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3 Things Canada Must Do to Achieve Sustainable Development Goals

04/14/2015 05:25 EDT | Updated 06/14/2015 05:59 EDT
M Timothy O'Keefe via Getty Images

2015 is a landmark year in international development.

Twenty years after it was adopted, the UN's Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action on Women's Rights -- a blueprint for advancing women's rights -- will be reviewed and governments will be called upon to make real commitments toward advancing women's rights and to galvanize new resources for gender equality.

A new global development framework will be adopted in September at the United Nations: Sustainable Development Goals will replace the Millennium Development Goals that expire this year. Bringing together the three sustainable development pillars of social, environmental and economic, the framework will be universal in scope, applying as much to Canada as Cameroon.

In December, the 21st session of the Conference of Parties will discuss the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and forge a new, ambitious climate deal for the post-2020 world. This will be essential, since the degradation of our natural environment, biodiversity and ecosystems, and the impacts of climate change, put our collective well-being at risk. Yes. That means everyone.

And at a crucial moment when Canada's role in the world needs to be strengthened, Canadians will go to the polls in a federal election.

It will be essential that any future government provides decisive and positive leadership on all of these issues -- advancing women's rights at home and abroad, promoting sustainable development (with a particular focus on reducing domestic and global inequalities), and combating climate change globally.

But last week's release of provisional aid figures for 2014 from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for its 28 member countries, was a stark reminder that we need leadership as much on the what (the issues) as the how (the means, financial and non) to realize these goals.

The analysis did bring with it some relatively good news -- global aid figures showed a marginal increase relative to last year, hitting at a record high of US$135.2 billion (albeit showing a decline of 0.5 per cent relative to last year in real dollars).

But Canada's track record was substantially less remarkable. For the second straight here, we saw a huge decline in our aid allocations - 10.7% in 2014 and 11.3% in 2013 - dropping our overall aid spending to US$4.2bn. Our aid as a percentage of gross national income fell to 0.24, five points below the OECD average of 0.29 and ten points below what it was just four years ago in 2010 (and light years away from the 0.7 target that the British government met and instilled in legislation this year).

Given that the cost of meeting the SDGs and climate financing run in the trillions of dollars, a steep decline in our aid allocations does not bode well for how Canada is going to help contribute to a set of development challenges that are global in scope and impact -- nor for how seriously we will be taken when negotiations begin next week at the United Nations on the outcome document for July's Third International Conference on Financing for Development.

Yes, ODA alone will never be enough to meet the trillions of dollars required to meet the SDGs, advance gender equality and tackle climate change. But it remains an essential resource in the poorest countries and among the most marginalized populations, and the most direct means we have for fighting poverty internationally. Slashing our aid budget can't but diminish the impact that Canada and Canadians can have on this front.

And yes, we will need other sources of finance. As Canada has noted in the on-line "Request for Feedback" launched this week on Canadian priorities for the SDGs, "New and innovative policies and mechanisms will need to be formulated and promoted to channel other financial resources into development."

On this front, Canada is doing some interesting work through the Redefining Development Finance Initiative -- a World Economic Forum-OECD Development Assistance Committee group, which International Development Minister Christian Paradis is co-chairing.

But to build its reputation globally as a country that can provide the means to realize these goals internationally, there are three things that Canada's current and future leadership must do:

1) Fast-track Canadian support for the new SDG framework -- at least meeting the OECD GNI average in the short term, as the OECD advised Canada do in 2012 -- and set a timetable for increasing our aid budget over the next 10 years.

2) Invest these resources in a balance of climate change adaptation and mitigation in the poorest countries, in women's rights organizations and advancing gender equality, and in public services, in particular quality health care and education. On this latter point, the OECD has noted that this provides huge value to low-income households with higher risks of poverty, and can often do more to reduce inequality than even progressive income taxes.

3) Close tax loopholes in developing countries that allow hundreds of billions of dollars to leave developing countries every year through tax evasion and avoidance, largely through the activities of transnational companies. And strengthen the capacity of tax administrations in developing countries to collect resources domestically.

2015 is a landmark year in international development. Will Canada make its mark? Surely we can #dobetter2015.

Fraser Reilly-King, Senior Policy Analyst

The Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC)

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of CCIC or its members