On 1 January 2016, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) succeeded the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as the new set of Internationally-Agreed Development Goals (IADG) that will serve as yardsticks for global development efforts for the next 15 years. The SDGs provide a platform for advancing the achievements recorded with the MDGs while making development boarder in scope than it was under the MDGs. Moving from eight goals and 22 targets under the MDGs, nations and indeed the world are now pursuing an ambitious agenda for sustainable development with 17 goals and 169 targets.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides yet an opportunity for the Caribbean to further its sustainable development vision. Since the Barbados Programme of Action to the SAMOA Pathway, the peculiarities of and challenges to sustainable development in Small Island Developing States (SIDS), including those of the Caribbean, have been emphasized. In recent times, however, the international community has been challenging SIDS and other developing countries to take ownership of their own sustainable development and be more accountable for the progress made in achieving same. National governments are expected to mainstream the SDGs in their development plans as well as devise strategies to achieve these goals within their national context and circumstances. Regional and Subregional organizations are also expected to provide support and coordination for regional follow-up and review mechanisms.
The ECLAC Subregional Headquarters for the Caribbean kick-started this process in June 2015 by hosting a Symposium on sustainable development goals for the Caribbean within the post-2015 development agenda in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. ECLAC also commissioned a study on “The Caribbean and the post-2015 development agenda” which provided an in-depth review of sustainable development in the Caribbean and set the tone for Member Countries and Associate Members’ consideration of a set of SDGs as priorities for the subregion. In addition, across all themes, the symposium underscored the paucity of data in the subregion for sustainable development planning, monitoring and evaluation as a major obstacle. Symposium participants emphasized the need for quality, timely and accessible data for monitoring the achievement of the SDGs. This is squarely in line with the Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development’s proclamation that:
Data are the lifeblood of decision-making and the raw material for accountability. Without high-quality data providing the right information on the right things at the right time; designing, monitoring and evaluating effective policies becomes almost impossible. (A World That Counts, November 2014, p.2).
At the global level, the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators (IAEG-SDG) is finalizing a global indicator framework for the SDGs and the associated targets. Once concluded, this framework will provide a template for countries to develop national and subnational level indicators as appropriate but in line with the 2030 Agenda. Complementing the work of the IAEG-SDG is the High-level Group for Partnership, Coordination and Capacity-Building for Post-2015 Monitoring tasked with promoting national ownership of the post-2015 monitoring system and fostering statistical-capacity building, partnership and coordination. Implementing the recommendations of these two Groups in the Caribbean will demand a regional approach of knowledge-sharing, inter-agency coordination, and statistical capacity-building.
ECLAC is poised to play a key coordinating role as the regional mechanism for monitoring the SDGs in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). In the Caribbean, the ECLAC Subregional Headquarters will convene an inter-agency taskforce on SDG monitoring. This group will assist Member and Associate Member Countries in implementing the global SDG indicator framework at the national and sub-national levels to enhance knowledge-sharing among Caribbean countries, bring efficiency to the implementation of the framework in the subregion, and facilitate subregional concordance in the national SDG indicators used for global reporting.
As we continue to take stock of the achievements recorded by the Caribbean with the MDGs, we should realise areas of shortcoming and acknowledge the challenges that lie ahead in the implementation of the SDGs. With many countries in the subregion grappling with high levels of public debt and fiscal deficits, financing the SDGs will constitute a major challenge in the years ahead and this could have implications for the attainment of these targets. We need to be well-positioned and enabled to show how the Caribbean stands, not just within the LAC region, but in comparison with other SIDS as well as other middle- and high-income countries, for the sustainable development story of the Caribbean to be fully told. This means that disaggregated data should be made available, and on a timely basis for the many indicators that will be agreed on for measuring progress towards the achievement of the goals and targets.
It will no longer be sufficient to claim that eradicating extreme poverty and hunger is not a relevant goal for the Caribbean, when most countries do not have poverty data although unemployment is high and rising in some countries. No longer will we be content that the Caribbean has attained Universal Primary Education simply because we have high enrolment rates. The SDGs will require that we show that children, youth, and adults have achieved literacy and numeracy by achieving minimum proficiency levels commensurate with their level of education.
These are by no means easy tasks given the current state of the National Statistical Systems but they are not insurmountable either. What is needed is an early appreciation of the tasks that lie ahead and for governments, and indeed all stakeholders, to make the necessary investments in statistical capacity and institutions that will prove critical in implementing a successful SDG monitoring framework.