Top Story

Political will, improved planning deemed needed for post-MDG tasks

Posted on August 04, 2015

ADOPTING a new United Nations (UN)-backed development framework would require focused planning, clear timetables and political will, an American economist and the country’s socioeconomic planning chief yesterday said.

Jeffrey D. Sachs, special advisor to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the Millennium Development Goals, speaks to reporters during a press conference at the InterContinental Manila hotel in Makati City while flanked by former socioeconomic planning secretary Solita C. Monsod and Arsenio M. Balisacan, current director-general of the National Economic and Development Authority. -- Chari T. Villegas
The 193-member UN agreed on Sunday to adopt the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that aim to build on what the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) achieved and missed.

Jeffrey D. Sachs, an American economist and special advisor to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the MDGs, and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan both said in a press briefing in Makati City that translating the SDGs into programs to help meet the targets should be both the government’s and the private sector’s priorities.

“None of the sustainable development goals can be achieved other than through a systematic planning and investment effort that extends over 15 years and even beyond. This is really about public investment and attracting private investment in a complementary way,” Mr. Sachs said.

“Simplicity is not the message of the sustainable development goals -- deep thought, careful planning, systematic implementation and, in a way, deciding to implement important things beyond the light of each individual government because none of this can be accomplished within the timespan of a single administration.”

High-level government officials will meet at the United Nations headquarters in New York next month to adopt the SDGs’ final text. Mr. Balisacan said he and Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario will represent the Philippines.

With the final text expected to be finished and scheduled for approval next month, the focus will promptly shift to SDGs’ adoption in the Philippine context.

“The work is just starting. The hard part is to operationalize SDGs in our development strategies, our planning and even in our consciousness. By operationalizing, you mean learning from our lessons especially in relation to our MDGs. There’s much to learn there,” Mr. Balisacan said.

In particular, Mr. Balisacan said the SDGs should provide a clear timetable, unlike the MDGs that had as reference points only start of implementation in 2000 and conclusion this year.

“We mark the beginning, we mark the end but there’s nothing in between. You need to be conscious about assigning responsibility and accountability from the national to local level, from civil society to government to academe,” he said.

Initially, Mr. Balisacan said key priorities should include making vulnerable sectors resilient to shocks, ensuring the new goals have sufficient funding and investing in research and development.

“The economy is now in a much better shape than it used to be. I think that is one area we have to work on very hard. The country has a long history of not investing well in R&D and that needs to be addressed the soonest,” he said of research and development.

“Finally, we call on our leaders to commit to SDGs. Political will must be mustered. It’s easier said than done but we need to make our leaders more accountable for these development goals.”

In the finalized SDG draft readied for adoption, titled “Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” member states will seek to adopt the universal goals that aim to eradicate poverty in all forms and achieve “sustainable development” -- a balanced, integrated progress that takes into account the economy, society and the environment.

“It means that we should pursue economic development that is also socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable,” Mr. Sachs said, calling it the “triple bottom line”.

“The SDGs are universal goals. They apply to rich countries and poor countries. We need to do it because economic development... can lead to even high and... growing inequalities.”

Mr. Sachs also cited the need to establish a “sustainable development solutions network (SDSN) ” that will tap the academe and other key sectors to help operationalize SDGs.

“The idea is to think how we are going to do this. It requires new technology, new approaches and new kinds of training to achieve sustainable development,” he said.

“The SDSN for the Philippines will have the responsibility of pulling together leading thinkers of this country to work across civil society, with NEDA (National Economic and Development Authority), the political leadership, the business leadership, the strong NGO (nongovernment organization) community to find paths to sustainable development for this country.”

Mr. Sachs said in a separate event that achieving economic development that is environmentally sound is Asia’s biggest challenge in the years to come even as the region faces headwinds from the United States, Europe, and China in the short term.

In his keynote address at the 7th Meeting of the International Policy Advisory Group at the Asian Development Bank headquarters in Mandaluyong City yesterday, Mr. Sachs said the much-awaited interest rate hike in the US, ongoing debt structural reform in Greece and the recent stock market crash in China are expected to stoke financial volatility in the near term.

However, Mr. Sachs, who is also the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and is best known for his seminal book, The End of Poverty, described these risks as “manageable” compared to the greater problem of environmental degradation as a result of rapid industrialization among Asia’s emerging economies.

“Environmental sustainability is Asia’s biggest challenge. We do not have an environmentally sustainable growth trajectory in Asia and in the world,” he noted.

The economist cited the Philippines as an example of a country that has enjoyed fast growth in recent years -- a development that he noted has also caused “mass deforestation” and “mass pollution.”

Thus, Mr. Sachs said: “Sustainable development is the proper focus for thinking about growth in the coming generations. Sustainable development is a key tool for us.

ADB President Takehiko Nakao shared Mr. Sachs’ view, saying that closer cooperation among Asia-Pacific economies is the key moving forward.

“Regional cooperation is important because Asian countries are facing tougher challenges. It is important for the ADB to facilitate dialogue,” Mr. Nakao said. -- Mikhail Franz E. Flores and Daryll Edisonn D. Saclag