The road to sustainable development

I’ll start with a disclaimer. Until very recently as a policy lead of an anti-human trafficking and safe migration project in Southeast Asia my policy world’s only guiding stars were children’s rights and anti-trafficking conventions and, to some extent, the new and emerging policy making demonstrated by regional inter-governmental initiatives in the region. I knew about the millennium development goals (MDGs) of course, but didn’t care much about them because they didn’t have any goals directly mentioning human trafficking or child trafficking, not even migration.

Fast forward a few months and I wake up to the world of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, which replaced the MDGs in 2016, comprising 17 goals and 169 targets. It sets goals to eliminate violence, exploitation and discrimination - some of them explicitly target the elimination of human trafficking, child labour and violence against children, others are essential for, well, the sustainable elimination of these forms of exploitation of human beings, because they target the factors that make exploitation and abuse possible and difficult to confront.

So this is what brings me to this conference room in a Bangkok hotel, full of about 150 people from all parts of Asia, from all kinds of backgrounds, with all kinds of agendas and one common interest - making sure the 2030 agenda is not hijacked by their governments, that the SDGs are not cherry picked by governments, that attempts to dumb down one of the most important commitments of the document, that no one will be left behind in the implementation of the agenda, are prevented.

The Asia Pacific CSO forum for sustainable development 2016 organised by the UN Economic and Social Commission and the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development is a roomful of activists, academics and NGO people gathered for 3 days to express their views, ideas and discontent (a lot of it) and then transform it into government friendly messages to be delivered to senior officials during the Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development starting on 2 April in Bangkok. I am among the lucky ones able to attend the CSO forum - almost 500 people applied to attend altogether, but there were only 150 places. The forum takes place for the third time this year in an apparent attempt to counter the much talked about trend of the shrinking space for civil society participation in Asia.

We are now in the second day of this meeting and I have already come across an amazing wealth of perspectives expressed in the most passionate ways by the widest variety of speakers. People not happy with the scope of the SDGs, which don’t address many issues of huge importance for them, such as demilitarisation for example. People not happy that migration is perceived and portrayed in a way which doesn’t recognise that discrimination and marginalisation are often its root causes. People suspicious that their governments will not put their money where their mouths are. The MDG funding relied hugely on development aid and on money coming in from developed to developing countries. With the SDGs, governments have agreed to take more ownership and responsibility over the availability of funding for implementing the 2030 agenda. The funding of the SDGs has been broadly agreed in the 2030 agenda document, but the development funding discussion goes beyond that - the Addis Ababa Agenda for achieving the SDGs was adopted separately in the summer of last year. While we worry about the funding of the SDGs in our meeting, Asia-Pacific leaders agree in South Korea on measures to generate additional financial resources in the region, at the First High-Level Follow-up Dialogue on Financing for Development in Asia and the Pacific. ‘The new regional follow-up framework’, I read in the press release, ‘provides a foundation for implementing the global Addis Ababa Action Agenda and for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.’

We get an insight into the global follow up and monitoring process for the 2030 agenda which is taking shape and the indicators for measuring progress, which are being discussed at a global level in Mexico right now by the Inter-agency Expert Group on SDG Indicators. And if you are not excited about indicators and don’t find them as sexy as the goals and targets themselves, well, you should be, because the trick is that many goals and targets may be diminished to nothing by the use of inadequate indicators or by not having indicators. We spend some time proposing indicators for the SDG goals and targets, because only top-line indicators have been proposed so far and there is an opportunity to influence the process.

One of the main outcomes of our meeting will be a document called Recommendations on the Peoples Regional Roadmap in Asia and the Pacific on implementation and accountability of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As I mentioned earlier, the road map will be offered to the attention of the senior officials attending the Asia Pacific Forum for Sustainable development, which starts on 2 April.

The monitoring of the implementation of the SDGs at the global level will be done by a high level political forum  - the central UN platform for the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The high level forum will meet in June in New York - it has been tasked to provide political leadership, guidance and recommendations on the Agenda's implementation and follow-up. When the forum meets in June, it will conduct the first round of national reviews of countries which have volunteered to be reviewed first. The countries in Asia to be reviewed are China, South Korea and the Philippines.

The road to achieving the beautifully ambitious 2030 agenda is paved by roadmaps, high level dialogues and high level forums, to name but a few, as well as low level ones like those where CSOs are allowed to speak and be heard. It has targets for signs and indicators to measure the speed of progress. And speeding is the best thing a country can be seen doing on this road. We will be there to applaud it.

by Stefan Stoyanov
Technical Expert Trafficking & Migration in Asia
Terre des Hommes Netherlands
Cambodia Office




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