Mª Luisa Gil Payno, Coordinator of Development Organisations, Coordinadora ONGD in Spain Forus' member

The challenges laid down in the 2030 Agenda bring us face-to-face with an escapable truth. We urgently need to rethink and transform public policies in order to cope with the ecological collapse and systematic inequalities generated by the hegemonic development model; all policies, of all countries, and in all territorial areas (local, regional, national and international). 

We say all public policies because for a long time development has mainly been identified with cooperation policies and, more recently (since the 1990s almost until 2015), with the policies of the developed countries that have the greatest impact on developing countries, such as those related to trade or migration. Behind them is a linear concept of development which sees it as a state reached by certain (developed) countries that other (developing) countries should reach.1 This idea was at the foundation of the previous development agenda, articulated around the Millennium Development Goals. 

The 2030 Agenda breaks away from this view of development. The new agenda calls on all countries (assuming that today no country is fully or properly developed), urging them to make far-reaching changes in the way they act, that is, in their public policies2. 

It was also usual, in line with this rationale based on the division of the world into developed and developing countries, for attention to focus mainly on state-level policies, because they have a greater influence on countries in the South, thus relegating sub-state policies to second place in the promotion of sustainable development. The goals and targets covered by the 2030 Agenda indicate something different, because to a great degree they refer directly to competencies that in many countries are in the hands of local and regional governments.  

The 2030 Agenda requires that all public policies, whether traditionally considered ‘national’ or ‘international’, of so-called ‘developed’ or ‘developing’ countries, and at both ‘state’ and ‘sub-state’ levels, be reviewed and reframed considering sustainability criteria and adopting a cosmopolitan and feminist viewpoint. 

We need public policies that are consistent with sustainable development, policies that have at their heart the wellbeing of people and the sustainability of the planet. They have to be designed and implemented taking into account their effects both inside and outside the frontiers that delimit the territory where they are applied, recognising that, in the global world we live in, governments’ responsibilities go beyond such frontiers. They have to fight and not reproduce gender inequality, and must be oriented towards guaranteeing human rights for all. 

We therefore need a new way of seeing and comprehending the world. So it is essential for us to use studies and measurement tools and systems to help us monitor policies from these points of view. 

The Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development Index (PCSDI) is a tool being set up by the Spanish Development NGO umbrella group and the Spanish Network for Development Studies (REEDES) with the aim of measuring countries’ performance in sustainable development policy coherence. 

The latest edition of this index, the report on which was published in late 2019, offers a ranking of 148 countries in order of the degree to which their public policies include the sustainability, feminist and cosmopolitan standpoints. 

The PCSDI evaluates, for each country, 19 public policies which aim to be representative of its governmental action as a whole, based on 57 indicators. These measure both positive and negative aspects of public policies for sustainable development in order to capture any ambivalence and contradictions in such processes. The policies are also analysed from a multi-dimensional viewpoint, taking into account social, economic, environmental and political criteria in each of them. 

The index is based on five components (economic, social, environmental, global and productive) which also serve as independent rankings. 

According to the index, greater economic coherence is associated with sound, redistributive fiscal policies that help to guarantee social rights for the whole population and to fight inequality; and with financial policies at the service of people (men and women), fight financial opacity and do not contribute to the financialization of the economy. This is measured using indicators such as the level of government revenue, the financial secrecy index of the Tax Justice Network, the variation in the Gini index pre and post-tax and transfers, or the oversizing of the banking sector, among others. The countries with the best scores in this area are three Nordic countries – Finland, Denmark and Norway. 

In the social field, the countries showing the greatest coherence are those that have good-quality, universal, public social services and sound systems for social protection and that guarantee decent employment and equitable access to new technologies and information, all in line with gender equality criteria. The best performance in this area is observed in European countries, especially the Nordic countries, which are in the lead in this ranking. The low-income and very low-income countries, most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa, are in the lowest positions. 

The index also measures, in the global component, countries’ compliance with their commitments to global democratic governance and human rights and the degree of militarization of their societies. This is evaluated using indicators such as ratification of the main treaties relating to human rights and international justice, the level of military spending as a percentage of GDP, and nuclear and heavy weapons capabilities, among others. The countries with the worst scores in global governance and human rights are Saudi Arabia, Oman, Pakistan and Israel, which are in the last four positions. 

The environmental component analyses countries’ ecological footprint and their commitment to renewable energies and the main international environmental treaties. The indicators used include the biocapacity reserve or deficit, the ecological footprint of production or imports and carbon dioxide emissions. This component reflects today’s ecological crisis and shows the lowest scores, with no country exceeding 70 points over 100. It may well be the component that affords the most disruptive results with high-income countries, such as Qatar, Kuwait, Belgium, United States or Singapore, being in the lowest positions of the ranking. 

Finally, the productive component of the index refers to countries’ provision and soundness of infrastructure and production sectors, also taking into account their environmental and social equilibrium. This component includes indicators that measure access to services such as water, electricity, sanitation and the internet; the level of air pollution; extraction of fresh water for industrial use, and the ratification of the ILO agreement on rights to organise and collective bargaining. As with the social component, the worst scores in this area are for low-income and medium-low income countries, most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

In addition to the information collected by analysis of each component, the real potential of the index is probably that it allows for comparisons to be made between the various dimensions of development processes as well as identification of the main contradictions, tensions and trade-offs between them in the various countries and geopolitical regions. 

Some of these analyses are included in the latest report on the index, entitled ‘The unpostponable way forward’, which is available together with the ranking, data and methodology for building the index on the website at https://www.icpds.info/en/. 

Among the main findings of the report is the fact that approximately 76% of the countries analysed are at very low, low, or medium-low levels of coherence. This means that, in general terms, when countries draw up or implement their public policies, they do not give sufficient consideration to sustainable development, a result consistent with the 2030 Agenda. The main challenges, moreover, are observed in the environmental sphere, especially for the so-called developed countries, which are those that are largely responsible for the ecological impact on the planet. Finally, the results of the report show that we need alternative models throughout the planet. Even countries such as Norway that are usually considered a model to be followed in that they guarantee an acceptable level of wellbeing for a large proportion of their population has low scores in the environmental component. This indicates that such models are neither sustainable nor universally applicable. 

The index thus offers elements for analysis that can help us better understand the transformations that should guide public policies so that we can progress towards implementation of a truly transformative 2030 Agenda. 

Dossier Galde 28. The Agenda debate