inkota September 2017
The rights of the child and the G20 Summit - A wake-up call
Richard Jolly and Gabriele Köhler
Nineteen rich counties and the EU are preparing for the G20 Summit. What brought this group together initially were their GDP size and their concern with the 2007/2008 massive financial crisis. After a brief flirtation with Keynesian ideas about governments’ responsibility in economic crises, they now cohere in their (misguided) belief in neoliberal policy making.
As we know, the austerity and deregulation policies adopted by the majority of the G20 governments are extremely harmful. Decent jobs that are paid properly and come with social security guarantees for incidents of illness or accident, and for old age, have been replaced by zero hour jobs and exploitative gig economy stints. Women – traditionally facing triple roles in paid and unpaid work and as carers – forego the little government support they used to receive from a welfare state. Low-income families are seeing their benefits cut massively, or made conditional on demeaning conditionalities.
● Children most affected
Public housing is scarce and crumbling; school buildings go unrepaired; professionals needed to support children with learning needs are not employed. Health services are systematically under-staffed and under-resourced (UK), or pamper the well-covered upper classes while reserving less resources for low-income groups (Germany). In Germany, 1.8 million people, in the UK, nearly a million people, currently have to resort to food banks since their incomes do not suffice to buy sufficient food; many of these users are women-headed households.
And on top of all this, austerity has not restored growth to pre-crisis levels – any more than it did in Africa and Latin America where, after twenty years of such polices, Latin America had experienced two decades of economic economic decline followed by partial recovery, and Sub-Saharan Africa was actually poorer in per capita income than in 1980.
The people who are most desperately affected by these unacceptable policies are children. Children have less voice and do not vote, so their rights remain disregarded, nearly 30 years after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. And, let it never be forgotten, children are the future – and their present poverty means marks down future investment across the economy and society.
● Direct results of austerity
As a direct result of austerity, and of unfettered capitalism more generally, the lives and futures of children are already being set back – in spite of the fact that they make up one half of the world’s poor. Fresh research from UNICEF shows that the numbers of children in poverty in rich countries has increased - or been caused to increase - by austerity policies - by 2.6 million from 2008 to 2012. An average of one in five children in 41 high-income countries lives in poverty.
At the G20 summit, the heads of state and their policy makers will be under public scrutiny and on their toes. More than 300 civil society organisations (CSOs) have issued an urgent Civil Society 20 (C20) Call to adjust trade, fiscal, energy, climate, agricultural and other policies so as to meet the SDG commitment that each of the G20 governments have made to “leave no one behind” and eradicate poverty by 2030. A central point in the C20 manifesto is to end the “imposition of austerity policies and encourage public budgets that promote development, poverty eradication and social justice”. But even in this powerful document, children and their rights do not feature.
● Too late
For some children, the call to responsible policy action already comes too late. In Germany, police are pulling children of asylum-seeking families out of their classrooms, to deport them back to their allegedly safe countries of origin – an inhuman measure to diminish the cost of housing refugees in Germany – one of the richest countries of the world in per capita terms, and with a fiscal budget surplus! In the UK, children predominate in the faces of those who perished in the Grenfell Tower fire – which was ultimately caused by cost-cutting when that public housing site was refurbished.
As a funky German rock band recently put it, we need to ‘wake the f* up’.
 Bea Cantillon, Yekaterina Chzhen, Sudhanshu Handa and Brian Nolan, 'Children of Austerity: Impact of the Great Recession on Child Poverty in Rich Countries' . UNICEF and Oxford University Press, Oxford. 2017
 UNICEF Innocenti Office of Research. Building the Future. Children and the Sustainable Development Goals in Rich Countries . Innocenti Report Card OECD 14. 2017. https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/RC14_eng.pdf.
 C20 Communiqué. THE URGENT NEED FOR BETTER INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION. Conclusion of the Civil20 Summit, Hamburg, 19 June 2017. https://civil-20.org/c20-summit/
 Hamburg-based Rapper Samy Delux at a UNICEF fundraising concert peacexpeace, Berlin, June 2017. For the – somewhat despondent - lyrics see https://genius.com/Samy-deluxe-weck-mich-auf-lyrics
FROM UN ASSOCIATION UNITED KINGDOM 19 MARCH 2017
Keeping the 2030 Agenda alive
The world already looks very different to the place it was when UN member states adopted the SDGs in September 2015. How can we ensure that the international community remains committed to the pledges it made?
The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its companion, the Paris Agreement on climate change, aspire to nothing less than ‘transforming our world’.
The 2030 Agenda – adopted by all 193 UN member countries less than two years ago – commits to good governance and peace, overcoming hunger and poverty, and “leaving no one behind”. The Paris Agreement, pledging to take action to limit global warming to 2ºC maximum, has been ratified by more than 130 countries. These are two of the most-referenced global policy promises for economic, social and climate justice and a sustainable future for people in all parts of the world.
But these promises are increasingly at odds with the politics and economics we currently witness around the planet. Is the Sustainable Development Agenda becoming but a distant dream? Will the agenda survive? The time is now to speak out clearly against the threats, renew the commitment, and open up new avenues for progress.
Racism and xenophobia are on the rise. In some countries, elected politicians are unashamedly sowing hate on a scale not seen since the 1930s, most obviously under President Trump in the USA, but also in many parts of Europe (such as Hungary, the Netherlands, France).
Distressingly, governments in countries like Britain are colluding or providing only weak opposition to neo-nationalism, claiming that they must preserve special relationships with their allies. Meanwhile, identity-based verbal abuse, outright oppression and violence are rearing their ugly heads across Europe as well as in countries such as Myanmar, Nigeria and Burundi, and threaten to halt and reverse progress on development that ‘leaves no one behind’.
The climate change targets of the Paris Agreement are already being challenged by fossil fuel corporations and the governments that support or condone them – although the fight back is also beginning. The promised funding for climate change mitigation is not yet forthcoming.
Meanwhile environmental activists are being arrested, persecuted, assaulted and even killed (as, for example, in Honduras and Brazil). Despite the systematic, evidence-based research of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the destructive impact of humanity – heralding the Anthropocene era – serious science, particularly in the USA, is under threat from ‘alternative facts’.
Democracy is under threat and needs to be actively defended. Democratic deficits are widening and human rights protections are being dismantled. New authoritarianisms are emerging, barely concealed by democratic facades.
Human rights are being systematically undermined in Turkey, Hungary, the Philippines, Palestine and many other countries. De facto military juntas are being re-established in countries such as Egypt and Thailand. Several countries including India, Nepal, Ethiopia, China, Russia and others are closing down civil-society organisations.
The right to asylum is being destroyed and international cooperation is in disarray even as we experience the largest number of refugees since World War II. Governments in Europe and elsewhere are introducing exclusionary policies and failing to work together to manage the arrival of refugees with a modicum of humanity, at the same time that public hostility towards refugees is rising. The UK government recently reneged on its promise to accept (only) 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees. Meanwhile, migrants – who are keeping global interlinkages (value a