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Significance of SDGs and India’s Evolving Global Role

Dr Arpita Anant was Associate Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • November 08, 2019

    The first review of the Agenda 2030 or the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015 was held on September 24-25, 2019 at the SDG Summit with some follow-up meetings taking place until mid-October 2019. It was preceded by a related review conference on the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the third Financing for Development (FFD) Conference in April 2019. The two are held in parallel as the FFD process is aimed at garnering domestic and external sources of finance for achieving the SDGs. The progress made by India in implementing the SDGs was documented in India’s first voluntary national review that was submitted to the High Level Political Forum on the SDGs in 2017.1 The report also highlighted the measures adopted to spruce up the domestic resources through mainly internal tax reforms. The second report on progress will be presented at the High Level Political Forum in 2020.

    As mentioned in the 2017 national review report, India is making the effort to ensure that its impressive growth trickles down to the last man standing through proactive state interventions. At both the review conferences, India’s representatives in the United Nations (UN) highlighted the domestic actions and flagship schemes that have had a notable impact. The National Institution for Transforming India or NITI Aayog, the nodal agency for implementing the SDGs, has launched the India Index2, an online dashboard, which monitors the implementation of the SDGs at the state level. It also provides incentives to the states, bringing in competition to better their performance. As of now, the states of Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and the union territories of Chandigarh and Puducherry are the front-runners with high composite scores, relating to thirteen of the seventeen goals that have been used to prepare the dashboard.3 Their scores are in the range of 65-69 of the total 100 points. On individual goals, the scores go much higher in states other than the front runners. Some states have even achieved the targets on individual goals.

    Table 1: States and Goals with a Score of 1004

    S.No. State/Union Territory Goals Achieved
    1. Assam 1.Goal 15: Life on Land
    2. Chandigarh 1.Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
    3. Chhattisgarh 1.Goal 15: Life on Land
    4. Daman and Diu 1.Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities
    5. Dadra and Nagar Haveli 1.Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

    2.Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities

    3.Goal 15: Life on Land
    6 Delhi 1.Goal 9: Industry Innovation and Infrastructure
    7. Goa 1.Goal 15: Life on Land
    8. Gujarat 1.Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
    9. Lakshadweep 1.Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

    2.Goal 15: Life on Land
    10. Manipur 1.Goal 15: Life on Land
    11. Meghalaya 1.Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities
    12. Mizoram 1.Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities
    13. Odisha 1.Goal 15: Life on Land
    14. Puducherry 1.Goal 9: Industry Innovation and Infrastructure
    15. Uttarakhand 1.Goal 15: Life on Land

    The FFD and SDGs processes, however, are not only important for the synergies they bring to the actual achievement of goals. Their significance also lies in what they bring to the high table of global governance of development.


    In the yesteryears, issues of the have-nots that were pushed onto to the agenda of the UN by countries of the South was often regarded as instances of “the tyranny of the majority” by the North. Notwithstanding the ideological turn to liberalism by many countries of the South, their issues did not fade away. “Embedded liberalism” therefore needed to find ways of addressing the quandaries of the new entrants to the liberal order. As a result of efforts from within the UN system, as well as flexible responses of the North and the South, a discursive middle ground on issues of development seems to have been arrived at. The FFD and SDG processes represent this middle ground.

    The beginning of this process was in the mid-1990s, and the first notable achievement was the Monterrey Consensus of 2002, which, uniquely, was arrived at with the substantial involvement of Bretton Woods Institutions. It was accepted that the needs of the liberal South required special attention from the North, but that the South itself needed to do much more to address its issues and could choose its own ways to do so. That set the ball rolling for a renewed focus on the importance of the official development assistance (ODA), a fairer system of international taxation, etc., which had been a part of the Southern discourse for decades. The adoption of the SDGs even resulted in a complete revamping of the UN system for providing development assistance with the new system being unveiled in January 2019. It is important to highlight some aspects of India’s role in this process.

    India’s Role

    Ideationally, as gleaned from interactions with the officials of the ministry of external affairs, India made three conscious contributions to the SDG and FFD processes. India argued for the adoption of nationally determined indicators for the SDG goals, thus ensuring that nations remained committed to the goals adopted and the goals themselves were achievable. It also pushed for greater sensibility towards women’s requirements in the adoption of the SDGs. And finally, it pushed for the creation of a Technology Facilitation Mechanism (TFM) to further the achievement of the SDGs. The significance of these is evident from the fact that all the three eventually found a place in the outcome documents of the processes.

    Diplomatically, India participated in these processes as part of the G77, a group of developing countries or the South that was formed in the 1960s and was responsible in part for the “tyranny” referred to earlier. On some issues, these countries had the support of some developed countries as well. Within the group though, India’s commitment to South-South Cooperation too has come of age. India has set up the India-UN Development Partnership Fund by providing US$150 million for it. The Fund works to promote the SDGs in developing countries and functions on the principles of South-South Cooperation. Since its inception in March 2017, 38 projects have been identified with 36 partner countries, and 29 are at various stages of implementation. India’s funding helps track progress through data collection on achieving the targets related to the SDGs. A sum of $176 million has been committed to the Fund for the next decade to focus on developmental projects in the least developed countries (LDCs), landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) and small island developing States (SIDS) in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe.

    As highlighted in the report of the Fund, the projects cover a range of thematic areas such as climate resilience, environmental sustainability, gender equality, renewable energy, improving women’s and maternal health, water and sanitation, education, employment and livelihoods, disaster recovery and risk management, and agricultural development and infrastructure.5 India also supports the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development through the India-UN Development Partnership Fund.

    Institutionally, India has demonstrated a bold commitment to multilateralism by providing funding to the UN Tax Trust Fund since its establishment in 2017; bold as it is the only country to have done so. An amount of $100,000 has been provided for two consecutive years. At a special meeting of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on International Cooperation in Tax Matters in April 2019, the Indian representative explained that in addition to the major tasks at hand like the UN Model Double Taxation Convention between Developed and Developing Countries, and the mutual agreement procedure for dispute avoidance and resolution, the Transfer Pricing Manual, the Extractive Industries Handbook, the Manual for the Negotiation of Bilateral Tax Treaties, etc., the Council should especially focus on the issue that is going to impact the developing countries the most i.e. tax consequences of the digitised economy on the achievement of SDGs.

    An Enduring Lineage

    On all three parameters – ideational, diplomatic and institutional – India’s role is a continuation of a long lineage. In the realm of ideas, India has long been associated with contributions to international norms that have upheld the economic sovereignty of developing countries. Diplomatically, India has worked mostly with the G77 coalition on economic matters which overtime has found a way of arriving at consensus statements that benefit the least well off and do not harm the better off. Institutionally, since the inception of Bretton Woods Institutions and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) outside the purview of the UN, India’s endeavour has always been to strengthen the role of the UN in economic matters through the establishment of forums such as the Special United Nations Fund for Economic Development (SUNFED) for transfer of technology and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) for ensuring that the trading system is deferential to the developmental requirements of the Southern nations.

    While the UNCTAD endures with partial successes, the SUNFED, similar to initiatives like the New International Economic Order (NIEO), was not successful for lack of support from the developed world despite the adoption of General Assembly resolutions. It therefore remains to be seen if this renewed attempt at seeking financial support for achieving the SDGs, this time being worked through the ECOSOC, will succeed.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.