The new Agenda 2030 whose overall purpose is to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), represents a considerable progress compared to their predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), guiding up until last year.
Its main characteristic is their universality that, at the same time, it requires ambition for a structural change. The MDGs focused on the consequences of injustice and in directing enough funding in order to reverse that injustice in education, health and food, and other rights. The responsibility of developed countries limited itself to the provision of efficient help and some other measures related to trade and the environment. The system was not questioned.
The new SDGs contain structural aspects which are essential in order to achieve the eradication of poverty in a sustainable and fair world. Quality employment, changes in the production model or the fight against climate change are necessary and relevant fields in any country, whatever their level of development.
The brightest example of the systemic character of the SDG is Goal number 10, which refers to inequality and its rampaging increase, and it is on everyone’s lips today. And it is not only in those of transforming economists such as Piketty or other social movements. Also unusual suspects of being “against the system” like Christine Lagarde or American billionaires have said that the extreme inequality is one of the biggest risks of our time. The Pope has been, like in other subjects, more prophetic and compelling than anybody else and has said that inequality is “the roots for all the social ills”, developing his argument in multiple interventions.
There is a remarkable agreement based on multiple investigations about inequality not only being unfair. When it grows and persists, as it is the case in the majority of countries it stops growth, it makes it even less inclusive and sustainable, it breaks cohesion and social stability and it prevents us from eradicating poverty. The theory of the overflow by which generating wealth is enough to end with poverty is now dead. Nowadays, the wealth that is created is obscenely accumulated by very few, that 1% that co-opting laws and policies already own the same wealth as the rest of humanity. A recent report presented by Oxfam shows that only 62 billionaires have the same wealth as 3600 million people.
Where there is less agreement is in the solutions, or let’s say there’s more fear. This is a reverential fear that us who feel “safe” have against disrupting the established order and trespassing uncertain territory. We are scared of a transformative change. Vulnerable people do not have a choice, they already lost that fear.
A consequence of this fear is the difficulty to fight inequality with ambitious objectives, transformative policies and clear indicators. A good example of this is the SDG number 10. Its first objective is focused on increasing the income of the poorest 40% of each country to bring it above the national average. As it is not referring to the income of the wealthiest 1% or 10%, the goal falls short. It doesn’t take into account the finite nature of the resources and the necessity to ensure the planetary sustainability, nor does it ensure that the middle class won’t become poor where it stands strong or that it barely escapes poverty where it is emerging.
The rest of the content of the 10 SDG has the right references of economic inclusion and fiscal, wage and social protection policies that help make progress towards equality. Well, we know that these aspirations won’t be achieved with rhetorical commitments but with brave and strong political measures that reduce the wage gaps, end with tax evasion and avoidance and ensure a basic income for the most vulnerable population. Fair taxation must assure social policies that are strong enough to guarantee, among other rights, the right to quality and equity education which will work as catalyst of the rest of the rights.
The 10th SDG sets the bases to fight against extreme inequality. However, there’s still a long way to go before we implement it in each country in order for it to be a real transformation factor. A lot of debate, clear data and alternative proposals that show the path towards equality will be necessary.
Out of the 17 SDGs, the 10th one is one of the most sensitive and complicated because it challenges the basics of the system, a system that obviously favours the 1% of the population. Having said that, this is an imperative Goal. If it is not achieved, the rest of SDGs will only be an illusion.
Editorial by José María Vera, General Manager of Oxfam Intermón, Spanish NGO working in development, awareness raising campaigns and fair trade to eradicate poverty and reduce inequalities.