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Why Agenda 2030's Sustainable Development Goals are not being met?

Why is this series being extended?

Paul Rutherford, Editor

In Part 1 of the article entitled "Why Agenda 2030's Sustainable Development Goals are not being met?", Hector McNeill referred to the statements made by Dr. Jean-Paul Moatti, the director-general of the French National Research Institute for Development (IRD), a member of the expert group charged by the UN with evaluating progress of Agenda 2030 and SDGs so far. This expert group will issue their report in September, 2019. As noted by Hector McNeill, it would seem to be rather early to attempt to evaluate such an ambitious programme ending in 11 years time. However there is some merit in attempting, at least, to see if there are any evolving problems.

Unfortunately Dr. Moatti has pointed to issues that are already apparent.

A notable issue is that economic growth appears to be correlated with declines in sustainability. This is alarming and a matter of grave concern. This is because it calls into question economic policies designed to secure growth. Most of our readers work in the field of international development and do so because they hope to contribute to the process of economic growth. The situation would appear to be that, at the moment, it is evident that the current paradigms applied to international economic development and the macroeconomic policy frameworks, devised to support this process, are flawed. We are faced, therefore, with an immense professional challenge and responsibility to identify practical ways and means of solving this unfortunate reality.
"So sustainability is a complex of various trade-offs between sustainability indicators of the way activities are conducted within a project or programme that need to fit within what can be referred to as a "feasibility envelope" which is bounded the specific constraints represented by the indicators for each type of sustainability. Understanding these facts helps project designers identify solutions as processes that transition from reducing to eliminating the contribution of our activities to climate change.

These indicators are:
  • human population size and growth rate
  • general macroeconomic framework and policies to contain inflation
  • technical quantitative input-output relationships of any process
  • economic quantitative input-output relationships
  • financial quantitative cash flow resulting from economic relationships over time
  • financial return to economic units
  • social and real income distribution and inequality status outcomes
  • physical environmental impact status
  • ecosystem impact status"

Hector McNeill has identified the key elements of population numbers and growth rates and inflation as significant factors that work against sustainability. Indeed, in the current collection of documentation and reports on Agenda 2030 encounters and work group minutes, these fundamental factors are seldom referred to. It would seem that the population issue is one where there are sensitivities, but it is a central issue, the "over-sized elephant in the room". There would also appear to be even more sensitivity on the part of economists who remain unable to explain why there are no coherent economic policies that eliminate the real incomes erosion treadmill caused by inflation. Recent reports from the UN have registered the fact that inequality in the United States of America and the United Kingdom is higher than in many low income countries. This is the result of inappropriate or ineffective macreoeocnomic policies. However, the same policies are applied in low income countries and, as McNeill explained in Part 1, the risk of increasing inequality is significant.

The article, "Why Agenda 2030's Sustainable Development Goals are not being met?" was planned as a 2 Part article. Part 2 covers the required macroeconomic policy to tackle inflation and, in particular, taking into account the constraints facing the low income segments in low income countries. This was presented at an internal workshop at SEEL in Portsmouth on 29th, May, 2019. SEEL has been involved in the development of solutions to this economic question for many years and it was concluded that, as presented, the second part of the article requires an in depth understanding of the currrent state of economic theory which most readers are unlikely to possess.

I have therefore asked Hector McNeill to extend this article by preparing addition sections to provide more detail on the cross-relationships he identified in Part 1 (see the box on the right). The objective is to clarify how economic policy can impact all of these factors and help reverse the current problems we face to help improve the correlation between economic growth with enhanced sustainability. This is an imperative. Hector McNeill has agreed to do this and I look forward to posting this extended series as they are released.