Happiness, taxation and the SDG financing gap

Ranjula Bali Swain is a Visiting Professor at Misum specialized in sustainable development, sustainable energy, sustainable innovation, microfinance and development economics. 

Follow Ranjula on twitter: @ranjbali

The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2018 for Sustainable Development was inaugurated on July 9, 2018, with opening remarks by Marie Chatardová, President of Economic and Social Council and Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations. With 2500 organizations attending, and 47 countries presenting voluntary national reviews during HLPF 2018, Chatardová said that the motivation is high but there is also a true sense of urgency in improving Agenda 2030 implementation.

Zhenmin, raised concerns about the significant persistence of poverty in the rural areas, stating that close to 4 billion people were without social protection in 2016, especially the vulnerable like elderly, mothers with newborns, children, people with severe disabilities and the unemployed. Furthermore, for the first time this decade, hunger is on the rise. He stressed the need to deal with the ongoing climate change (2017 was one of the three warmest years on record with 1.1 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial levels); gender discrimination; water stress; electricity access; migration and on-going violent conflicts. Although by 2018, about 108 countries have national policies on sustainable consumption and production, Zhenmin also stressed the urgency in implementing Agenda 2030.

jeffsachs

In its third year of implementation, the keynote speakers identified the most important trends and actions that would catalyze transformative pathways through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor and Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University and Alex Steffen, Co-founder of online magazine Worldchanging.com made compelling presentations.

Sachs made three powerful points. First, SDGs were achievable, but not being achieved because of greed and vested interests. He pointed out unsustainable supply chains in the food industry and the continued use of brown energy, as common outliers. Second, he emphasized that there was an overlap between sustainable development, happiness and taxation. Sweden, once again topped the SDG 2018 ranking, doing well on world happiness (9) and tax-GDP ratio (6). He credited Europe for being the closest to achieving SDGs and was critical of US which was low on sustainable development (ranked 35) and happiness (ranked 18) indices. Sachs made a forcible case that countries with high happiness index also tax themselves more, spending on social infrastructure (education and health) and environment,  and do well on sustainable development.

tabell

Third, Sachs identifies a SDG financing gap of roughly $190 billion. A gap that he suggests can be easily filled by raising $100 billion by increasing Overseas Development Assistance from 0.3% to 0.5% of GNI of the developed countries. Another possibility is to raise $90 billion from  2,208 billionaires, if they would agree to contribute 1% of their net-worth per year. He called out to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to contribute saying, “Come on Zuckerberg, you were a kid in dorm 10 years back”. His concrete suggestions on raising additional revenues for financing SDGs through some other sources included: high net-worth levy, taxation of offshore accounts, tech tax (Facebook, Google, …), financial transactions tax, carbon tax, carbon offset purchases by industry, industrial fines for pollution and climate disasters, and crackdown on tax evasion etc. Sachs message was deliberate, distilled and sharp.

alexsteffen

Alex Steffen, who describes himself as a Planetary futurist, made the overwhelming point that the solution for achieving sustainable development was ‘speed’. Steffen said that we are at the cusp of massive change with two economies in place, the sustainable and the unsustainable one. He stressed that sustainability is disruptive and we need sustainable innovations, redistribution of wealth and rapid speed in the transformation towards sustainable development. According to him, the significant predatory delay in this transformation was due to the unsustainable, fossil-fuel economy. Pronouncing Donald Trump as a road bump to sustainable development, Steffen stressed that as sustainable solutions accelerate political will will change.

The opening session set the stage for two weeks of HLPF 2018 for sustainable development, identifying the positives but at the same time raising concerns about the many dimensions of SDGs implementation for the transformative change that Agenda 2030 demands.

Written by Misum´s Ranjula Bali Swain, Visiting Professor, who reports back from The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2018 for Sustainable Development that took place in July 2018. Ranjula Bali Swain is specialized in sustainable development, sustainable energy, sustainable innovation, microfinance and development economics. 

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