- A simple approach to finding synergy between Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Climate Agreement.
Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement are treated as substitutable processes
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement (PCA, henceforth) are, arguably, two of the most influential contemporary developments in achieving sustainable development cooperation globally. Achieving the objectives of the SDGs and the PCA requires a continuous political dialogue at the global level and engaging non-State actors in the implementation processes at the local level. There has been an encouraging emerging consensus about the inter-linkages and the need for policy coherence to ensure complementarity. Nevertheless, both commitments admittedly, have been looked at in silos and treated as substitutable processes. This, consequently, has aggravated concerns about policy prioritisation by countries which may potentially lead to a situation of conflicts of national interest over global priorities.
Dilemma in Inter-Linkages between SDGs and PCA
The linkages and the likely impact of the SDGs on the PCA depend on two basic tenets. One, economic growth and allocation of resources to achieve these goals. The magnitude of the impact, however, will vary based on the design, implementation processes and the national priorities. Two, the interplay between different stakeholders and their contribution to the policy process. In other words, the extent of decentralisation in the fiscal–federal structure, and the role of non-state actors. From the PCA perspective, the reverse will be true as the likely impact of climate change arguably will have the potential to derail the process of sustainable development. The policy question that a country, therefore, faces is to choose the direction from the SDGs to the PCA or vice-versa. In a simpler case, the policy making process, may assume a linear function form, i.e. a one to one relation with the policy objectives and the constraints. The policy process, nonetheless, may also take the form of a non-linear system. We put forward a simple illustration in the Box below.
Consider a country X which chooses to focus on, for instance, Goal 9 of the SDGs as a broad policy priority. The functional form for the policy options then can be written as:
such that, a*< climate commitment < a* and i = 1, 2, 3, ...n;
where is a vector of policy options that a country X may choose from, which is a function of several elements. In an optimal solution case, a country should choose an optimal policy 'i' = 1, such that its climate commitment is also met (the country will, then, be in the quadrant-I of Figure 1) while focussing its core policy objective on the SDG Goal 9. However, if a country is on a different path away from its climate commitment (which is the case for most of the countries as of now, more so for developing countries), then the country may prefer to an existing policy 'i' = 2 to 'i' = 1. Thus, the transition from policy option 'i' = 2 to 'i' = 1 may be a one-time event driven and will be discrete. This transition may, however, not be considered as a viable option for various factors (lack of resources, infrastructure, and political will etc.) and the country may, therefore, either continue with policy 'i' = 2 or delay the policy shift to the optimal policy 'i' = 1, till there is a shock which could be exogenous or endogenous to the system and could be driven by socio-economic or political factors. In such a situation, the country may either be SDG lopsided or PCA lopsided as the country still treats the two as substitutes. Why will that be the case? The reason will be direction of causality and the transmission channels of the policy that a country opts in the design and implementation process of the policy.
Ideally, as illustrated above, the countries, will prefer to be in the blended policy zone (I) of the Figure 1. The assumption behind treating the SDGs and the PCA on two-axes is that despite being complementary to each other; these may be treated (as argued so far) as substitutes to each other (lower quadrants, here, mean a slower progress on commitments). The 45° line highlights the policy path that a country will likely to adopt and achieve both commitments. However, most of the countries may either lie above or below the line subject to the actual achievements.
Figure 1: Possible performance zones
Source: Author’s representations
The performance of a respective country, thus, depends on the inter-linkages of the two commitments which may be self-enforcing and may move in either of the policy performance zones. The policy conflict zone (III) will be the case where, ideally no country would prefer to be, which strengthens the case for why countries may attempt to adhere to achieving the SDGs.
A simple approach to finding synergy
An implementation framework for the two commitments, thus, need strategies formulation at the country level, transitively, followed by crafting a financing strategy for such synergised strategies. This requires i) a national medium-term macrofiscal framework that is consistent with the SDGs implementation framework and ii) changes in the institutional structure at micro-level in the implementation process. The scorecard methodology by International Council for Science for SDG interactions is a useful example which can be developed further to integrate the SDGs and the PCA commitments. We, here, propose a simple pillar of change in the policy process.
Think-Act local, and Share global: Stone (2001) argued that despite asymmetries of power and capability inherent in ‘knowledge for development’, it is easier to adopt the discourse of ‘think global, act local’ and develop ‘knowledge sharing’ and capacity building programmes. The challenge of knowledge dissemination through current global networks is the “think global and act local” approach. Further, top down knowledge sharing or the development of global databases that can be easily accessed are not well-structured to allow the reverse flow of knowledge from local knowledge producers into global knowledge production. There are many initiatives at local level across the countries which work on the general principle of understanding the local challenges and finding solutions in a locally customised manner. In other words - “think local and act local”. The missing link in the knowledge sharing process, however, is dissemination of such experiences at local followed by global level. The process of knowledge sharing, thus, needs to be complemented by “Think, Act Local and Share Global”. Why so? The current scenario of policy process on the SDGs and the PCA can be explained through Figure 2.
Figure 2: Stages of Policy Strategies
Source: Author’s representations
As Figure 2 suggests, the first two stages have already been successfully achieved in terms of the SDGs and the PCA. The third stage for implementation, thus, needs creating a platform which could be structured by the government and managed by non-state actors on different issues at a country level. Such a platform can - a) collect information on the local level practices; and b) serve as an opportunity for a dialogue amongst the local initiatives and government agencies. The role of the government in such a process will be to ensure dissemination of such practices and using the best practices in the national policy making as inputs. The state can also use the same platform as a starting point for future negotiations at global level while bringing the views of different stakeholders into consideration. The non-state actors may, then, have higher authority in the design and greater responsibility in implementation of such policies. Using this approach can be effective as it can incorporate local perceptions, values and cultures into policy design and implementation system. This localized, unique sustainability approach may also lead to reverse innovation which can be shared at the global level and can be more solution oriented in the developing countries. Figure 3 depicts such a platform and its functions.
Figure 3: Mechanism for Think, Act Local and Share Global
Source: Author’s representation
The notion of ‘best practices’ needs to be considered with caution here. Gmelin (2001) argued that local problem perceptions and solutions have to be part of the local settings and processes. The term ‘best practice’ for knowledge sharing and knowledge management is, thus, better suited in local environment at regional and national level where the ground conditions will not vary to a greater extent. As Stone (2001) argued, “… a critical component of the relevance of global thinking is the strength of national and local intellectual communities to re-interpret and adapt thinking to their cultural context and country conditions … without local input and re-fashioning of global knowledge, its application can be inappropriate, misconceived and perverse …”. This can be extended to some extent within the country groupings - developed and developing. The focus, therefore, should be on sharing practices rather than advocating the best practices.
The author is Project Associate, NIPFP.
The views expressed in the post are those of the author only. No responsibility for them should be attributed to NIPFP.