From agreement to action

One year after reaching the global agreement on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly, more than 140 world leaders went to the 71st session to review the progress so far and how best the world community can meet the enormous developmental and sustainability challenges.

The theme of this year’s general debate for the high-level segment of the General Assembly was ‘The Sustainable Development Goals: A Universal Push to Transform our World’, highlighting the urgency and significance of moving quickly on the implementation of the SDGs.

The SDGs are an extension and expansion of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In an attempt to overcome the shortcomings of the MDGs’ period (2000-2015), the SDGs are a wider and more comprehensive and inclusive set of goals. The agenda covers a broad range of sustainable development issues, ranging from ending poverty and hunger to improving health and education, making cities sustainable, combating climate change, and protecting oceans and forests.

Unlike the MDGs, the SDGs call upon all nations, not just developing countries, to participate on a global scale. A universal framework has been established for all countries to help reach challenging but necessary results by 2030. As a result, every country, regardless of their level of development, is expected to meet these goals by adapting and transitioning from existing laws, policies and plans and bringing them in-line with the SDG framework.

Governments are fast embracing the all-encompassing, people-oriented, and plant-focused agenda to figure out what the new goals mean for them, how best they can use the momentum and what kind of arrangements are needed.

Talking about Pakistan specifically, upon successful implementation of the SGDs, the country is projected to become a middle-income country by 2030, with an estimated per capita income of $9,000, almost zero poverty, resilience to climate-induced disasters, the ability to provide food for an estimated 215 million population and education and employment guarantees for the 18-30 youth which constitute about 30 percent of the population.

Since the SDG agreement in last September, various actors have gradually started to embrace the new development agenda. The most noticeable achievements are from the political leadership and parliament. Pakistan became the first country in the world to pass a unanimous resolution and establish a dedicated secretariat for the SDGs. It also became the first parliament to shift to solar power and as a result added surplus energy to the national grid. The National SDGs Taskforce and its provincial chapters, along with the Standing Committee on Climate Change in the National Assembly, have been active in raising awareness and promoting actions within parliament and beyond.

On an institutional level, the SDGs were launched in October 2015 by the Planning Commission of Pakistan and inked an MOU with UNDP to set up an SDG Monitoring and Coordination Unit at the federal level to serve as a national coordinating entity. Similar units are also being set up at the provincial level.

Punjab is the first province to have had the SDG Support Unit operational within the first year. In Sindh, the annual development plans for the current fiscal year are SDG-focused and the government has amended its PC1 form to accommodate SDG compatibility. These are good beginnings. However, these are basic actions and rigorous changes are needed at all levels. Particularly, the line ministries and sectoral departments, both at the federal and provincial level, are yet to be acquainted with the SDGs.

The SDGs reflect the modern era of development planning and financing. Pakistan’s budget-making and resource allocation model is obsolete and require a major overhaul. The federal government unveiled the Rs1.675 trillion (Rs800 billion federal and Rs875 billion provincial) Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) for the fiscal year 2016-17. From the federal pool, Rs157 billion are for the power sector, Rs260 billion for transport & communication, Rs32 billion for the water sector, Rs18 billion for physical planning & housing, Rs29 billion for education, Rs30 billion for health & population, Rs20 billion for SDGs programme and Rs11 billion for other social sector projects.

The federal government also announced an agriculture package of Rs341 billion that aimed at helping small and medium farmers. These actions on development financing are at best skewed, random and hardly correspond with the developmental challenges of Pakistan. The situation is the same with the provinces.

Pakistan’s progress on updating its data infrastructure to meet the SDGs’ requirement has been the weakest. During the MDG period, Pakistan collected and reported 34 targets and performed badly – with long delays in data. In fact, we only managed to complete five progress reports in 15 years. Pakistan needs regular and accurate data to report on 169 targets to plan and subsequently monitor the progress on SDGs.

The launch of Pakistan’s official Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) by the Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform, and the alignment of the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) with the SDGs by Sindh as well as the harmonisation of gender indicators by the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) are a few noticeable initiatives.

There has been little progress on developing partnerships too. A handful of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have come up with SDG-related actions during the last year. Most of these organisations have been engaged by the provincial governments for raising awareness and capacity building actions. The participation at the federal level has been limited. Likewise, a major stakeholder, the private sector, has yet to be mobilised.

Academia too has a key role in the implementation of the SDGs; however, the level of understanding among academic and research institutions is rudimentary. Moreover, the participation of the youth is non-existent and both federal and provincial governments as well as CSOs are yet to come up with initiatives to raise the level of awareness about the SDGs among the youth of the country.

Effective SDG delivery will require sustained efforts for about the first 1000 days to build broader awareness, raise the capability of the relevant line ministries, improve coordination between federal and provincial departments and build multi-actor partnerships to generate momentum on the implementation of the SDGs. Equally important is the technical work on tailoring the SDGs to national and local levels, identifying data gaps and capacities and developing policy coherence.

If these milestones are achieved and there are adequate finances for implementing the SGDs, Pakistan can become a global best case to monitor and report the SDGs’ progress by the time the first SDG report is due in 2019.

N Ahmad tweets @nydeem          

M Shaukat tweets @mashaalshauki

Source: Daily The News

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