Today, I am pleased to announce the official launch of the Brookings Institution’s new Center for Sustainable Development (CSD). This embodies a top-tier institutional commitment to the global sustainable development agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. Indeed, the research agenda of this new center will be significant, focusing on issues related to extreme poverty, the “leave no one behind” agenda, foreign aid effectiveness, the metrics of sustainable development, sustainable development finance, climate change, the future of work, regional divergence, and the importance of local government leadership and innovation.
This endeavor is an exciting and important opportunity for both Brookings and our Global Economy and Development program, where the center will be based. While our institution already has a long history of supporting scholarship and engagement on sustainable development and developing new policy approaches for important global challenges, CSD will provide a dedicated home for our leading scholars in this field, to include inaugural Director John McArthur, as well as his colleagues Amar Bhattacharya, Marcela Escobari, George Ingram, Homi Kharas, and Tony Pipa.
The reasons for this undertaking are far-reaching. Our world today faces many challenges including the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic downturn, inequality across and within countries, structural racism and inequity, a changing climate, and a decline in international cooperation. Here in the United States, we are less than two weeks away from electing our next president. The current administration has stepped back from U.S. commitments to the international community, including withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on climate change and disengaging with the World Health Organization and the Sustainable Development Goals. At the same time, however, many of the world’s directions for sustainable development will be driven by the leadership mobilized outside of any national government—from academia, business, philanthropy, civil society, and local governments. It is in these parts of society that we see thriving examples of American and Global leadership.
This year we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the creation of the United Nations, a milestone in international cooperation. One of its most crowning achievements came in 2015 when all nations agreed to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Central to those Goals is a pledge from all countries that “no one will be left behind” and that “eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.” The SDGs offer leaders and policymakers a “North Star” for building back, and the commitment to equity, justice, and environmental preservation as reflected in the Goals is more critical today than ever.
The next five years present a critical window for advancing sustainable development. If we are to meet the targets set by the SDGs by 2030, we must foster an inclusive recovery post-COVID-19 and “build back better”. Working within a challenging environment, I am thrilled and proud that this new center will be a key component in progress made towards those Goals.
AAPI Heritage Month: Safeguarding Asian American inclusion and belonging
President López Obrador's extension of the term of Supreme Court chief Arturo Zaldívar is part of his strong effort to recentralize power in the Mexican presidency and hollow out the independence and power of other Mexican institutions. His other moves to bend the justice system to his will include a reform that lowered the salary of judges but did not improve the quality of prosecutors and his unwillingness to allow an independent selection of the attorney general, with López Obrador himself retaining the power of appointment. His latest move with the two-year extension of Zaldívar’s term is especially worrisome. Zaldívar is also the president of the powerful Federal Judiciary Council. The council appoints and dismisses judges, sets career advancement rules and disciplines judges. Zaldívar will be setting the council’s and, thus, the whole judiciary’s, agenda and priorities for two years. This allows López Obrador to influence how courts will rule in cases regarding the executive branch, what cases they take up and the legality of new policies. These moves are taking place when the effectiveness of the judiciary in Mexico remains limited and deeply concerning. The attorney general’s office has proven weak, unwilling to take up key cases such as against the suspects in the brazen attack on Mexico City’s security minister, Omar García Harfuch—an event that symbolized the impunity with which Mexican criminal groups operate. Mexico’s justice system showed itself equally meek and disappointing in inadequately investigating the alleged complicity of former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos and dismissing the case, potentially the most significant case of corruption and criminal collusion charges against a high-ranking Mexican official in two decades. A decade and a half after Mexico initiated its justice system reforms, 95 percent of federal cases still go unpunished. President López Obrador has scored some points, but the already precariously weak rule of law in Mexico, and thus the Mexican people, will suffer.