Hubert de Milly: “Too Much of the Money Invested Still Runs Counter to the Sustainable Development Goals”

published on 12 September 2019
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Objectifs de développement durable (ODD), Nations unies, New York
Four years after the adoption of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations and ahead of the SDG summit in New York on 24 and 25 September, Hubert de Milly, an expert on the subject at Agence Française de Développement, takes stock of their progress.
Where do we stand with the SDGs four years after their launch?

Thanks to the more than 200 official indicators formulated by the United Nations Statistical Commission, we are only just beginning to be able to measure their progress. They will be subject to an initial review in 2020 to bring them in line with the available statistical data. Several stakeholders have also launched their own dashboards to monitor SDG momentum in a somewhat simpler manner.  

What we can say today is that the situation varies considerably from one SDG to another. 

We have made progress on some, such as SDG Number 1: “End poverty in all its forms everywhere”. (The share of the world population living in extreme poverty was reduced from 36 per cent in 1990 to 16 per cent in 2010, a figure that has since fallen to 8.6 per cent in 2018.)

Others are further off track, especially the goal concerning the climate (SDG n° 13: “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”). For the world’s oceans, the situation continues to deteriorate and nothing significant is being done to reverse their acidification, biodiversity loss or coastal degradation.

We have ten years left to reverse these trends. And we could go even further. Indeed, the SDGs are highly ambitious: they seek to eradicate poverty and hunger by 2030, and ensure quality education for all.

Certain goals, in particular those concerning the climate and oceans, must be achieved as a matter of urgency.

How to speed up the transfer of financial flows towards the fulfillment of the SDGs?

We are seeing a great paradox: it is not so much that there is a lack of money to achieve them on a global scale, it is rather that there is too much money financing practices that do the exact opposite of what should be done. In other words, too many investments fail to take the SDGs into account. I have no doubt that no more than 5 per cent of global investment is in line with the SDGs! 

Global finance has never been so plentiful and, like the Titanic, which was propelled full steam ahead into the iceberg over 100 years ago, it is driving us to disaster. There will of course be a captain who will try to turn the helm at the last minute, but it will not be enough. What we are lacking today is a tugboat powerful enough to drag it in the right direction as soon as possible.

This is the role of public authorities, governments and their institutions, including development agencies. Through initiatives and support in developing countries, standards and practices must be improved, to show the way to the entire planet.  To show that it is possible

How does AFD go about it?

The Sustainable Development Goals are integral to our 2018-2022 strategy. The “Transitions” we support all stem from the SDGs. Our five main commitments are based directly on the five pillars concerning the SDGs: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnerships.

We also have a tool that allows us to accurately identify, at a very early stage, to what extent the financing we process is in line with the SDGs: the sustainable development analysis. It is a diagnosis conducted independently by our experts. It obviously comes with its own set of questions: For example, can a deficiency in one sector be offset by benefits in others? 

This is how the notion of “alignment” with the SDGs takes on meaning. Our counterparts from development banks in the IDFC (International Development Finance Club) could be interested in this type of analytical grid, so that they can see where they stand and how to move forward.