How are the LDCs defining a new sustainable development agenda?

IIED talks to development experts from around the globe to find out how the Least Developed Countries are working to define new ways forward for sustainable development.

In June 2016, the Least Developed Countries Independent Expert Group, IIED, and the ESRC's STEPS Centre hosted a dialogue for Least Developed Country (LDC) experts to discuss how the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) could help to define a new agenda for development.

IIED interviewed participants at the meeting to gather international perspectives on how organisations are developing new thinking and actions on sustainable development. Watch the playlist of interviews below or watch them on IIED's YouTube channel


The main United Nations platform for following up on the 2015 SDGs is the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), which takes place in New York from 11-20 July 2016. The theme of the meeting will be 'Leave no one behind' – a reference to the core commitment within the SDGs that no goal is considered to have been met unless it is met for everyone.  

Irene Guijt, head of research at Oxfam GB, told IIED that the agenda of 'leave no one behind' is central for the LDCs.

She said 'leave no one behind' had practical import: without this focus, aggregate statistics on progress might look better than they were in reality. In addition, it gave a strong basis for considering whether some measurements might be different to ensure that the least developed groups are not overlooked. 

Guijt said the 'leave no one behind' agenda gave the LDCs an anchor to argue for special attention for issues that are harder to fix within an LDC context. She said it is "a very strong message" around which people can convene and focus the discussion. 

Resilience 

Farah Kabir, country director of ActionAid Bangladesh, said that in the LDC context it was important to build communities and societies that were able to address emergency situations, and also to use emergencies as an opportunity for improvement.  

Kabir said that when there was an emergency in a poor country there would be a sudden mobilisation of resources to address the emergency – but it was important to invest before emergencies occurred. Policymakers and development partners had to invest in preparedness and disaster management, as well as in humanitarian response. 

She says that it was important to nurture indigenous knowledge and the social capital of communities at the grassroots and in the front line. It was also important to support grassroots organisations, and invest in those mechanisms that support those organisations.

Low-carbon development

Youba Sokona is special advisor on sustainable development at the South Centre, an intergovernmental organisation for developing countries. Sokona said that the SDGs are an opportunity for the LDCs to build their energy systems. In the SDG context, energy is one of the main concerns of micro-, small-scale and mid-size enterprises, as well as for small-scale farming. Renewable energy systems are modular and scalable, making them particularly suitable to be deployed in LDC countries. 

Sokona said this gave LDCs a "tremendous opportunity to jump-start low-carbon development". He said the challenges faced by the LDCs included getting access to financial resources, reforming regulatory systems and gaining access to technology. 

Financing low carbon development

Farhana Yamin is chief executive of Track 0, an NGO which supports governments and organisations working to get greenhouse gas emissions on track to zero. 

Yamin said the Paris Agreement on climate change was a huge opportunity for the LDCs. Many small countries and LDCs are ratifying the agreement quickly, giving them an opportunity to find investment partners to fund what they have put forward as low carbon climate resilient development.

She said: "The main challenges are actually converting sometimes these rather visionary plans into actual practical finance packages and then seeking funding for those. So it's almost like you need funding in order to get the next tranche of funding."

Yamin said many of the LDCs have capacity gaps. She said: "They often don't have direct access to the funding that is now beginning to become available. So they have to use donors and partners, technical assistance, resource pagckages to do that."

Improving the lives of people with disabilities

ADD International fights for equality and opportunity for disabled people living in poverty in Africa and Asia. ADD's director of global policy, Mosharraf Hossain, outlined two priorities for improving the lives of people with disabilities in LDC countries.

He said a key priority is for governments to implement the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. The 2006 UN convention sets a benchmark for actions to protect the rights of the world's estimated 650 million disabled people. Hossain says effective implementation would require local legislation to ensure that government ministries take action.

Hossain said the SDGs are an additonal driver for improving the lives of people with disabilities. The SDGs included 11 targets that related to people with disabilities, as well as targets relating to marginalised people. He said implementing the SDGs would include mainstreaming action for disabilities in every issue of development.

People with disabilities should be involved in designing programmes, delivering them at grassroots level, and monitoring and evaluating the outcomes. Hossain stressed that for monitoring the SDGs it was important to have segregated data on progress for people with disabilities. 

Supporting LDCs

Heidi Schroderus-Fox represents the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and the Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS). She told IIED that UN-OHRLLS is working to make sure that every UN office could provide support and analysis for the LDCs.

It also had broad advocacy mandate and was ensuring that LDC issues are "front and centre" of the agenda. She said many LDCs were feeling overwhelmed by reporting requirements for international protocols, and UN-OHRLLS was working with country-level actors to help them meet these requirements.

Pursuing a 'global happiness goal'

Chime Wangdi is secretary general of the Tarayana Foundation, an NGO working to help vulnerable people in Bhutan. She said Bhutan is pursuing a global happiness goal, and that the end result of development will be the happiness of individuals. 

The Tarayana Foundation is partnering with Bhutan's government to implement local mobilisation, working to ensure that development initiatives are identified and driven by local communities. She says there is clear acknowledgment that empowered local communities are generally better at identifying local issues and solutions. 

Wangdi said the foundation considers itself a facilitator in the process of getting communities to recognise their own strengths and helping them to link up with government agencies that have the technical skills required to tackle certain problems. 

Wangdi said: "When we can entrust local communities to look after what they need to do, then the rest of us are just catching up with the local communities – and that's when local resilience is built."