Governments and other parties involved in achieving theSustainable Development Goalsmissed an important opportunity to provide more impetus to the goals’ success at the recent opening session of the General Assembly, held in September.
By Edward Elmendorf, Passblue
By engaging largely in self-congratulation, with few exceptions, the three-minute speeches by world leaders at the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals conference ignored, for example, specific commitments that could propel the good governance agenda, under Goal 16 and beyond.
Thatgoal, on peace, justice and strong institutions, lies at the center of the SDGs, with good governance at its core. At the high-level political forum last month, the president of the Seychelles, Danny Faure, was a lone voice in reinforcing governance links across the goals, saying that “governance is the key means of implementation” of the SDGs.
In his2019 reporton the goals, Secretary-General António Guterres wrote about homicides, human trafficking, birth registration and human-rights institutions under Goal 16. But his report was remarkably silent on other key governance measures such as bribery, transparent institutions, participatory and representative decision-making and public access to information.
A newreportby the nonprofit group Partnership for Transparency, titled “Expanding Civil Society Contributions to the Governance Agendas of Sustainable Development Goals and International Financial Institutions,” looked at the recent experience of donors, governments and other entities with good governance programs. It found that these goals in Agenda 2030 are only “aspirational,” with “slim prospects” for their success.
A major reason for such shortfalls, the report says, is limited civic engagement — a point that received little attention at the SDG conference last month.
Good governance programs have tended to focus on the “supply” of governance-related services, such as state institutions’ monitoring performance on public financial management. They often give inadequate attention to the “demand” for governance services by beneficiaries. These “demand” activities include, for example, monitoring of public budgets for schools by parent-teacher associations and civic groups’ exercising their right to information on public services.
The report calls for a major increase on the “demand” side in civil society engagement in Goal 16 programs.
The report reviewed more than 40 studies on hundreds of cases of civil society engagement in good governance programs. It found that they work best in contributing to initiatives that address the rights of citizens to obtain information on public activities; track public expenditures and promote participatory budgeting; conduct third-party monitoring of state actions; raise awareness of people’s rights and entitlements; and encourage citizens to express their voice during public consultations on government-sponsored plans.
The report also concluded that expanding transparency, accountability and full access to public services and improving ways to redress grievances are important for a program’s usefulness.
But the report also found that context matters greatly. What works in one setting may not work in another without adaptation.
Research suggests that the strongest evidence of positive results from civil society engagement in good governance programs lies in the delivery of public services, such as health and education, as well as in public financial management. Even then, positive results are far from assured: token participation, reprisals and/or denial of services, capture by elites, community disenchantment and even violent responses by governments are not excluded.
Interventions or other actions that help to build a conducive environment and state responsiveness to civic action are generally more successful than those promoting only citizens’ voices.
The positive global environment for good governance established by the SDGs does not mean that a favorable environment exists in every country. This problem was evident in the lack of specificity on governance and civil society roles in the national speeches heard at the UN political forum assessing the goals in September as well as in July.
Guterres wrote frankly about the problem in his SDG progress report: “Attacks on civil society are . . . holding back development progress.”
The weak if not debilitating environment for progress on the good governance agenda nationally is also apparent in a 2018studyby the Institute of Development Studies.
Its findings: “In principle, new regulations purport to strengthen the governance and accountability of civil society, and to assert national sovereignty over the development process. In practice, however, efforts to regulate civic space are often a heavy-handed mixture of stigmatisation and delegitimisation, selective application of rules and restrictions, and violence and impunity for violence against civic actors and groups, motivated by the concentration or consolidation of political power.”
While the September conference and the high-level debate of world leaders at the General Assembly last month represent missed opportunities, the nongovernmental community can and should continue to pursue the matter nationally and especially locally. Civil society organizations can use the SDGs to hold public authorities accountable for being responsive to such organizations that are working on governance.
In this way, it is noteworthy that the president of the UN Economic and Social Council’s summary of the July forum said, “Strengthening the role of non-state actors is vital to the achievement of the Goals.”
The best programs on good governance will find civil society groups to be the real partners, acting collaboratively rather than confrontationally to pursue common objectives.
Note from the Publisher: In order to create the changes we want to see in the world, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the deep rooted systematic failures that corrode our abilities to truly thrive. Mobilized is proud to present our new slate of programming that takes a deep dive into the underworld of society so that we can shine a light on what’s not working so we can shine the light into systems, services and policies that we need for the optimal health and well-being of all life. A special thanks to “The Other” Chuck Woolery for bringing this show to Mobilized and our special guest, “Monty G. Marshall.”
About Special Guest, Monty G. Marshall, Center for Systematic Peace
Dr. Monty G. Marshall left the university system in 2010 after holding a position as both a Research Professor and Director of Research for the Center for Global Policy at George Mason University. He is now president of a private research enterprise: Societal-Systems Research, Inc. This private initiative will continue to produce the high quality information resources that form the foundation of the Center for Systemic Peace. Since 1998, he has been the director of the Polity IV project, which provides annual assessments of autocracy, democracy and regime transitions, and the Armed Conflict and Intervention (ACI) project, which monitors all forms of armed conflict and international influence structures. Also since 1998, Dr. Marshall has served as a senior consultant with the US Government’s Political Instability Task Force (PITF; formerly known as the State Failure Task Force). He has consulted frequently with the United Nations, US Agency for International Development, UK Department for International Development, the National Geographic Society, and many other national agencies and international organizations. Before taking his most recent academic posting at GMU, he was a Senior Research Associate at the Center for International Development and Conflict Management (CIDCM), University of Maryland, where he directed the Integrated Network for Societal Conflict Research (INSCR) program from 1998-2005. He is a co-founder and was principle author, editor and researcher for CIDCM’s Peace and Conflict series. He also co-authored the original Minorities at Risk data series (with Ted Gurr) and was a Co-Director of that project.
Dr. Marshall’s current research focuses on systems analyses of societal conflict processes and the impact of global influence networks on local conflict dynamics. His theory and evidence detailing the problem of political violence within the context of societal and systemic development processes and the diffusion of insecurity in protracted conflict regions are reported in Third World War: System, Process and Conflict Dynamics. Other recent publications include the Global Report annual series (2007-present) and Peace and Conflict biennial series (2001-2005); other recent publications are available here. Dr. Marshall holds degrees in political science from the University of Colorado, University of Maryland and the University of Iowa; he held a prestigious University of Iowa fellowship from 1990 to 1993. He began his professional career teaching courses full-time at the University of South Florida, 1994-1997.
About the Series
In this era of truth decay this program will focus on the “Truths” that “WE hold” “to be self-evident.” The fundamental truths derived from “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God”* Drawing distinctions between such fundamental principles as: inalienable human rights to life, liberty and health, no child should die before their parents, preserving one’s freedoms and security requires virtue and responsibility and alternative principles humans invented like; ‘peace through strength’ ‘market forces or technology will solve the problem’. ‘national sovereignty’‘democracy’
*(Introduced in the Declaration of Independence. A title that should have been the “Declaration of separation” given that independence exists nowhere in the known universe, but only as an illusion within our mind. An illusion that is responsible for most of the death, suffering, and environmental destruction up till now.)
Produced by “The Other ” Chuck Woolery and Jeff Van Treese Executive Producer is Steven Jay
Note from the Publisher: In order to create the changes we want to see in the world, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the deep rooted systematic failures that corrode our abilities to truly thrive. Mobilized is proud to present our new slate of programming that takes a deep dive into the underworld of society so that we can shine a light on what’s not working so we can shine the light into systems, services and policies that we need for the optimal health and well-being of all life. A special thanks to Mark Metz for hosting “The Undertow” and our first special guest, investigative journalist, Heidi Cuda.
Progressive change in every field is hampered by the confluence of comprised government officials, malign corporate interests, and transnational organized crime. In a word: Corruption. Referred to as The Iron Triangle by Robert Mueller in his 2011 speech to the FBI, this shadowy undertow on the common good is an invisible economy fueled by human suffering diametrically opposed to progress on climate change, human rights, or social justice.
Heidi Cuda is an expert journalist who has been tracking this dark phenomenon for over 20 years. In this essential conversation, you will grasp the scale of the problem and the latest exciting developments to clean up the playing field around the world. Learn how you can help make progress against corruption in your own community for the common good of humanity.
Heidi Siegmund Cuda is an Emmy award-winning investigative producer, broadcast journalist, author, columnist, music critic, screenwriter and free press activist. After 15 years as an investigative producer for Fox 11 News Los Angeles, she resigned to pursue TV development, screenwriting and social justice activism.
Known for her long-form work in the music world such as Crazy Fool, about Bradley Nowell of Sublime; The Ice Opinion, with Ice T; and Definition of Down, with Darlene Ortiz, she is rapidly becoming one of foremost voices on corruption, dis-information, and the battle against autocracy.
From solar power that cuts NYC energy bills and powers streetlights in Detroit to affordable high-speed internet throughout the United States, grassroots utilities projects are delivering on their promises to underserved communities of color.
As power outages caused by extreme weather events become more intense and frequent, the efforts by federal, state and local legislators to abate human-caused climate change may seem futile to those on the front lines, who are left sweating or freezing in their homes after the power goes out unexpectedly and at the worst time possible.
Without intervention, these events will only become more recurrent. According to data provided by the National Centers for Environmental Information—which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and maintains and provides national geophysical data and information—there was an average of around three “weather and climate disasters” per year in the 1980s, compared to a staggering 22 extreme weather events in 2020.
The Biden administration’s participation in COP26, which took place in Glasgow from October 31 to November 13, 2021, was a step in the right direction to address climate change, compared to the previous administration, which derailed any progress made by the U.S. to address the current climate crisis. President Joe Biden, however, still did not go far enough at the international climate conference in terms of addressing environmental justice, systemic environmental racism and the disproportionate support for repairing the damage caused by extreme weather events in impoverished countries and underserved communities in the United States. The actions and projects needed to address these issues and bring about real change on the ground are, meanwhile, being championed by grassroots organizations led by women and people of color who are taking steps within their communities to move away from fossil fuels, power their neighborhoods with clean energy, and stay connected with community-created broadband infrastructure.
In New York City, Making Solar Power Affordable and Accessible Is About ‘More Than Just Putting Panels on Rooftops’
The road to the project’s completion has been long and challenging due to the slow-moving gears of the existing governmental processes, according to Summer Sandoval, energy democracy coordinator at UPROSE.
“Sunset Park Solar is about more than just putting panels on rooftops; it’s about creating a scalable and replicable community-led model for the development of solar projects that build long-term community wealth and exhibit a Just Transition,” Sandoval says. “This project builds on the traditional community solar model but is vastly different from anything that’s been done before, and it’s challenging to navigate our way through processes, financial models and incentive programs that weren’t built for projects like this.”
Sunset Park Solar would allow for about 200 subscribers to utilize renewable energy and would not require any of them to install solar panels on their homes or pay any upfront costs, as UPROSE and its partners in the project have already done the heavy lifting. The panels for this project will be installed on the Brooklyn Army Terminal rooftop and will provide 685 kilowatts of clean electricity. In addition to the tangible cost-saving benefits to residents, the project has shown that community-led clean energy projects are possible.
“Even before construction, this project has demonstrated that the climate solutions are coming from the people on the front lines, and hopefully decision-makers see that as well and invest their resources directly into those front-line communities,” says Sandoval.
A Bright Spot in Detroit With Solar Streetlights
In Highland Park, Michigan, a city that sits within the City of Detroit, the nonprofit Soulardarity has been fighting for energy democracy since 2012.
“The idea of energy democracy is essentially focused on ensuring that the people who are affected the most by the decisions in energy should be the ones with the greatest amount of say in the process,” says Soulardarity Program Director Rafael Mojica.
Energy costs for city residents have been skyrocketing for decades (and continue to do so). The rate hikes were largely at the hands of the investor-owned, state-regulated utility company, DTE Energy, which made an interesting demand when Highland Park residents could no longer afford to pay the maintenance bill for their streetlights.
“In 2011, DTE gave [an] ultimatum to the City of Highland Park that they [either] pay the debt associated with the streetlights’ maintenance costs or lose them, and unfortunately, the city was in no position to pay their debt, so DTE followed through and removed more than 1,000 streetlights from the city,” says Mojica. “They didn’t remove everything. They left the stumps as a reminder to the community of their presence.”
When like-minded community members, led by Highland Park resident Shimekia Nichols (who is now Soulardarity’s executive director), organized as a result of the streetlight removal, they formed Soulardarity to bring light back to the community. After gathering funds from local residents, the first solar-powered streetlight was erected in 2012 in the neighborhood known as Avalon Village in Highland Park.
Soulardarity’s mission isn’t only to illuminate their streets with solar energy but also to shine a spotlight on the failed model of electricity production that for-profit, investor-owned utility providers like DTE Energy represent.
“DTE increases the rates they charge customers on a regular basis, exacerbating financial distress [for] communities of color, and despite the profits they’re raking in, they’re not using it to reinvest in their infrastructure. As a result… [the communities in Highland Park] have a poor level of service,” says Mojica. He adds that in the summer of 2021, “for example, Southeast and mid-Michigan experienced a huge number of blackouts, which are in DTE’s service area.”
Mojica points to the rippling effects of frequent power outages, especially in the summer and winter months, which can lead to refrigerated groceries that cost hundreds of dollars going bad as a result of these outages or can lead to rising hotel costs that may cripple the budgets of poor families living from paycheck to paycheck.
Currently, Soulardarity has been sifting through the language of the latest budget bills to ensure they provide funding for renewable energy projects in communities like Highland Park. Specifically, Soulardarity is seeking funds from the Department of Energy’s Communities LEAP program, which provides “supportive services valued at up to $16 million for community-driven clean energy transitions.”
“Ultimately, we want to break free from DTE, and in this analysis we found that it is doable,” says Mojica. “Not only that, but there are a number of community benefits that would come with the transition to renewable energy in the form of job creation and economic development, and our communities would be healthier and safer—basically, dramatically improving the quality of life for all community members.”
Internet Access for All American Communities as a Gateway to Democracy and Equity
While the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy sources like solar is essential to preventing further global warming and boosting local economies, power also comes in the form of information. When access to high-speed internet is controlled by corporations that operate in a similarly monopolistic manner as utility companies like DTE Energy, underserved communities suffer, especially during situations like the ongoing pandemic.
“If you aren’t fortunate enough to live in a place with affordable and reliable high-speed internet, you are essentially locked out of participating in modern society in so many ways, whether it’s distance learning, telemedicine, entertainment or even civic participation,” says Sean Gonsalves, senior reporter for the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative. “These problems really came to the fore during the pandemic.”
Currently, the high-speed internet market and broadband infrastructure, especially in rural communities, are inadequate, according to Gonsalves. When internet service providers are for-profit monopolies, large segments of the country either can’t afford reliable internet service, or don’t have access to high-speed broadband.
“When a community is reliant on outdated technology like DSL, they can’t even have a Zoom meeting, and good luck sending an email,” says Gonsalves. “In a healthy functioning market, people have choices, but when it comes to broadband, there aren’t options, which leads to high prices, poor customer service and bad coverage.”
To gain more reliable and affordable internet service, cities across the United States have formed their own municipal broadband networks to compete with the existing monopolies. Cities like Longmont, Colorado; Wilson, North Carolina; and Chattanooga, Tennessee, have transformed their economies and communities after organizing to create their own municipal broadband networks.
“The golden child is EPB in Chattanooga, which is a city-owned utility,” says Gonsalves. “Not every community can do what Chattanooga has, but in terms of benefits, the return on investment was $2.7 billion in the first 10 years of operation.” With federal legislation like the American Rescue Plan and Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act setting aside resources to increase and strengthen community broadband networks, Gonsalves and others at the Community Broadband Networks Initiative are hopeful that more communities will organize and take advantage of these opportunities and create their own broadband networks with the use of federal funding.
“The infrastructure bill represents a watershed moment in terms of the largest investment by the federal government in broadband ever,” says Gonsalves. “Even private investors are showing interest in community broadband, and now is the time for communities to start planning and pushing forward in an organized and strategic way.”
This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
Aric Sleeper is an independent journalist whose work, which covers topics including labor, drug reform, food and more, has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and other publications local to California’s Central Coast. In addition to his role as a community reporter, he has served as a government analyst and bookseller.
Mobilized TV on Free Speech TV takes a deep look at our world, the consequences of human activity on our planet, and how we can reverse and prevent existing and future crises from occurring. Mobilized reveals life on our planet as a system of systems which all work together for the optimal health of the whole. The show delves into deep conversations with change-makers so people can clearly take concerted actions.
Produced by Steven Jay and hosted by Jeff Van Treese.
Mobilized’s TV series Mobilized TV premieres on Free Speech TV on Friday, October 15, 2021. All episodes appear:
Fridays 9:30 PM Eastern (USA/Canada)
Saturdays: 6:30 PM (Eastern USA/Canada)
Sundays: 8:30 AM Eastern (USA/Canada)
January 7, 8, 9, 2022
Leading Environmental Justice Attorney, Thomas Linzey of the Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights is a leading force helping communities implement successful rights of nature laws. Find out how your community could take on big business to serve the health of all.