A Serious Idea the G20 Should Consider: A Sustainable World Commission to Achieve the 17 SDGs

It took me weeks to develop the idea and many, many discussions with friends willing to listen to me and read all my various drafts. Here is the result, just published on Impakter:

A (Non) Modest Proposal for the G20: A Sustainable World Commission to Achieve the SDGs 

by Claude Forthomme – Senior Editor

The next G20 Summit Meeting of heads of state will be held in Rome on Oct. 30 and 31, 2021, under the Italian G20 Presidency. The agenda, with the title “People, Planet, Prosperity”, addresses major obstacles to achieving a sustainable world; a series of lower-level “working” meetings prepares the Summit, including, most recently: G20 Empower to identify measures to accelerate women’s empowerment; the Youth 20 Inception Meeting to open a two-month (virtual) dialogue for young delegates (between 20 and 30 years of age) to discuss global challenges; the G20 TechSprint Initiative under the sponsorship of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) Innovation Hub and the Bank of Italy focusing on the most pressing challenges in green and sustainable finance.

With “People, Planet, and Prosperity” focused on achieving a sustainable world, the G-20 agenda is fully in line with the United Nations 2030 Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that covers the whole gamut of sustainability issues from environment/climate change to social justice issues and economic development. The hope is that this G20 meeting will be powerful enough to move us toward a more sustainable world as defined by the SDGs – something we all seek, including advanced industrialized countries, according to the latest OECD paper calling for a “Green Transition”.

But how to get there? The time has come to decide not what should be done – the UN 2030 Agenda tells us that – but how to do it.

No doubt, there are many possible solutions, but here, I offer a (non) modest proposal. Not modest because it is very ambitious. But it has the advantage of being practical. And it is addressed to the G20 and everyone involved in the run-up to the upcoming Summit. 

Why the G20? Because today this is the one international organism most representative of the world’s geopolitical composition, as it includes both the most important leaders and the largest economies. 

The idea is simple and could be summarized in five points:

  • The goal of a sustainable world has been clearly spelled out in the UN 2030 Agenda and the 17 SDGs but the implementation – how to get there – has been left in the hands of national governments: 
  • No international organization as presently organized is equipped to carry through the necessary coordination to achieve the 17 SDGs; the UN cannot deliver, it has no coercive authority over its member states and in the hands of geopolitical powers;
  • A new governance system needs to be set up to achieve the 17 SDGs, an international institution able to coordinate national governments in a way that the United Nations system cannot: Strong, independent, and innovative, it could be modeled after a successful government agency such as NASA was after it was tasked by President Kennedy to take a man to the moon ;
  • Call it the Commission for a Sustainable World (CSW); while it could follow the NASA model, it would be mandated to achieve a far bigger task – namely, to make the world sustainable for eight billion people – and therefore require adequate funding and regulatory powers;  
  • The CSW must be independent like the European Commission is in its relations with EU member states; it would report on progress to the UN General Assembly and the G20, subject to review, say every 3-5 years, and limited in duration by a “sunset clause” to ensure that once the SDGs are achieved, the CSW would be terminated.

The key idea here is that the CSW is a hybrid institution, modeled after the European Commission but anchored in the UN systemyet much stronger than the UN. 

But it should not become a permanent new international organization or replace the UN.

Also, the CSW would pose no threat to national sovereignty as it would only operate in the areas agreed to by the UN General Assembly: UN 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. That means only two broad areas: The environment (which includes Climate Change) and social justice. And the CSW would regularly report to the UN and the G20 (should the G20 take it upon itself to promote and fund it) and be subject to review to ensure that management flexibility does not cause it to sink into corruption and that it remains within its mandate.

A note of caution: Some flexibility will be needed as the SDGs’ general timeframe is 2030 except for SDG13 (Climate Action) that includes the Paris Climate Agreement’s target to achieve zero-net emissions set at 2050. Also, problems evolve and unexpected events occur – for example, the COVID pandemic was barely mentioned under SDG#3. It would seem wise therefore to have the Commission established for at least 10-15 years. By going for even 10 years you have it running beyond the 2030 Agenda’s current life.

The goal is to give the new governance system a chance to show its worth and, if need be, adapt it to new circumstances. Here is what it would take to create such an institution. And it starts with our changing view of the role of government.

Sounds like a good idea? Interested in finding out more about the Sustainable World Commission? Click here to read the rest.

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