Sustainable Livelihoods and
excitement and attention given to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
is not a surprise. It is almost like what happens when a new toy is
given to a child. In his initial excitement, he is trying to grasp all
its features. After a certain time, the excitement of the toy goes low
and it joins one amongst the many stacked. Many times, it happens that
the child in exploring the features of the toy, breaks a part of the toy
like the leg of a camel toy or the battery holder of a new car or the
whole toy making it non-functional.
This is close to what is happening to the
development discourse with respect to the SDGs at the global, national
and sub-national levels. Institutions, world organisations, policy
makers have time and again committed to better futures for people -
Millennium Development Goals, Aichi Biodiversity Targets, Paris
Agreement are some such commitments along with Sustainable Development
Goals. Some of the challenges with implementing such ambitious
commitments include two that are analogical to the child-toy example:
There is a chance that governments may
start with some excitement and make ambitious plans but soon get bored
of the new definitions, branding and publicity.
The other challenging possibility is that
governments while trying to understand what SDGs are; may break its leg.
Breaking its leg, in this case means the way that the governments
understand, design and plan for SDGs thus making it look more of a
liability than an asset. The governments could also get swayed away from
the new agenda distracted with other narratives and fore-tales that may
The purpose is not to picture a dim view of
the development reality but to learn strategic factors to make SDG
planning an instrument and not a road block for achieving sustainable
What is surely not helping us to achieve
Sustainable Development Goals?
No separate fund, SDGs doomed to fail!
Many state and central government officials,
in general are of the view that there is very little incentive for the
governments to act upon SDGs, given that there isnt any financial
incentive in shape of a project or an extra fund that they can expect
because of it. Following up on that, officials are of the opinion that
for SDGs to really become an incentive for state governments to follow,
there should be an extra pool of funds, dedicated solely for the
achievement of SDGs.
If we look back into historical cases
(Millennium Development Goals), such identified funds are usually used
to conduct small pilot projects to present a model for larger transition
towards desired development. Here is why we at the Development
Alternatives Group think such an approach will not work in favour of
Pilot projects can provide insights on how
to design flagship programmes that helps in realising the expected
outcomes. But the view of the state governments is usually that pilot
projects enable them to taste innovations on the ground but the main
business of the government must go as usual. Thinking of a new SDGs fund
with this mind set can only gather some good case studies but can
massively impede systemic goals towards achieving SDGs.
The problem is as big as the public
finance and budgets of India; or may be bigger. This is important to
understand that we surely do not have enough money to continue business
as usual. Will an extra pool of fund carved from current budgets and aid
resolve this? Possibly no. A study estimates the gap to be of the order
of USD 570 billion. To put this in perspective, the gap is almost equal
to the annual combined budget expenditure of central and state budgets
in India. Is India going to get aid support from developed nations?
Possibility is again not in the favour of India, given Indias growing
economy and the fact that it is moving towards being a donor country as
opposed to a recipient country when it comes to aid.
So pilot projects may not be able to
influence systemic shifts required to achieve SDGs and India will
perhaps never be able to generate finance of the order required to
achieve SDGs in a business as usual approach. In such a case, the view
of state officials that SDGs are nothing but a mere new communication
development jargon is not surprising. Even at the global level, similar
concerns have been raised.
What can possibly work in realising
Sustainable Development Goals?
While there are radical imaginations of the
future of the world and there are many valid critiques to our current
approach to realise sustainable development; there are some
possibilities that may help us take steps that get us closer to
sustainability. These are detailed as follows:
Aim for investing in areas which
provide multiple benefits, such as those that result in cleaner
production, improved skills, greener jobs and have positive spill-over
impacts on other avenues of development.
Aim to do more with less i.e look
at technology options that are resource efficient, economically
efficient and market drivers that build an understanding of sufficiency
To scope it in the case of livelihoods, some
specific points to ponder on are as follows:
Government Flagship Programmes -
National Flagship Programmes like National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM)
and National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM) will have to not just
track for number of jobs generated but assess the jobs created on how
they are servicing the local needs of the population, how are they
ensuring environmentally safe operations etc. Further to that, in the
high risk age of climate change, it is also critical to see whether
these jobs ensure safe and minimal risk income to the households.
Incentives and Regulations - Being
one of the fastest growing economies today, India is an economic hotspot
in the world. By virtue of that, India attracts foreign financial
capital and investment. These investments tend to incentivise economic
efficiencies. Various trends from India and the world validate that such
efficiencies tend to replace labour with capital. For India to safeguard
its livelihoods, it therefore is of critical importance that we balance
economic gains against social value of livelihood generation.
Education and Sustainable Living -
Efforts to design meaningful interventions to enable creativity, culture
and happiness quotient in the citizens of the country plays a
significant role. This will also enable changes in patterns of
inequities with excess labour exploitation on one hand and unemployment
on the other.
While these are some of the quick snippets
on possibilities, the idea is to look at all dimensions of development
environmental, social, economic, spiritual to determine policy choices
for generating sustainable livelihoods in the country.
Anshul S Bhamra
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