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The United States Could Undermine Sustainable Development Agenda

Women’s Advocates Call for More Equal Playing Field for Developing Countries

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United Nations — As government representatives convene this week in New York to finalize plans for the Sustainable Development Goals, which will be adopted in September, actions by the United States threaten to derail progress. The United States, along with other Global North countries, is pushing for the weak outcome of the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa earlier this month to guide the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. The Women’s Major Group, comprising more than 600 women’s organizations from 100 countries, argues that the Action Agenda adopted in Addis Ababa lacks vision, ambition, and strong financial commitments and should not be the guidepost.

The Women’s Major Group is urging Northern governments to go beyond the Addis Ababa agreement to develop concrete means of implementation for the Sustainable Development Goals and to address the major systemic factors that perpetuate global inequality and stand in the way of sustainable development.

“What came out of Addis was a deck that is still heavily stacked against developing countries,” said Shannon Kowalski, Director of Advocacy and Policy at the International Women’s Health Coalition. “Taken alone, it does not form the basis for a transformative and sustainable development agenda.”

The Women’s Major Group contends that the Addis Ababa outcome has numerous shortcomings. It abdicates government responsibility, focusing instead on unaccountable private sector investment as the answer to development challenges. It lacks concrete commitments to undertake long overdue reforms to global economic policies that marginalize developing countries. And, it fails to restructure international tax and trade systems that maintain the global status quo, impede development in the Global South, and undermine the human rights of women and girls.

“In order for the new Sustainable Development Goals to be met, implementation and financing plans must address inequalities and human rights, especially for women and girls,” said Serra Sippel, President of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE). “The financing plan being advocated by the United States and other Northern countries will merely uphold the world we have and not get us to the world we want.”

At the UN this week, the Women’s Major Group is further troubled by the United States’ strong opposition to the notion that while the Sustainable Development Goals are universal, countries’ responsibilities vary according to their capacity and contributions. This concept, dating back to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, recognizes that those countries with greater historical responsibility for climate change and environmental degradation and with more resources—such as the United States—bear the greatest burden for addressing and financing sustainable development. But wealthy countries with the biggest carbon footprints are pushing back, trying to remove this language in the outcome document that will be released at the upcoming UN summit to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals.

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