Caribbean: Rethinking progress in the sustainable development era
Caribbean countries make a special case for development. The high and increasing exposure to hazards, combined with very open and trade-dependent economies with limited diversification and competitiveness portray a structurally and environmentally vulnerable region, composed, in the most part, of middle income countries.
As these countries start implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) we are calling for a new notion of progress. Our UN Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report for the Caribbean titled “Multidimensional Progress: human resilience beyond income”, launched this week in Barbados with top regional authorities makes the case for a new generation of public policies to boost resilience and increase gains in the economic, social and environmental fronts, including peace and justice.
For the Caribbean this “multidimensional progress” entails not only adapting to shocks. It means breaking through structural obstacles that hinder growth and people’s well-being—beyond the traditional measurements of living above or below a poverty line. Nothing that reduces the rights of people and communities or threatens the environment can be considered progress.
This holistic approach is crucial, especially for the Caribbean.
After decades of persistent and volatile low growth, human vulnerability has increased. Most CARICOM countries’ Human Development Index—our composite measure of income, education and longevity— ranking has dropped over the last five years. Jamaica and Dominica, two extreme cases, have fallen 23 and 10 positions respectively.
When the human development results of the Caribbean are situated in a context of slow, volatile and low economic growth, high unemployment and under-employment especially among youth and women, a clear picture emerges showing the deep interconnectedness between human progress and the challenges of the state to cope, our report shows.
The first challenge is that, despite the very high indebtedness and the fiscal constraints affecting the region, governments should be able to implement combined public policies and interventions that foster inclusive growth: one that leaves no one behind. This also entails preventing setbacks and safeguarding hard won social, economic gains by boosting resilience, particularly among the most vulnerable groups to improve the lives of Caribbean women men and children.
To protect these achievements, economic growth alone is not enough. Our Report shows that social protection throughout people’s life cycle; expansion of systems of care for children, elderly and persons with disabilities; broader access to physical and financial assets (that act as cushions when crisis hit, like a car, a house or savings account); and continuous improvements in job skills – particularly in the case of women and youth– are vital.
In addition, many forms of exclusion transcend income and are associated with unequal treatment, discrimination, violence or stigmatization based on ethnicity, race, skin colour, identity and sexual orientation, gender, physical or mental disability, religion, migrant status or nationality. Being a woman, LGBTI, youth, a person with disabilities, being from an ethnic minority… all of these factors affect people’s life opportunities, the possibility of social and economic mobility and access to services. Closing material gaps is not enough to eradicate these forms of exclusions. A level playing field for citizenship requires implementing protection policies, affirmative action, empowering citizens and recognizing individual and collective rights.
The second challenge is to move towards a new public policy framework that can break sectoral and territorial silos and provide social protection throughout the life cycle. Part of the responsibility lies with States, which should generate and coordinate sustainable financial resources for public policies; but part also lies with the citizens, to the extent that it is necessary to build a culture of resilience and prevention in each household and community.
Like many in Latin America and the Caribbean, we believe that the challenge of sustainable, holistic and universal development are not resolved by crossing a given income threshold. There is no "graduation" from the development challenges unless appropriate answers are provided to the multiple dimensions that allow people to live a life they have reasons to value.
Now more than ever the world needs to rethink the methods for ranking development in the region’s countries that go beyond per capita income, economic growth rates and Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Caribbean countries‘ high debt hinders the ability to access finance for sustainable development, also limiting the region’s ability to achieve the SDGs.
In view of the development-financing context in the Caribbean, the report demonstrates how, for the most part, Caribbean countries are ineligible for concessional finance due to their status as middle-income countries. With average national per capita income levels above the international financial eligibility benchmark, the report makes a case for a review of eligibility criteria to access concessional financing.
In line with the SDGs, our report stresses that on the one hand it is crucial to invest in people, environment, sustainable and affordable energy, institutional efficiency, stability and security as these are key factors to boost economic growth. On the other hand, it is essential to ensure that economic growth is inclusive, empowers people, leaves no one behind—and is not achieved at the expense of the environment.
This holistic approach to improving people’s lives while taking care of the planet will help countries in the Caribbean achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, boost climate resilience, end poverty in all its forms and leave no one behind.