Keeping Their Promises: Governments pledged to tackle global inequality, now they must deliver

By Helen Dennis, Senior Adviser on Poverty and Inequality at Christian Aid

As government Ministers meet in New York this week for their first significant review of work towards the new Sustainable Development Goals, they could be forgiven for not knowing where to start.

With no fewer than 17 Goals agreed last September and with some of the related indicators still requiring a lot of clarification, the road ahead can look daunting. Nevertheless, promises have been made and must be delivered, in a world that urgently needs progress.

One of those promises is to reduce inequality between and within countries. Another is to implement all 17 of the Goals “leaving no one behind” (PDF). Both will be an uphill struggle, because however you measure it, global inequality remains exceptionally high and by some measures is getting worse.

The recently published World Wealth Report has estimated that the world’s millionaires are currently worth nearly $60 trillion, at a time when more than 700 million people still live on less than $1.90 a day.

When we see these kinds of figures, we can at least take heart that economically, the world is not bust. One person’s private jet is 1,000 people’s basic education, health services and safe water and sanitation.

It is also clear that that such excessive wealth and consumption do not happen ‘naturally’. They are facilitated by global systems and policy decisions on matters such as tax haven secrecy, tax competition and multi-billion subsidies for the fossil fuel industry.

Perhaps surprisingly, these themes are now included within the Sustainable Development Goals — some within the Inequality Goal (Goal 10) and others elsewhere in the framework. The transformational principle of ‘leaving no one behind’ was also agreed, having been championed by former Prime Minister David Cameron among others.

These were hard fought for in the negotiations, and it’s now critical that countries now get their reporting right, so they can be held accountable for doing what they agreed to do.

Christian Aid’s new briefing, Leave No One Behind & Global Equity: Reviewing Our Shared Commitments, calls on wealthier countries to report against the SDGs using a ‘global equity lens’.

What this means is that as well as producing an implementation plan to deliver on Goal 10, wealthier governments undertaking national reviews at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF)should ensure that they are making an appropriate and equitable contributions to all the global targets.

Take target 10.7 on migration. In 2016, more people have been forced to leave their homes than ever before –some 65 million. An equity lens applied to this issue would ask how the global response takes account of differing capacities to host people exercising their right to seek asylum. At present, the vast majority of all refugees in the world are hosted by low and middle-income countries such as Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.

Or take target 16.4 on illicit financial flows. Developing countries lose staggering sums through practices like money-laundering and trade mispricing — Global Financial Integrity has put their total losses in 2013 at $1.1 billion. GFI has also estimated that around 45% of these outflows end up in offshore financial centres, and around 55% in developed countries — and most of this is facilitated by intermediaries (banks, lawyers, accountants) based in wealthier countries.

An appropriate and equitable response from countries such as the UK would be a clampdown on facilitators and increased transparency, including within the UK’s Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.

This is the kind of action that we hope to see countries reporting at the HLPF this week and when the time comes, within the UK’s own national review of progress towards the SDGs.

The SDGs promised a universal and transformative agenda — “a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity”. We need to see that same energy that was put into more than three years of negotiation of the Goals now going into implementation and accountability.

We do not expect the reviews at this year’s High-Level Political Forum to be perfect and do not expect the reporting to go as far as we would like. However it must be more than a talking shop and must give us a base on which to build, while in future, the HLPF must help governments operationalise their commitments to reduce global inequality.

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