SDG Summit: A question of money

The world has some catching up to do, was the overwhelming takeaway from the sustainability summit in New York. So how do we get there? The German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE) calls for urgent reform of the international financial architecture.

Speaking at the summit, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz declared: “Time to get to work”, with German Development Minister Svenja Schulze adding: “It’s high time we caught up.” For his part, UN Secretary-General António Guterres spoke of the “rescue plan” needed for humanity and the planet.

As the international community gathered for the UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York on 18 and 19 September 2023, it had originally hoped to be much further along the path to sustainability. Reiner Hoffmann, Chair of the RNE, elaborates: “For all intents and purposes, the international community had been on course to achieve the 2030 Agenda since 2015. However, the multiple crises of recent years – the pandemic, the war of aggression on Ukraine, drastic changes in climate and biodiversity loss – have all seen the SDGs take a back seat. This has to change. It’s time for a rethink. It’s time for us to take widescale action. This fact was clear to all at the SDG Summit in New York.”

Eight years ago, the 193 member states of the United Nations resolved to ensure a better life for everyone on this planet by 2030. For example, everyone should have access to sufficient food, reliable medical care and quality education, with women and girls enjoying equal rights to men across the board. In addition, the international community is also committed to limiting the global rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees, as agreed in Paris in 2015.

Despite all this, progress on both the 17 goals set by the United Nations and the 167 subgoals for sustainable development, i.e. for social, environmental and economic development, contained therein has been sluggish. The global community is currently on track with just 12 percent of its development goals, while more than 30 percent of the goals have seen no change or even regression. Pandemics, wartime violence, floods and droughts have all left their mark.

Reforming the World Bank

Things are not going to plan. If nothing changes, the United Nations calculates some 575 million people will still be living in extreme poverty by 2030 and more than 600 million people will go hungry. All of this, said German Chancellor Scholz in New York, is reason enough to “act now more than ever”. After all, the clock is ticking on 2030.

What is needed now is new momentum, a new dynamic and, above all, money. “Putting the 2030 Agenda into practice lacks the large-scale funding it needs,” writes the German Council for Sustainable Development in its statement “Financing the Transition and Sustainable Development”, where it makes a series of recommendations on what needs to change.

Against the backdrop of the 15 percent cut in development aid in the German federal budget, this is in part a matter of state development funds, but also increasingly of a structural reform of the international financial architecture, including reform of the World Bank.
Founded in December 1945 and headquartered in Washington, the initial focus of the World Bank was the anticipated need for capital for reconstruction and economic development in the post-war period. Later, its work turned to developing countries and the promotion of their economic development in the fight against poverty. Now, it is time for a new direction. The Bank should, the RNE recommends, “establish business models that are committed to reducing poverty, but also make greater allowances for the impacts of global crises”. But this goes beyond concessionary loans to creating new incentives for private sector investment, i.e. new financing instruments. RNE member Kai Niebert elaborates: “We must succeed in remodelling the World Bank as a transformation bank and enabling sustainable economic activity in and with our partner countries alongside poverty and hunger reduction to at least come close to achieving the SDGs by 2030.”

Fairer wealth distribution

Furthermore, countries in the Global South should, in simple terms, have easier access to money from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to use for climate change mitigation and other global public goods. The IMF can come to the aid of countries in crisis, for example lending money where countries could otherwise only borrow on the international capital market at very high cost. More specifically, it can issue what are known as special drawing rights (SDRs), a kind of reserve holding that the IMF can use to counter short-term imbalances. To date, however, poorer countries have seen far less benefit from this. “The value of the SDRs provided to Germany in 2021 is higher than the value of the SDRs for the 46 poorest developing countries put together”, notes the RNE, for example. Accordingly, richer countries should reallocate their funds in favour of poorer nations, and the principles for the allocation of special drawing rights should be comprehensively reformed.

At the same time, the RNE argues that some one trillion US dollars a year are needed in the developing and emerging economies for sustainable development, including implementing the Paris Agreement. RNE Chair Hoffmann explains that debt relief would play an “indispensable role in setting the course for sustainability and climate change mitigation, including in heavily indebted countries”.

In New York, Chancellor Olaf Scholz committed Germany to making around 300 million euros of hybrid capital available to the World Bank with the aim of simplifying access to loans for sustainability projects for countries in the Global South. The 2023 annual meeting of the World Bank and the IMF autumn meeting are now scheduled to take place in Marrakech in mid-October. The many contributions from heads of state and government at the SDG Summit have highlighted the sectors and topics where there is a significant need to step-up implementation of the SDGs, for instance in reducing poverty and the fight against hunger.

Next year’s UN Summit of the Future will focus on making the United Nations more robust in the face of the multiple crises of our time, a process that Germany and Namibia are currently jointly coordinating. The aim of the Our Common Agenda process is to make the UN “fit for purpose”, in other words, equipped to see through the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and Paris Agreement as well as cope with future crises on a global scale. The run-up to the Summit of the Future will surely see civil society develop real-world solutions and political demands for implementation and present these to the global public and UN member states in Nairobi in May 2024. The decisive factor then will be the response from the international community. Brazil’s return to the world stage of sustainability along with its hosting of the G20 Summit in 2024 does, however, give cause to hope for an accelerated and cooperative implementation.