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First edition of the Economic Commission for Latin-America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) under the lens of civil society organizations

Agenda 2030 implementation finds Latin-America and the Caribbean (LAC) on a political and socio-economic cycle filled with challenges for countries in the region – of different nature and scope-, but that are largely determined by the situation of the global economy, and exacerbated by the many structural gaps and ideological divides that run through each country.

Written by: Nicolás Sautejeau, Advocacy Coordinator, Asociación Chilena de Organismos No Gubernamentales (Acción)Mesa de Articulación.

The most basic fact that must be established to start grappling with the implementation of a sustainable development agenda in the region is that Latin-American and the Caribbean is the most unequal region in the world. Concentration of wealth varies from country to country, but as a whole, 10% of the population possesses 71% of the region’s wealth by 2014 figures, according to ECLAC. This starting point shows the degree to which development in the region has being inextricably tied to economic growth, in many cases very far from considerations of social or climate justice.

Latin-America had a very good economic run from 2003 to 2013 – especially between 2003-2008, with 5% aggregated regional growth (linked to the super-cycle of commodities mainly fueled by China’s growth). Almost all countries in the region were benefitted by higher employment rates, higher wages and higher public spending. However, the nature of the productive structures of most countries in the region (mainly commodities-driven and hence very dependent on the solidity of the global economy) has hindered its growth perspectives since China’s economic deceleration. In this context, the many gaps that structure LAC socioeconomic system have become increasingly clear: undiversified economies, wage and productivity gaps, educational and geographical disparities, etc. These drivers of inequality are further exacerbated by ethnic, racial and gender inequalities.

Given the scale and the interconnectedness of the many challenges implied in the implementation of Agenda 2030 in the region, social issues need to be addressed through a whole-of society approach, that finds new equilibriums between State, market and society and put the spotlight on the many interdependencies that exist. The issues are manifold, and a non-exhaustive list includes closing well-being gaps and inequalities that are reproduced from generation to generation, through education and fostering inclusion and participation in economic and social development (with an emphasis on gender, ethnic and racial equality).

On the economic dimension, countries need to intensify economic diversification, create decent and productive employment, closing productivity and social protection gaps between the different sectors of the economy, as well as building progressive fiscal structures (including by combating fiscal evasion and elusion). On the environmental dimension, the challenges are to incorporate sustainable development principles in policy-design and in national development strategies, as well as tackling climate change structurally, and promoting biodiversity conservation and restoration. On the governance dimension, the biggest challenge is to promote meaningful social participation in public policy cycles, enhancing transparency and fighting corruption.

To tackle this long list of issues at the regional level, the creation of the Forum on Sustainable Development -which first edition was held in Mexico City from April 26 to 28- is a welcomed space. Which could give coherence and substance to an otherwise weak and fragmented multilateral landscape, made of a multiplicity of initiatives – different in nature, objectives, and geographical scope-, and including complementary and competing organizations with overlapping memberships.

The Forum on Sustainable Development was created under ECLAC auspices in 2016 – and was hence conceived as the regional chapter for the monitoring and review process developed under the HLPF. In this context, this first edition -much like the first edition of the HLPF, was a mixed bag content-wise as well as structure-wise, and didn’t fully met the level of expectation raised. Given the uneven experiences of each country regarding Agenda 2030 implementation, particularly the different levels of commitment and understanding that each government has of the Agenda, the format of the dialogues in the plenary sessions did not bring enough insight and engagement from the participants -except on some rare moments- to make it a real meaningful exercise. The thematic sessions -which benefit from the participation of non-governmental actors- were much richer, although it’s unclear to what extent these dialogues inform the perceptions and praxis of governments. It must be acknowledged though, that the organization of an unprecedented space like the Forum is somewhat experimental, and tries to establish the specific Forums as important moments on an otherwise broader and continuous process of exchange of best-practices and evidence-based policy-making.

Regarding the participatory dimension of the Forum, the mechanisms and purpose for civil society participation are still unclear and it’s the reflection process has just begun – with member states and ECLAC, and among civil society organizations. Thankfully, there were some partial agreements that were reached to keep the joint work going on the road to the second edition of the Forum, especially regarding the establishment of a regional engagement mechanism for civil society organizations. That said, given that the implications of a true and meaningful multi-stakeholder space haven’t been grasped nor reflected upon. Part of the task now, is to build proposals about participation modalities that move beyond the usual presentation of Civil Society Declarations and the scarce presence of civil society representatives in discussion panels. Therefore, trying to gradually solve the inherent asymmetries that exists between government, the private sector and the wide array of civil society organization that engage.

Overall, despite its limitations, this first edition is still an important milestone on a multi-stakeholder process that is still very much in its infancy, and has room for improvement and creativity. Mesa de Articulacion, NGO reginal coalition in Latin America and Caribbean and IFP reginal member has been very active in the Forum and will continue to follow this process.