To break the current trends of shrinking democratic space and increased inequality, it is important to ensure that the emergency powers – although vital in protecting health – are not used to shrink the democratic space.
Parliamentarians have a key role to play in the SDG decade of delivery
by Stephen Twigg, former chair of the International Development Select Committee in the UK House of Commons
Between 2015 and 2019 I chaired the House of Commons International Development Select Committee (the IDC). It was a privilege to do so and I learned a lot about the huge challenges we face if we are to address seriously the profound issues posed by poverty, inequality and climate change. I have now stood down as an MP but I will remain focused on these challenges.
In December, it was my pleasure to join Anthony Smith and the WFD Indonesia team at the annual Bali Democracy Forum (BDF). Whilst the Bali weather provided a welcome respite from the British winter, the mood at the Civil Society and Media Forum was not entirely sunny: its theme was “Rising Exclusivity and Declining Democracy”.
We were presented with the “Global State of Democracy 2019” report from International IDEA (the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance). Its opening line provides a snappy diagnosis and a clear call for action – “Democracy is ill and its promise needs revival”. The report describes a process of “democratic erosion” affecting both old and new democracies, with a shrinking civic space, restrictions on civil society, and limits on freedom of expression.
Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG16) is a hugely significant commitment because it makes an explicit connection between global development and the importance of peace, justice and good governance. Prior to the UK General Election, the IDC had started work on an inquiry into Goal 16. It will be for my successor and the new IDC to decide their own priorities, but I hope they will consider continuing this piece of work.
We need a transformative effort over the next ten years
The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (often called the Global Goals) at the United Nations in 2015 provided an important opportunity to address the twin threats of poverty and climate change. They built upon the real progress made via the Millennium Development Goals which saw the rate of extreme poverty fall dramatically. Nevertheless, the ambition of SDG1 – to eradicate extreme poverty completely by 2030 – will require a transformative effort over the next ten years.
It is absolutely right that the elimination of extreme poverty is Global Goal One. What distinguishes these goals from earlier efforts is the breadth and depth of their commitments. They are universal goals which means they apply here in the UK and to other wealthy nations just as much as they apply to the poorest countries. They seek to address inequalities as well as poverty. They seek a sustainable path to development, recognising explicitly the importance of climate change and the environment. Furthermore, as set out earlier, in Goal 16 the world has signaled the critical importance of good governance to development.
Democratic institutions have an important role to play in delivering the Global Goals both here and internationally. Parliamentarians have a responsibility to hold governments to account on their national delivery of the goals – something that the IDC has taken seriously with other UK House of Commons committees like the Environmental Audit or Women and Equalities Committees. Local Government has a critical role to play too, and there are some great examples of innovation and leadership in local authorities.
A healthy civil society, strong trades unions and business organisations can all play a part in helping to deliver the Global Goals – locally, nationally and internationally. As we enter the “Decade of Delivery”, Governments have a responsibility to lead this effort but parliamentarians, civil society and, most importantly, citizens themselves have a great opportunity to hold those in power to account.
Get it right and we can make a reality of the Goals’ ambition – to “leave no-one behind”.
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To foster LGBT+ inclusive democracies, parliamentarians need to listen to LGBT+ voices, as well as access to more and better information. WFD is focusing on addressing these issues.