On Friday, September 25, the United Nations formally adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a set of 17 goals aimed at lowering global poverty, hunger, and inequality and addressing environmental challenges. Ahead of the U.N. Sustainable Development Summit—where the SDGs were adopted—the Global Economy and Development program at Brookings hosted International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde for a discussion on the IMF’s role in implementing the post-2015 development agenda and the SDGs.
Here are some of the main takeaways of the discussion:
1. Excessive inequality is particularly detrimental to sustainable growth.
Social issues like high levels of unemployment, particularly among youth, and income inequality are directly related to countries’ sustainability of growth, said Lagarde. Increasing the income and revenues of a country’s bottom 20 percent of earners has been shown to have a significant positive impact on sustainability. Steps that can be taken to drive down inequality include a combination of policy measures and redirected spending to focus on programs bringing direct benefits to citizens.
2. Women are critical to closing gaps in three areas of policy: learning, labor, and leadership.
Lagarde insisted that beyond being a humanitarian and moral duty, it simply is an “economic no-brainer” for countries to improve the education levels of females. Countries should encourage women to enter leadership roles because when they do, it creates a role model effect inspiring other women to seek leadership roles. Through empirical analysis, the IMF has been measuring the impact of additional learning in young girls and observed increases in country earning levels and GDP as a direct result.
3. Countries must take care of their poor before implementing policy measures that are going to affect them.
Lagarde discussed the removal of fossil fuel subsidies and their asymmetric distribution several times throughout the event. Typically, only 20 percent of a country’s subsidies go to those who need it— whom Lagarde identified as being critical to countries successfully removing subsidies. In an IMF study on countries attempting to phase out and remove fossil fuel subsidies, only those who actually addressed the 20 percent first were successful in achieving complete elimination.
4. The public sector has a significant role to play in increasing sustainability through reorienting public spending and investment.
At the country level, investment in public infrastructure is extremely conducive to stimulating growth, Lagarde said. Infrastructure facilitates social sustainability and inclusion because increasing citizens’ accessibility to schools and jobs encourages women’s empowerment and education.
Ariana Motazed contributed to this post.