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Research Agenda

Global Governing for Sustainable Development:
How to achieve the Sustainable Development

Over the last half-century the global society has been characterised by accelerating economic, social and political integration. The period was also characterized by rapid progress in a number of development dimensions. Global production increased dramatically and the prevalence of poverty in developing countries was more than halved during the Millennium Development Goals (MDG)-period 1990-2015. The progress was supported by various forms of international collaboration.

 While there were advances in many dimensions of development, large and in some cases increasing global challenges remain. The differences in the standards of living between citizens in the rich countries and those of the poor countries are still enormous. About one billion people still live below the World Bank’s “one dollar a day” poverty line. These gaps in living standards and an abundance of civil conflicts have generated large flows of refugees as well as individuals seeking better living conditions. The pattern of development during the last decades has also contributed to a dramatic increase of carbon emission, developing into a major, multi-faceted threat to societies all over the world. So in spite of increasing global productivity and improved standards of living for many, social cleavages have widened.

In an increasingly integrated world it becomes harder and harder to ignore the large gaps in living conditions. To achieve increased global justice, and in particular to improve the lives of the poorest groups, the global society must take more responsibility. The UN decided already in the 1960s that the rich countries should give 0.7% of their national income as foreign aid to poor countries, but only a few, including Sweden, have done so. At the turn of the century the global society agreed on the Millennium Development Goals, which specified improvements to be achieved in the poor countries by 2015. A central target was to half poverty (relative to the level in 1990). This has been achieved on average in the developing world, but not in the least developed regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa.

During the last half century we have seen a variety of attempts to find ways to decide on associated policy challenges on an international scale and on the provision of global public goods, and these have contributed to the progress. At present, however, some of these processes seem to have stalled or even risk being reversed. The economic crisis which started in 2008 indicated that the global financial system was far from stable. Despite a broad agreement over the negative effects of climate change, associated agreements or real actions for remedies are limited, although there was some progress at the recent Pairs climate conference (COP21). The security situation is deteriorating, particularly in the Middle East, and terrorist attacks have become more prevalent. This has generated large refugee-flows and terrorist fears, leading to increased border controls in Europe. Attempts to achieve a global trade agreement in the Doha-round have been on hold for years.

There is also a huge global digital divide, which hinders socioeconomic convergence. There is a risk that disagreements between countries and regions are on the increase, and that this may undermine the achievements of recent decades.
At the same time as we face this precarious global situation the international community has agreed on a set of extremely ambitious sustainable development goals (SDGs) for the next 15 years. The aim is to try to achieve a broad range of sustainable economic, social, and environmental development. Against the backdrop of the disturbing international trends with regard to global integration and cooperation, this may be an even greater challenge than originally presumed.

The key driving force behind the formulation of the SDGs is the global concern about the huge gaps between rich and poor countries (as well as within countries). The share of between-country in total interpersonal inequality as measured by the Theil index was 70% in 2008, which was a significant decline from 81% in 1988 (Milanovic, 2015). During this period within-country inequality increased in most regions of the world, which meant that global interpersonal inequality remained very high (Lakner and Milanovic, 2015). The success in the reduction of the global welfare gaps will depend on improved development in the poor countries.

The SDGs and Research Needs

The international community has agreed on 17 sustainable development goals broken down into 169 targets. The goals cover virtually all aspects of development. They are in principle valid for the globe as a whole, but here we are concerned about the dimensions which are relevant for the developing world. We take our starting point in the need to address global inequalities and injustices at the same time as we seek to move the world towards a sustainable development pattern. These are the starting points of the new SDGs. We can divide them into five groups.

  1. Key welfare dimensions are covered by goals 1-6, namely ending poverty and hunger, as well as improving health, education, gender equality, water and sanitation. Goals 7-9 relate to the means of achieving those welfare improvements, namely economic growth and the provision of energy and infrastructure.
  2. Goal 10 is about reducing inequality within and among countries. To achieve this growth should be inclusive and pro-poor and domestic policies should help countries achieve greater equity. Global financial markets and institutions should be regulated and monitored and poor countries should have a voice in global decision making. There may be positive effects of migration and official development assistance and other financial flows should be encouraged.
  3. Goals 11-15 concern environmental policies for resilience and sustainability of human settlements, sustainable consumption and production, combatting climate change, the preservation of marine resources and terrestrial ecosystems.
  4. Goal 16 is about the preservation of peace and security and about creating accountable and inclusive governance systems.
  5. Goal 17 is aiming to “strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development”. This goal is of another character than the other, since it is about how the global system should be organized to support the realisation of the goals mentioned under the other headings. The areas discussed under this heading are finance, technology, capacity-building, trade, policy and institutional coherence, multi-stakeholder partnerships and data monitoring and accountability.

So what does this imply for research? Measures to reduce the global welfare gaps are crucial if we want to strive towards global justice. The success in the reduction of these gaps (listed under point 1) will depend to a high degree on improved development in the poor countries. As noted above, we will focus on two types of international collaboration that can contribute to the reduction of the huge economic and social gaps, namely development cooperation and global governance (international policies, institutions and organizations). Both these dimensions are discussed under point 2. Under point 3 we have the environmental and climate policies, while point 4 covers policies of peace and security as well as measures to improve governance. Finally, under point 5 we have cross-cutting issues relating to the implementation of the agenda, which we can label global governance. It also includes resource transfers to poor countries, the strengthening of their governance systems, making the international trading system more supportive. The need to improve the coherence and policies and institutions supporting the realisation of the SDGs is noted.

The SDG challenge calls for a renewed focus on the implications and challenges of development cooperation and global governance. While official development assistance has increased, its relative importance in resource transfers to poor countries has declined. Other types of flows such as export credits, foreign direct investment, private grants, private remittances and other private flows at market terms account for over 80 percent of external resources received by developing countries. It is furthermore clear that the development cooperation landscape is being redefined as the dominance of aid from OECD-DAC countries is in decline. At the same time there are attempts to find ways of organizing the provision of global public goods and to find ways of making the international system more sustainable and more responsive to the needs of poor countries.

Page Manager: Ann-Christin Räättäri Nyström|Last update: 9/12/2016

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