'National effort, global cooperation a must to meet SDGs'

Kathmandu, February 12

Unprecedented national effort and international cooperation in action, than in rhetoric, are required for the country to achieve the United Nations’ comprehensive and ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a national report on SDG prepared by the National Planning Commission (NPC) says.

SDGs — a follow-up on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expired at the end of 2015 — are a set of 17 goals and 169 targets covering a broad range of sustainable development issues. These goals have to be met by 2030.

SDGs primarily aim to end all forms of poverty and hunger from the world — although Nepal has set a target of reducing the level of absolute poverty to five per cent by 2030. They also aim to promote well-being for all at all ages, lifelong learning, sustainable industrialisation, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all.

Some other goals include: reducing inequality within and among countries; making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns; and taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

These goals have the potential to change face of the country as they focus on bridging inequality of all forms, raising access to basic public services, ensuring access to justice and sustainable economic development.

However, the SDGs are not stand-alone goals, and achievement or underachievement of one goal has implications to the achievement of several other goals.

In order to achieve the goal on agriculture, for instance, the country needs to achieve goals on absolute poverty, education, health, environment and inequality.

“As there is already an overlap among goals and targets, it is necessary that goal specific and cross cutting interventions are properly specified, implemented and monitored,” says the report.

In this regard, a large number of surveys have to be conducted in the next few years to bridge the data gap and create base line data for goals that lack database.

Once these tasks are completed, appropriate strategies and programmes need to be designed and implemented.

“For instance, eradicating poverty in Nepal by 2030 requires two-pronged strategy — expediting economic growth and ensuring distribution of income through policy interventions in the labour and financial markets along with expansion of social protection,” says report.

Also, experience of implementing MDGs has shown that the governments at both central and sub-national levels, political parties, people’s representatives and community-based organisations should be made more responsible and accountable towards the citizens; people should be empowered to participate in all processes of decision making and at all levels of governance; and there should be zero tolerance to corruption, malpractices and misappropriation of public resources.

Executing all these tasks requires huge financial resources.

Currently, the government relies on taxation and domestic borrowing to mobilise domestic resources. “But efforts to mobilise either of them in a scaled-up manner has serious macroeconomic implications,” says the report.

“For instance, resorting more to indirect taxation and widening tax base or rate may exert additional financial burden on the poor because indirect taxes, by their nature, are regressive. Similarly, excessive reliance on domestic borrowing might crowd out private sector investment, which, in turn, is required to meet many SDGs.”

Also, the government does not have the space to raise more revenue because Nepal’s revenue to GDP ratio already stands at over 17 per cent. “To raise more revenue, the tax base, or the GDP itself, needs to be raised,” says the report.

And to give a boost to the GDP, Nepal requires huge investment in infrastructure development to create a minimum condition for industrial investment.

“But given that public resources are overstressed, it is crucial that external resources and foreign direct investments are channelled towards these areas to unlock the infrastructure bottleneck for industrialisation and economic growth,” says the report, adding, “Substantial national, regional and global efforts will be necessary for developing quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure, including regional and trans-border infrastructure, to support economic development and human well-being.”

In this regard, the international community should work closely to implement the country strategy, notes the report.

“Learning from the past, the external financing of the SDGs must take into account these measures: First, aid commitment should be an integral part of SDGs implementation strategy. Second, aid will have to be untied and will have to be made fungible enough to finance the programmes of national priority. Third, aid will have to be channelled through the national budget and any sub-national level aid will have to be tailored to local priorities and programmes,” says the report.

“Also, aid for trade needs to be scaled up and effectively implemented, as low exports and loss of competitiveness are likely to exert pressure on external sector balance and foreign exchange availability, which are crucial to finance imports essential for the implementation of SDGs.”