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Addis Ababa Agenda: Bold Sustainable Development Vision to Be Backed Up by Action

Mathilde Bouye is advisor for UN sustainable development and climate negotiations at WRI.


The Action Agenda approved at the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa last week offers the right vision for a global shift towards a low-carbon, inclusive global economy, as the world moves toward adopting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September and works to reach a global climate agreement in Paris in December. But its aspirational objectives must be quickly translated into concrete progress.

The Addis Action Agenda includes four important elements:

  1. It affirms a new global consensus to put the world economy on a sustainable development path, giving strong political support to a global pivot called by the SDGs and that was inconceivable a few years ago.

  2. It embeds the core principle of the SDGs -- leaving no one behind. It emphasizes the needs of the most vulnerable, with a welcome focus on women and girls, and gives top priority to a new social compact for providing social protection and public services for all.

  3. It clearly states that everyone must participate. The agenda calls for a true global partnership beyond the donor/recipient divide, while recognizing that official development assistance (ODA) is still critical for developing countries. Scaling up the response to such pressing challenges requires a shift of public and private investments, innovative financing, strong action from cities and local governments and enhanced mobilization of development banks to address financing gaps.

  4. It acknowledges that the data revolution and enhanced transparency are major drivers to implement this agenda. The digital economy offers tremendous potential to inform decision-making, track progress, foster partnerships and ensure mutual accountability.

Yet we need more concrete measures to accelerate this transition. An effective plan should:

  • Set effective policies to shift investments towards sustainable development. The Action Agenda calls for enhancing domestic resources mobilization, international tax cooperation and regulatory frameworks to align private flows with public goals. However, it contains only scant, if any, references to specific incentive policies, like carbon pricing, natural capital accounting, an international transaction tax and the progressive elimination (not only rationalization) of fossil fuel subsidies - amounting to more than $5 trillion in 2015 according to the International Monetary Fund.

  • Integrate climate and sustainable development policies to aim for both zero carbon and zero poverty. The Action Agenda falls a bit short of ensuring climate and development co-benefits, though it is an essential objective of the SDGs. Leadership by heads of government and economic ministers will be crucial to integrate sustainable, low-carbon and growth strategies. At the program level, climate mitigation and resilience should be built into development projects. Similarly, climate investments should seek development impact. The Green Climate Fund leads the way in that regard. The Action Agenda could help make climate finance more equitable by insisting on helping the most vulnerable adapt to climate change. But funders should also commit to equitable use of financial instruments, by earmarking grants primarily for the least profitable and riskier investments, mainly in social sectors and adaptation in developing countries.

  • Bridge the global infrastructure gap. According to the New Climate Economy report, 80 percent of all investments across the globe – about $90 trillion -- will be for infrastructure between now and 2030. Making them low-carbon investments will cost only 5 percent more. To get it right, development banks should be more project-focused and aimed at leveraging private capital, while the Global Infrastructure Forum should help foster overall cooperation. Barriers to energy transition also need to be urgently removed by increasing technology transfer, expanding smart grids or redirecting fossil fuel subsidies to new sustainable technologies.

  • Be inclusive. Commitments have been made in Addis to curb inequalities among and within countries, like allocating half of all ODA to Least Developed Countries (LDCs), and establishing a Technology Facilitation Mechanism. Much enhanced technology cooperation and capacity building will be critical indeed to enable vulnerable populations to implement this transformative agenda, while generating local jobs, innovation and growth. More public intervention, innovative financing and partnerships are also necessary to channel funds toward the populations most in need and to small and medium-sized enterprises in risky environments.

  • Institute fairer world governance. Unbalanced global governance can’t be overlooked as the world adopts truly universal sustainable development objectives. It is significant that the biggest sticking point in Addis was the creation of a global tax body, aimed at strengthening the role of the existing UN committee on tax standards, today mainly proposed by the OECD. For developing countries, democratizing global economic governance is a matter of political principle.

The Addis Action Agenda provides a good framework, but it must urgently yield change on the ground to make progress towards sustainable development by 2020. This is our only chance to keep world temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) over pre-industrial levels and benefit fully from the huge economic and social opportunities of this transition.

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