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Emerging themes on the 2030 Agenda in fragile states

Post-2015, Aid effectiveness, 2030 Agenda

Thomas Wheeler reports from a g7+ technical meeting in Nairobi on the challenges ahead for implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

This week I am in Nairobi, where the World Bank hosted the g7+ technical meeting on implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The meeting provided a snapshot of progress since the agenda was formally adopted in September, and challenges that may define whether the transformative potential of the new framework can be realised.

The g7+ is a platform that brings together 20 governments from self-defined ‘fragile states’ in order to facilitate learning and collective advocacy around more effective support from donors, particularly through the New Deal and its five Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (a list of the g7+ countries is below). This was the largest gathering of g7+ countries to date, with not only Ministries of Finance and Planning represented, but also national statistics offices (NSOs).

The 2030 Agenda has set its sights on the elimination of extreme poverty. The data on extreme poverty tells us that making any progress towards this goal in the next 15 years will mean focusing on fragile states:

The proportion of people living in extreme poverty will increasingly be concentrated in conflict-affected and fragile states.

In the SDG negotiations, g7+ countries were at the forefront of arguing that there can be no development without peace and so there was significant optimism around the inclusion of Goal 16 on peaceful, just and inclusive societies. When it came to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), “we were spectators” stressed one official, arguing that conflict has been a huge obstacle for g7+ countries in meeting the world’s last set of development goals.

At the same time, it is clear that implementation of the SDGs will be no less a daunting task: how to approach 17 SDGs and 169 targets when eight MDGs and 21 targets proved challenging enough?

Some of the 17 g7+ countries present at the meeting have sought to demonstrate strong political buy-in to the SDGs. In Timor-Leste, for example, the parliament has legislated on their prioritisation for the next 15 years, regardless of which government is in power.

The majority of g7+ countries have also started to think about which institutional structures will be responsible for coordination and delivery of SDG implementation. In Afghanistan, for example, the Ministry of Economy will lead, but with SDG focal points proposed to sit across Ministries.

Aligning or ‘localising’ the SDGs with existing national development plans has been the next step. Officials from g7+ countries were clear on the importance of “not reinventing the wheel”. Indeed, the 2030 Agenda states that governments will “decide how these aspirational and global targets should be incorporated in national planning processes, policies and strategies.” Even South Sudan, where a peace agreement has only just been signed, committed to aligning a national development plan with the SDGs.

Linked to this alignment are efforts by nearly all the g7+ countries to prioritise specific goals. While the SDGs are universal, this is reasonable: even developed countries are unlikely to commit to all 17 goals, and no government anywhere will realistically give each goal equal attention. Most of the g7+ are focusing on four or five, notably the goals on social development that were already included in the MDGs. Nonetheless, all of those listing priority goals stressed that Goal 16 would be one of them.

The g7+ countries are already showing some political commitment by identifying implementation structures, thinking about alignment with national development strategies, and prioritising goals. Nonetheless, several challenges loom:

  • Sufficient political buy-in: g7+ countries were represented at the meeting by officials tasked with engagement on development frameworks. While some mentioned that the SDGs are being addressed at cabinet level, it is not clear how wide political buy-in is to the new agenda and whether it reaches the highest levels of government. As the experience of the New Deal has shown, this will be key for progress on tricky political issues in Goal 16, and essential for the whole-of-government approach that is required.
  • One-directional alignment: a few g7+ countries mentioned that they had not yet aligned the SDGs into national development plans as they were only halfway through existing ones. More pressing, however, is the question of whether the existence of the global framework has any influence on the content of national development plans. Will it push governments to reconsider whether they are focused on all the key issues? If all alignment is in one direction, one might ask why member states bothered to agree on a global framework in the first place.
  • Prioritisation of the wrong things: the Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals were all about ensuring that legitimate politics, security and justice were focused on within development planning. While it is welcome that Goal 16 appears to be a priority for g7+ countries, there is still a risk that it is quietly dropped when it becomes politically challenging or becomes an orphan goal with no natural ministry to home it. Furthermore, it is not clear how decisions around prioritisation have been made, and who has had a say on this. Evidence from the New Deal pilot countries suggests that the meaningful participation of civil society and citizens in these decisions helps ensure that the right things are prioritised.
  • Effective monitoring: goals and targets are pretty meaningless if we can’t measure progress towards them. But the NSOs present made clear that their capacity to gather data for the 48 MDG indicators has been severely restrained (for a number of fascinating reasons that go well beyond financing). Getting data for the 224 proposed global SDG indicators will prove even more difficult; serious political, financial and technical investments will be needed over the next 15 years. Again, the g7+ decided to prioritise: they used the meeting to identify one priority indicator per goal, though with three for Goal 16. One also sensibly noted that they “must use all means necessary to get the data”, including through forming partnerships between NSOs and non-official data producers.

Finally, the discussions were a reminder of what ‘fragility’ really feels like. So many of those present rued how, at the end of the day, armed conflicts, coups, popular uprisings, or Ebola had recently knocked them off development progress: national development plans were put on hold, economic growth stalled, social services collapsed, and political priorities shifted radically.

But the fundamental work of building resilience to shocks and crises within societies and states does not yet seem to me to be at the forefront of efforts to end extreme poverty. Once the guns are silenced and the ink on peace deals dries, donors as well as governments seem to return to ‘development-business-as–usual’. While we now have a 15-year commitment to peaceful, just and inclusive societies on paper, many questions over what this will look like in practice remain to be answered.

The membership of the g7+

Afghanistan, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Côte d' Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Guinea -Bissau, Haiti, Liberia, Papua New Guinea, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Sudan, Timor-Leste, Togo and Yemen.

Thomas Wheeler is Conflict and Security Adviser at Saferworld.

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COMMENTS

Thomas

Thomas

May 4, 2016 at 10:41am

Hi Charmaine - I am afraid I don't have any more information on this, it was announced by the delegation at the meeting. Send me an email on twheeler[AT]saferworld.org.uk and I can try and link you up with the contact person in TL.

Charmaine

Charmaine

May 4, 2016 at 2:07am

hi tom - im doing some research on parliamnetary impleentation of the SDGs and wanted to follow up with you re your this statement in your article: "Some of the 17 g7+ countries present at the meeting have sought to demonstrate strong political buy-in to the SDGs. In Timor-Leste, for example, the parliament has legislated on their prioritisation for the next 15 years, regardless of which government is in power."

Do you have any more information on this? i cant find anything online about SDGs legislation - but if they have indeed done this in TL i would like to showcase it. Very grateful for any quick info you could provide. Cheers, C

Thomas

Thomas

December 17, 2015 at 3:20pm

Thanks for your comment Nick.

SDG 3 was specifically mentioned by one or two g7+ countries, though there was no specific discussion on implementation of this goal. How health is addressed in existing national development strategies will likely be of most influence going forward.

I think you're right about the role of Goal 16 in enabling action across the other goals. Furthermore, there's a strong link between inter-group inequalities and the risk of conflict, including with regards to unequal access to social services like health. More inclusive political systems can help rectify these through producing national development strategies that are focused on ensuring that groups of people are not excluded.

By the way, you might be interested in this report by some of my colleagues in the CSPPS, which focuses on institution-building and the management of Ebola:

http://www.cspps.org/en_GB/news/-/asset_publisher/2nEICmeFS2z2/content/tackling-and-preventing-ebola-while-building-resilience

Nick Hooton

Nick Hooton

December 14, 2015 at 8:28pm

Thanks for interesting blog Thomas.
Can I ask, when you say that most of the g7+ are focusing on the goals on social development that were already included in the MDGs, was there any specific discussion about action to achieve SDG 3 on health and wellbeing - especially on the growing movement for a health systems approach, exemplified by the inclusion of universal health coverage (UHC) in SDG 3?
Despite the undoubted challenges in fragile settings, an opportunity to develop - even 'reset' - some of the institutions referred to in SDG 16 in countries recovering from conflict, in support of equitable service delivery. These institutions will need to be in place if the goal of equitable access to health care, and UHC is to be achieved. And the potential consequence if they are not, and health systems are weak, is tragically demonstrated by the Ebola outbreak you refer to.

Nick Hooton
Research, Policy and Practice Advisor, ReBUILD Research Programme Consortium, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

Please note that comments on blog posts are moderated, and anything offensive or threatening may be removed.

The fundamental work of building resilience to shocks and crises within societies and states does not yet seem to me to be at the forefront of efforts to end extreme poverty.

Thomas Wheeler

The opinions expressed in articles or comments on this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of Saferworld. Saferworld is not responsible for the accuracy of the information in blog articles written by guest contributors.

Please note that comments on blog posts are moderated, and anything offensive or threatening may be removed.

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