This SDG Knowledge Weekly brief reviews content released in the margins of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), structured by Goal. The inputs focus on SDGs 4 (quality education), 8 (decent work and economic growth) and 10 (reduced inequalities). Future briefs will address Goals 13, 16 and elements of 17.

Key messages from the 2019 HLPF indicated that the world has not collectively matched the ambition level needed to achieve the SDGs, as noted by IISD Reporting Services’ summary of the Forum. The official HLPF programme overview is available here, while the annotated programme, containing descriptions and speaker lists, is here. A list of official side events is available here. Over 120 written statements submitted by NGOs also fed into the discussions.

SDG 4 (Quality Education)

The HLPF’s review of SDG 4 took place on 9 July, and is summarized on the SDG Knowledge Hub here. To inform the discussion, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) published a report titled, ‘Beyond Commitments: How countries implement SDG 4.’ Based on an analysis of questionnaires submitted by 72 governments, the paper distills the types of national policies that best align with education targets under the SDGs. The report collates 18 recommendations under six areas to improve progress towards Goal 4, emphasizing the need to go beyond: averages – to ensuring equity and inclusion; access – to ensuring quality and learning; the basics – to ensuring that content is fit for sustainable development; schooling – to promoting lifelong learning; education – to working across sectors; and countries – to international cooperation. The publication was prepared by the Global Monitoring Report team under the auspices of the SDG-Education 2030 Steering Committee.

Two additional UNESCO publications were launched around the HLPF – a companion report to the above, co-produced with the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, which analyzes countries’ progress towards their education commitments under the SDGs, and a six-part cartoon that highlights the links and synergies among education and other Goal areas. A post by UNESCO leaders on the World Economic Forum (WEF) blog summarizes several of the statistical findings and recommendations of the companion report, noting that business as usual will not deliver global education goals.

Another UNESCO report looks at migration and displacement, covered by SDG target 4.5, which calls for ensuring equal access to education for vulnerable people. Titled, ‘Migration, Displacement and Education: Building bridges, not walls,’ the report was launched in Ramallah, Palestine. It finds that numbers of school-age migrant and refugee children have grown by 26% since the year 2000, and highlights country examples of efforts to step in. For example, Lebanon has doubled its schools’ capacity in the wake of the Syrian crisis, opening its classrooms to 214,000 students. A more detailed write-up of the report is available on the SDG Knowledge Hub.

Linking education to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), WaterAid published a blog calling for closer integration of SDGs 4 and 6 (clean water and sanitation). The post refers to Sierra Leone’s Voluntary National Review (VNR) which highlights the launch of the country’s Medium Term National Development Plan 2019–2023, titled ‘Education for Development,’ and outlines how governments, donors and development partners aim to more closely integrate the two Goals.

A paper by Education International titled, ‘Off Track: Educators assess progress towards SDG 4,’ argues that “failure … is not inevitable,” and identifies five key obstacles to progress in the areas of early childhood, primary and secondary education, technical and vocational education training, equity, and education for sustainable development. These obstacles are: 1) low status and poor working conditions for teachers, which reduce the profession’s appeal; 2) inadequate involvement of teachers in policy development, and violations of human and trade union rights; 3) underfunding of the public system and the intensifying of education privatization; 4) inequitable education systems; and 5) marginalization of education for sustainable development.

SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth)

The HLPF’s review of SDG 8 took place on 10 July. The SDG Knowledge Hub summary is here.

Released by the International Labour Organization (ILO), the report titled, ‘Time to Act for SDG 8: Integrating Decent Work, Sustained Growth and Environmental Integrity,’ reviews progress made towards Goal 8 to date, focusing on 11 sub-regions of the world. The report notes that progress is uneven—and slowing—in many parts of the world, measured primarily in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), but also with respect to employment levels, gender pay gaps, fairness and respect for workers’ rights.

The International Organisation of Employers (IOE), the US Council for International Business (USCIB) and Deloitte published a joint report titled, ‘Reaching SDG 8: Challenges, opportunities, actions.’ The authors highlight five actions by which business federations and the private sector could help localize the SDGs: 1) raise awareness, particularly through innovative digital campaigns that engage small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs); 2) organize town halls that bridge corporate and local communities, as well as connect public and private institutions; 3) lobby governments to work on SDG 8-centered strategies; 4) offer workshops on the basics of the SDGs and how they can be applied to or integrated within businesses and their strategies; and 5) prioritize and focus on the issues and Goals that are most relevant to one’s business.

Pushing back against the idea of “green growth,” the European Environment Bureau (EEB) released a report by authors from several European and North American research centers and academic institutions titled, ‘Decoupling Debunked: Evidence and arguments against green growth as a sole strategy for sustainability.’ The report reviews empirical and theoretical literature, concluding that “not only is there no empirical evidence supporting the existence of a decoupling of economic growth from environmental pressures on anywhere near the scale needed to deal with environmental breakdown, but also, and perhaps more importantly, such decoupling appears unlikely to happen in the future.”

The report does not explicitly refer to SDG 8, but the argument seems to present a contrast with the concept of “sustainable economic growth” that is called for within the Goal. This idea is further explored in a summary blog by Nick Meynen for EEB.

SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities)

Progress towards SDG 10 was the subject of review by the HLPF on 11 July. See a summary on the SDG Knowledge Hub here.

This year’s Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), developed by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) at the University of Oxford, focuses on the theme, ‘Illuminating inequalities.’ Multidimensional poverty, as defined by OPHI, extends beyond financial wealth/income, to include deprivations such as health, nutrition, access to clean water or electricity, or education.

The MPI collates data for 101 countries and covers 76% of the global population. The report includes case studies and a detailed analysis of the growth of those furthest behind (the bottom 40%, which is the subject of SDG target 10.1). The findings suggest that nearly a quarter of the population covered by the Index is multidimensionally poor, and two thirds of these people reside in middle-income countries (MICs). It further finds variation of multidimensional poverty within countries, noting that instances at the province level in Uganda range from 6% to 96.3% (which match those of other countries in the region). The SDG Knowledge Hub further explores this report here.

An op-ed on Project Syndicate by Mahmoud Mohieldin and Carolina Sánchez-Páramo of the World Bank Group calls tackling inequality “a political choice.” Similar to the MPI’s findings, the authors highlight that in-country inequality has risen since 1990, and major disparities exist in terms of food and nutrition, health care, education, land and other prerequisites of “a full and dignified life.”

The authors emphasize that countries that have prioritized inequality reduction are indeed achieving progress on SDG 10. The article outlines findings and actions described during a preparatory meeting that fed into the official review of the Goal at the HLPF, which was reported on by the SDG Knowledge Hub. These include identifying and eliminating discriminatory laws, investing in and moving towards progressive taxation systems, and soliciting the perspectives of underprivileged citizens when making policy, among others.

Finally, looking across several of the SDGs under review at the HLPF including SDG 4 and 8, a series of case studies by Southern Voice analyzes progress in six countries, as part of the organization’s ‘State of the SDGs’ research initiative. The case studies, which focus on Bolivia, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Peru and Sri Lanka, were released at an event held 12 July 2019 in New York, US. A more detailed write-up is available on the SDG Knowledge Hub.

Additional issues of the SDG Knowledge Weekly can be found here.