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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Development goals deserve priority

The U.N. Millennium Development Goals, created in 2000, will expire at the end of this year. The MDGs represented a commitment by the international community to work together to improve the lives of vulnerable people around the planet. The goals aim to fight poverty, improve health, increase gender equality and protect the environment.

Significant progress has been made toward achieving many of the goals. Extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.25 per day, has been reduced by half along with the number of people without access to safe drinking water. Efforts to fight malaria have saved millions of lives, and boys and girls are enrolling in primary school in almost equal numbers around the world. However, progress has been uneven. No region of the world will meet all goals, and some countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, have not achieved any.

In order to build upon the successes of the MDGs, and improve areas that lack progress, the U.N. has created a new vision for development post-2015. The new plan, dubbed Sustainable Development Goals, was created with the understanding that development and sustainability are inextricably intertwined. Of the 17 proposed goals, 11 use the word sustainable. Compared to the MDGs, the new goals focus more attention on restructuring economies, technology and infrastructure to create a more sustainable and equitable world.

With the world’s population expected to reach 8 billion by 2050, along with increasing consumerism in the developing world and forecasts of irreversible climate change, it is critical that the international community comes together to foster sustainable development. Even though the stakes are high, securing full and equitable participation from all nations will not be easy.

The biggest challenge will likely be financing sustainable development. According to the U.N. 2014 World Investment Report governments, NGOs and the private sector will need to invest between $3.3 and $4.5 trillion in sustainable development in order to achieve the proposed goals. Right now international investment in the necessary sectors is estimated at $1.4 trillion, creating an average budget shortfall of $2.5 trillion.

Raising the necessary funds will not be easy. Many wealthy countries, such as the U.S., complain that they contribute more than their fair share of climate and development funds and resist contributing more unless developing nations make larger commitments. However, developing nations have tighter budgets, face difficulties collecting taxes, and their ability to invest is often impeded by corruption, conflict and instability.

Funding commitments for the SDGs are expected to be made at the U.N. Financing for Development Conference in July. The conference will bring together government officials, NGOs and leaders in the private sector to discuss each of their important roles in sustainable development.

According to a paper by the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network, in order for the conference to be successful, the governments of high-income countries should commit at least 0.7 percent of their nation’s gross national income to the SDGs, while the least developed nations should contribute at least 0.1 percent. Currently, only five high-income countries commit 0.7 percent of their GNI to sustainable development.

There are a number of reasons why high-income countries should invest in sustainable development. As the UNSDSN’s paper points out international security is tied to global development, and U.N. Security Council members have a special obligation to contribute. Underdevelopment is a significant contributing factor to war, global terrorism and illicit trade in narcotics, arms and other contraband. Investments in sustainability can help wealthy nations mitigate the costs that global climate change will have on their economies.

It is also crucial that the private sector takes a larger role in sustainable development. The interests of the private sector are also aligned with the SDGs, with a few notable exceptions such as the fossil fuel industry. Already we have seen many of the world’s largest corporations calling for the U.S. and other nations to do more to stop climate change in order to protect their future profits from issues such as high costs for water and energy. In addition, many companies see the world’s billions of poor as a vast, untapped market that can only be accessed through development.

Despite the private sector’s interest in sustainable development, companies cannot invest in it without the proper market conditions. Governments can encourage companies to invest in sustainable development by removing barriers to trade like tariffs and domestic subsidies, combat negative market externalities with tools like carbon credits, eliminate tax havens and address other impediments to investment such as corruption.

Sustainable development is both a moral issue as well as an economic one. If the world fails to act before it is too late, the consequences will be disaster. As one of the world’s wealthiest and most influential nations, the U.S. has an opportunity to lead by example by committing to the Sustainable Development Goals and doing its share to fund them. If we don’t, the world will not be able to meet the challenges ahead.  

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