This blog was written using a wealth of materials promoted by the United Nations, UNCTAD, and various UN Forums, such as the World Investment Forum, but with my take on the implications and where to go from here. This inclusion of official, publicly available UN materials sets the tone for the debate about UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the 2030 Agenda, funding and bold leadership required, and the worldwide collaboration needed by the UN’s 193 member states. My take is that collaboration – whether it be structured as a series of multilateral agreements and/or regional agreements – is the way to go over any form of isolationism.

Shaping prosperity for all, via collaboration across country borders, and reigniting the engines of sustainable development was the focus of the 14th session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD 14). The UNCTAD quadrennial conferences feature intensive discussion of the global economic situation and trends in trade, investment, technology, and finance – especially as they affect developing countries. This year, in 2016, the UNCTAD meeting took place as Governments operationalize the 17 Sustainable Development Goals under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This agenda was adopted by world leaders at the United Nations summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda in September 2015.

As with any agenda, especially one that involves 193 member countries of the United Nations, implementation is a key aspect of the agenda-driven strategy. Doing has to be prioritized over theorizing. Cleverly, there is an interplay here worth stressing: The 2030 Agenda is good in theory but does it work in practice? At the same time, there has to be a theoretical reality check: The 2030 Agenda may be good in practice but does it work in theory? I realize the complexity created by those two simple statements about theory and practice. The ultimate benchmark here, though, is that any agenda involving 193 nations which are so vastly different in economic development needs to be theoretically robust and practically relevant.

The bottom line is clear. The world is now entering a new era with the Sustainable Development Goals – one that the signees hope will ensure dignity for all, prosperity for all, and a sustainable planet for all. But do these signees – member nations – really believe in its achievability? Or was the signing a feel good moment? To achieve the SDGs, the United Nations and its member states will have to harness public-private dialogue to galvanize investment in global sustainable development. The reason is that an annual investment of about $3.9 trillion is needed in developing countries alone to meet the objectives set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs. This is, importantly, about $2.5 trillion short of what has been estimated to be needed.

It is clear that some creative design and bold leadership is needed to, in essence, reboot the SDG-based global economy to advance the 2030 Agenda. A strong and vibrant international environment and an enormous push toward coordinated investment will be essential. The current outlook, coupled with past experience, clearly indicate that a revival of multilateralism will be one of the keys. Some ideas that have been presented within the UNCTAD framework include countercyclical provision of international liquidity to orderly restructuring of sovereign debt to a global “economic security council.”

Unmistakably, to me, strong leadership is needed to advance multilateral solutions. And, the political climate in many countries regarding international trade, the international monetary system, the international finance system, and worldwide engagement in general is likely not helpful right now. While we are unlikely to see the world stress isolationism over collaboration, there are definitely warning signs throughout Europe and in various pockets within the U.S. that could be counterproductive to a collaborative 2030 Agenda. These sentiments will also affect regional agreements, which in many ways can complement multilateral efforts to boost resilience and promote growth, international trade, and global development. Regional cooperation can provide the impetus for trade facilitation, fair competition policy, regulatory convergence, market infrastructure, and industrial strategies.

The problem may be that virtually everyone likes the idea of coordination, but hardly anyone actually wants to be coordinated! Coordination infringes on countries’ autonomy, power, independence, and even freedom. Are we up for such infringement to achieve UN’s bold goals in the 2030 Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals?

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