Making the Sustainable Development
Goals Work
Haciendo que los Objetivos de
Desarrollo Sostenible funcionen
Artículo de revisión
Received: August 26, 2016
Approved: December 10, 2016
* Gianni Vaggi: Phd en Economía por la Uni-
versidad de Cambridge. Director de la Coo-
peration and Development Network (CDN)
y profesor de los masters en cooperación y
desarrollo de la Universidad de pavia, Uni-
versidad de Belén, Mid-western University
of Nepal y la Universidad de Kenyatta, Nai-
rob. Coordinador of the UNESCO UNITWIN
Network on Cooperation and Development.
Contacto: gianni.vaggi@unipv.it
How to quote: Vaggi, G. (2016). Making the
Sustainable Development Goals Work. Inter-
national Journal of Cooperation & Develop-
ment. 3(2): 35-59
Gianni Vaggi
Gianni Vaggi
Revista Internacional de Cooperación y Desarrollo Vol. 3 No. 2 | Año 2016 | PP. 35-59
The achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals approved by the UN General Assem-
bly in 2015 will depend on whether or not the last goal, “global partnership for sustainable deve-
lopment, will work. The paper suggests that the leading principle for eective global partnership
should be the rebalancing of the negotiating power of the dierent stakeholders. Section I briey
sketches some changes to the notion of development and of cooperation since 1950. Section
II describes the process which has led to the SDGs and to the idea of cooperation as a global
partnership. Section III focuses on two major economic changes which have taken place since the
seventies: economic growth in Asia and the rise of international nance. Both of which have huge
implications for the SDGs and for global partnership. Section IV presents three steps which could
help to implement “global partnership for development” according to the principle of rebalancing.
Developing countries need more policy space especially in their trade and scal policies.
Keywords: Development, goals, cooperation, crisis
El logro de los 17 Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible aprobados por la Asamblea General de las
Naciones Unidas en 2015 dependerá en gran medida del funcionamiento del último objetivo:Aso-
ciación global para el desarrollo sostenible”. El documento sugiere que el punto principal para una
asociación global efectiva debería ser el reequilibrio del poder de negociación de las diferentes
partes interesadas. De esta manera, en la sección I se describen brevemente algunos cambios
en la noción de desarrollo y cooperación desde 1950. En la Sección II se describe el proceso que
ha conducido a los ODS y a la idea de cooperación como asociación mundial. La sección III se
centra en dos grandes cambios económicos que han tenido lugar desde la década de los setenta:
el crecimiento económico en Asia y el auge de las nanzas internacionales. Ambos hechos tienen
enormes implicaciones para los ODS y para la asociación global. La sección IV presenta tres pa-
sos que podrían ayudar a implementar la “asociación global para el desarrollo” de acuerdo con el
principio de reequilibrio. Los países en desarrollo necesitan más espacio político, especialmente
en sus políticas comerciales y scales.
Palabras clave: Desarrollo, Objetivo de Desarrollo Sostenible (ODS), cooperación, crisis.
Gianni Vaggi
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1. Introduction
The structure of the paper is as follows. Section
II describe in an extremely synthetic way the
main evolution in the notions of development
and of cooperation since the sixties up to the
new Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs.
Of course this is not a comprehensive review
of the two issues, for that one can read the very
helpful work of Tassara 2012. The paper shows
that the notion of development has received a
much broader content than it was in the sixties,
when it was by and large dened in terms of
economic growth. Development is now a mul-
ti-faced phenomenon and it is also focused
on people’s empowerment, there has been a
clear movement towards the individual, micro,
aspects, while the more structural and macro
feature are now less central.
Section III presents a brief view of the evolu-
tion from the Millennium Development Goals,
MDGs, to the SDGs and in focuses on the last
MDG and SDGs, both on global partnership,
which seems to be the new view of cooperation.
But how can this view be implemented? De-
velopment and cooperation do not take place
in the vacuum and must not be confused with
the numerous discussions, proposals, debates
which are being putting forward every day. De-
velopment and cooperation/partnership must
take into account the social, economic and
political structures existing in our world and
we must realistically examine the opportunities
and the constraints of this global ‘environment’.
Therefore section IV brings us down to the real
world and describes two major changes in the
this global economic environment: economic
growth in Asia and the growing role of interna-
tional nance. These two facts greatly inuence
the environment in which the SDGs must be
pursued through global partnership.
Section V faces SDG 17 and provides some
suggestions on how to support to make global
partnership work in the new economic lands-
cape, briey described in Section IV. Here we
nd the general principle which should lead all
the negotiations which are inevitably necessary
in order to engage with the SDGs. The paper
suggests the general principle of re-balancing
of the negotiating powers as the leading way
to try to make global partnership not only fair
but also eective. Re-balancing is a way to put
into action the two principles of universality and
dierentiation which are in the UN declaration
of September 2015. This section provides also
some examples of what re-balancing should be
and it examines some of the topics which are
part of SDG 17 such as trade, scal and indus-
trial policies.
2. The evolution of the notions of
development and of international
cooperation (in a nutshell)
A. In the beginning it was economic
On September 25-27, 2016 the seventieth ses-
sion of the United Nations General Assembly
approved a resolution called Transforming our
world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Develo-
pment with 17 Sustainable Development Goals,
SDGs, and 169 targets, now we have also 241
indicators(see UN, 2015 and UN-ECOSOC,
2016). This resolution, also called Agenda
2030, presents a very wide view of develop-
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Making the Sustainable Development Goals Work
ment and in many ways the SDGs can be re-
garded as sort of contemporary consensus on
what development is all about. Sixty years ago
there were dierent views.
Once upon a time there was economic growth:
development was mainly dened in terms of in-
creases in income per capita and it was by and
large regarded as a one dimensional notion. In
development economics there was, and still is,
a theory explaining that low income countries
will converge to the income per capita of the
high income ones. The accumulation of physi-
cal capital was regarded as the main element
in the explanation of economic growth and So-
low’s 1956 model implies that capital will ow to
low income economies where it is scarce and
hence it can yield higher returns. Technical pro-
gress too will also move freely across countries
and provided that the markets are competitive
and given enough time all countries will tend to
have similar incomes per capita.
If this views were correct there would be no need
for developmental theories and policies, nor
for cooperation activities. Cooperation should
conne itself to the mitigation of the short run
unpleasant occurrences which might be asso-
ciated the long run process of economic grow-
th. Cooperation should provide safety nets and
care for basic needs and human development.
Since the late forties there have been econo-
mic views which are quite skeptical about the
eciency of the market economy and its abi-
lity to bring wellbeing to all countries. These
non-mainstream contributions date back to the
structural change approach of Raul Prebisch
and Hans Singer. In the late sixties and in the
seventies Dudley Seers and the International
Labour Oce, ILO, highlight the importance
of employment and of decent work(see Seers,
1969 and ILO, 1976). Sunna and Gualerzi pro-
vide a very useful reading to these heterodox
economic views on development, which howe-
ver they too focused on the economic compo-
nent of development (see Sunna and Gualerzi
2016, chapters 3 and 5).
Coming back to the more optimistic views about
the economic perspectives of developing coun-
tries it is easy to see that apart from East Asia
the eighties and nineties have not seen much
convergence of most low income countries
towards the living standards of high income
economies. Moreover theoretical studies and
practical experience have shown that economic
growth alone does not guarantee participatory
and sustainable development. There are rapidly
growing countries where social hardships are
multiplying and new forms of poverty are being
created. There are other countries where des-
pite slow growth considerable improvements
have been made in terms human development
and well-being.
Nowadays development is no longer dened in
terms of income per capita only; development is
regarded as a multi-faced phenomenon and as
evolving process. Let us briey point out some
of the major contributions to this new view. It all
started with the debates in the sixties and se-
venties, but it was only towards the end of the
eighties which a general consensus began to
emerge on a broader denition of development,
(more in Vaggi, 2010).
Three major contributions to this change can be
First, the 1987 Bruntland Report by the United
nations gives a rst denition of sustainable
Gianni Vaggi
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development: a process which can satisfy the
needs of present generations without compro-
mising the possibilities of future generations
(see United Nations, 1987). With this report the
environment dimension and the idea of sustai-
nability become essential aspects of the notion
of development.
Second, in 1990 we have the rst Human Deve-
lopment Report by UNDP with the Human Deve-
lopment Index, which includes not only income,
but also education and health(see UNDP, 1990).
Third, in September 2000 the United Nations
present the Millenium Development Goals,
MDGs, eight goals which provide a widely ac-
cepted denition of development, including the
ght against poverty, health, education, envi-
ronment and gender.
More recently the very notion of Gross Domes-
tic Product has been criticized as an appropria-
te indicator of the standard of living of people.
The research work focuses on the denition of
well-being, perhaps the most famous report is
the Stiglitz, Sen and Fitoussi Report of 2008
(see Stiglitz et al., 2008).
Environmental sustainability receives a lot of at-
tention, see for instance the work of Dasgupta
at Cambridge (see Dasgupta and Duraiappah,
2012). In 2012 we have also the rst World Ha-
ppiness Report by a team led by Jerey Sachs
(see Helliwell et al., 2013).
Poverty too is no longer dened in terms of in-
come only, but more in general as ‘deprivation’
and ‘exclusion’ or the lack of capabilities, in the
sense of lack of the possibility to decide and to
choose about one’s life. Since 2010 we have
the Multidimensional Poverty Index by OPHI,
the Oxford Poverty and Human Development
Initiative (see Alkire et al., 2013).
All these approaches to development share
some major similarities; we single out two of
them. First, development corresponds to the
enlargement of opportunities and possibilities of
choice by the people. Second, development it is
a process which is appreciated in a positive way
by the people who are involved in it. The evolu-
tion of the notion of development and the emer-
gence of that of ‘human development’ have been
greatly inuenced by the work of Nobel Laureate
Amartya Sen (see Sen, 1985 and 1999).
The idea of the Sustainable Development Goals
emerged in 2011 during the preparatory works
for the 2012 Rio+20 conference thanks to a pro-
posal by Colombia and Guatemala(see Loewe
and Rippin, 2015, pp. 2, 4). The COP 21 Paris
meeting of December 2016 has been the nal
event linking development to climate change
and environmental sustainability. However the
notion of sustainability has already received a
broad denition, which is not limited to the envi-
ronmental aspect(see for instance Sachs 1999).
B. International cooperation
Dierent views of development have been ac-
companied by dierent ideas about how to
achieve it.
The eighties and nineties have been the period
of the Washington Consensus, a term coined
by John Williamson to indicate ten major points
which characterized the IMF-World Bank re-
commendations to developing countries(see
Williamson, 1990). These policies have been
the key elements of the Structural Adjustment
Programs of the IMF and the World Bank. The-
se standardized policies were considered to be
necessary and sucient to trigger economic
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Making the Sustainable Development Goals Work
growth in very dierent countries; it was a ‘one
recipe ts all’ approach. It is worth noticing that
these policies were also the result of a rather
optimistic view and limited view about the fact
that market forces alone could generate econo-
mic growth and development.
The structural adjustment policies received
strong criticisms. The idea of a post-Washing-
ton Consensus derives from a paper by Joseph
Stiglitz in 1998 (see Stiglitz, 1998), when he
was Senior Vice-president of the World Bank. In
the paper Stiglitz advocates the need for more
articulated and less economic focused policies,
he also highlights the fact that development has
to be interpreted in terms of broader goals, not
just income.
In January 1999 the then President of the World
Bank James Wolfenshon launched the Com-
prehensive Development Framework, CDF(see
Wolfenshon, 1999 and http://web.worldbank.
HTM). This very ambitious, but by now rather
forgotten, approach proposes a new methodo-
logy to approach development and the related
policies. Development is dened in terms of
many aspects and the analysis includes many
dierent actors: the nation states, international
organizations, civil society, the business sector.
In a two dimensional table there is an attempt
to identify the actors who could be more eec-
tive in pursuing each development aspect. In a
way this approach anticipates SDG number 17,
which deals with “...global partnership for sus-
tainable development”.
Below there is a very fats description of some
major intentional forums which have shaped a
widespread view on cooperation and partner-
ship: I am not interested in the precise descrip-
tion of the dierent contributions, but just to
show how the idea of cooperation has evolved
towards the notion of global partnership.
In march 2002 in Monterrey Mexico a confe-
rence was held on Financing for Development,
from which the so called Monterrey consensus
emerged. Developing countries should imple-
ment the appropriate policies and reforms, abo-
ve all good governance, but the rich countries
should concretely help mainly by committing
more and more predictable and stable resour-
ces, aid.
In 2016 only ve of countries reach
the 0.7 percent of GDP earmarked for aid, which
has been the UN target since the seventies(see
OECD, 2015). From November 29 to December
2, 2008 a second conference on Financing for
Development was held in Doha. A Third confe-
rence of Financing for Development was held
by the UN in Addis Ababa on July 2015 in pre-
paration for the September General Assembly(-
see UN-AAAA, 2015).
Since 2003 ve High Level Forums have been
held in order to dene the best practices in in-
ternational cooperation. The major topic of all
these conferences has been aid eectiveness,
which has however been examined from die-
rent points of view. The 2005 Paris declaration
recommends the donor to have more accoun-
table programs, to adopt coherent aid policies
and to coordinate among themselves. In 2008
the third high level forum produced the Accra
Agenda for Action in which the notion of coun-
try ownership is underlined.
In 2011 Busan the fourth High Level Forum on
Aid Eectiveness ended up with the Busan
Partnership for Eective Development Co-ope-
In Monterrey emphasis was also laid on the theme
of global public goods which include knowledge and re-
search(see also Sumner and Lawo, 2013, p.35).
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ration, which focuses on development eec-
tiveness and not just aid eectiveness. This
approach requires having shared evaluation
tools between all partners, including partners
in the ‘South’. The involvement of civil society
is another important issue and more attention
is dedicated to the development outcomes of
policies rather than to input indicators only.
In April 2014 in Mexico City there was the First
High-Level meeting of the Global Partnership
for Eective Development Co-operation, which
was in fact a follow up of all the previous High
Level Forums and where the emphasis was on
the partnership aspect of international coope-
ration(see UN-FHLM, 2014). All these forums
prepared the way to SDG 17, the one dealing
with global partnership.
The outcome of these debates about develo-
pment and cooperation can be described with
two words: empowerment and ownership.
Empowerment is the process of enhancing the
capacity of individuals or groups to make choi-
ces and to transform those choices into desired
actions and outcomes (Alsop et al., 2006, p.10)
Thus empowerment is the possibility to enlarge
one’s opportunities and her set of choices.
Ownership is the ability of developing countries
and of people to take the development pro-
cess into their own hands. Country ownership
appears both in the Paris Declaration and in the
Accra Agenda for Action(see above).
² Country ownership has also been used to indicate
the alignment of the countries to the conditionalities of the
Structural Adjustment Programs and Poverty Reduction
Strategy Papers of the nineties, see Buiter, 2007. For the
point of view of civil society organizations on country own-
ership see Interaction, 2011.
Country ownership means that there is sucient
political support within a country to implement its
developmental strategy, including the projects,
programs, and policies for which external part-
ners provide assistance. (see http://web.world-
The country has to be in the driving seat, but of
course is not just a problem of the central govern-
ment’s ability to take decisions, it requires the in-
volvement of all stakeholders: local governments,
Civil Society Organizations, communities etc.
3. From the Millenium Development
Goals to the Sustainable Develop-
ment Goals
The MDGs played a very important role in hi-
ghlighting the major development challenges
confronting developing countries and the entire
world. Extreme poverty, was at the forefront with
the one dollar a day story which derives mainly
from Martin Ravaillon’s work rst exemplied
in the 1990 World Development Report (see
World Bank, 1990, pp.27-9). The one dollar a
day threshold has now become 1.90 at 2011
PPP, Purchasing Power Parities, prices.
It might look strange that at the time in which
the denitions of development and of poverty
are being enlarged and enriched MDG 1 refers
to income poverty. However we must remember
that from 1980 to 2000 three main regions in the
world, Latin America and the Caribbean, Middle
East and North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa
had no increase at all in income per capita, with
many countries experiencing a signicant decli-
ne. It was the lost decades period, mainly due to
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Making the Sustainable Development Goals Work
the debt crisis which erupted in Mexico in 1982.
It was obvious to regard the ght against inco-
me poverty as a priority; as a matter of fact the
World Bank dedicated to poverty two World De-
velopment Reports, that of 1990 and again that
of 2000/2001(see World Bank, 1990 and World
Bank, 2000/2001).
Since the 2012 Rio+20 conference there have
been a lot of debates on the post 2015 goals,
let me recall three preparatory UN documents.
The rst document is the May 2013 report by
the United Nations, The report of the High-Le-
vel Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015
Development Agenda, which includes 12 goals
and 54 targets(see UN-HLP, 2013). This report
stresses the fact that all goals should be exa-
mined having in mind ve transformative shifts:
leave no one behind, sustainability, jobs and in-
clusive growth, peace and institutions and glo-
bal partnership(see ibid.). The ve ‘transforma-
tive shifts’ provide an indication of the priorities
and above all of the relevant dimensions which
should shape future policies and actions; the
shifts appear in the September 2015 UN Reso-
lution but not with the same emphasis.
Leave no one behind implies that attention
should focus on the most disadvantaged and
marginalized groups and people, with very
important implication for policies in any type
of goal: health, education, environment, food,
energy, water, megacities etc . This ‘shift’ does
not appear as a separate goal in the nal UNGA
resolution of 2015, but it is quite often mentio-
ned all along that declaration.
Jobs and inclusive growth asks for a reconside-
ration of the production and consumption mo-
del and recognize that people do achieve more
opportunities and become more independent
mainly through access to decent growth. Mo-
reover this shift is a warning about the fact that
not any type of growth may be inclusive. SDG
number 8 includes some of these recommen-
Sustainability, is clearly a cross-cutting issue
for all goals.
Of course there must be eective and open ins-
titutions, but in the post 2015 period peace will
be a challenge in itself and cannot be limited
to good governance, transparency, etc. Building
peace provides a broader vision of institutions.
A second document is the report of the Open
Working Group for Sustainable Development
Goals presented in July 2014. The Open Wor-
king Group was established following the
Rio+20 Conference; which is basically the text
which will end up into the September 2015 Re-
solution(see UN-OWG, 2014).
The third document is the Synthesis Report
presented by the UN Secretary-General on De-
cember 4
2014 and entitled The road to dig-
nity by 2030. The report suggests to maintain
the 17 goals but they are now clustered into six
essential elements: dignity, people, prosperity,
planet, justice, partnership(see UN-SR, 2014,
The three documents represent the most im-
portant contributions to the nal Resolution of
September 2015, which re-groups the goals
into ve areas of critical importance: People,
Planet, Prosperity, Peace, Partnership, the ve
Ps. Moreover the 2015 Resolution establishes
that sustainability has three dimensions: econo-
mic, social and environmental, all to be pursued
at the same time.
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Agenda 2030 is often criticized because there
are too many goals which do overlap and some
goals are extremely ambitious: zero poverty by
There is also a confusion between ends
and means, between those targets which could
be regarded as being a nal desired outcome,
like end hunger, gender equality, and those
goals which are indeed instrumental to achieve
the former ones, such as energy, infrastructures.
Notice that from the 2000 MDGs to the 2015 UN
Resolution the last goal always refers to partner-
ship. In the MDGs goal number 8 reads: Develop
a global partnership for development. There are
6 targets and 16 indicators which include issues
such as the increase of aid, the extension of mar-
ket access, debt sustainability. MDG 8 has been
quite often criticized because many targets and
indicators are very dicult to measure and in ge-
neral it provides a generic commitment to achie-
ve the other goals. The story of MDG 8 is howe-
ver rather interesting because originally there
was no goal number 8. As late as June 2000 in a
publication by OECD, World Bank, IMF and UN
called A better world for all the goals were still
seven(see OECD, 2000). MDG 8 was introdu-
ced later at the request of developing countries
which wanted the goals to be the responsibility
of all countries including the rich ones.
SDG 17 reads: Strengthen the means of imple-
mentation and revitalize the global partnership
for sustainable development, with 19 targets(-
see UN, 2015). SDG 17 seems to refer more to
the quantitative aspect, that is to say to nan-
cial support. The 2014 Synthesis Report was
more specic asking for “better regulation and
more stability in the international nancial and
³ Among the several comments see Maxwell, 2014
and Engel and Knoll, 2014. On the progress and improve-
ments of SDGs over MDGs see Fukuda-Parr, 2016.
monetary system”(see UN-SR, 2014, p.22, n.
95) and it even suggested the possibility of
nancial transaction taxes(ibid, p.25, n. 112).
Moreover the Synthesis Report requested the
implementation of “comprehensive and ade-
quate nancial regulations in all countries, as
the risk of another global nancial crisis has not
be suciently reduced”(ibid. p. 25, n. 114). The-
se recommendations did not nd their way into
the 2015 nal Resolution.
Goal 17 confronts itself with a major issue
which is the main topic of this paper: how to
give concrete content to the term ‘global part-
nership’. This implies raising the necessary re-
sources to support the SDGs which could be an
enormous amount of money(see Greenhill and
Prizzon, 2012). However partnership for deve-
lopment is not just about funds and above all
it does not take place in a vacuum, it must be
implemented in a specic economic and social
international environment. “Global partnership”
cannot ignore some major changes that have
taken place in the world economy since the ni-
neteen-eighties. We highlight two of them:
-economic growth in Asia
-the rising role of international nance.
Both facts have a structural nature; they are
here to stay and they have huge implications for
the new goals; it is only by taking into account
these facts that international cooperation activi-
ties and policies can be set in a realistic context.
We will briey see some positive and some ne-
gative aspects of both facts.
For a wider discussion of both changes see Vaggi,
2015. On Asian growth and the beautiful image of the
“ying geese” model see UNCTAD, 1996. For a history of
this model see Kasahara, 2013. Akyuz,2015 provides an
interesting analysis of nancial markets and developing
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Making the Sustainable Development Goals Work
4. The economy strikes back: from
G7 to G……?
A. The bright side of economic growth
Let us mention three features on the positive
First, at the world level MDG 1, halving the
number of those living in extreme poverty,
less than 1.90 dollar a day at 2011 Purchasing
Power Parities, PPP, prices, has been achieved
thanks to economic growth in Asia and in China
in particular. According to the so called absolute
poverty line of 1.90 dollar a day in at 2011PPP
prices most of the poor people now live in mi-
ddle income countries(see Sumner, 2013, p.1,
Sumner and Lawo, 2013).
Second, the so called ‘South’ now has some
global powers, China, perhaps India, and some
regional powers, Brazil, South Africa and Rus-
sia, though since 2013 all three of them have
been going through an economic slowdown.
Emerging economies are not all the same, but
the old divisions into rich and poor countries, into
and north and south and the tri-partition into rst,
second and third world need to be replaced by a
more articulated geography. The world has mo-
ved from G7 to G20 and the capitalist economy
is still reshaping economic relations. Between
1995 and 2012 south-south trade has doubled
its share in world exports. Now there are more
players on the ground and with all diculties and
complications there are real possibilities for sou-
th-south cooperation and the SDGs strongly em-
phasize the universal aspect of the development
challenges rather than the north-south coopera-
tion, see Sanahuja, 2016. This does not mean
that any type of economic relationship between
developing countries should be automatically
classied as South-South cooperation. Accor-
ding to the Economic Commission for Latin Ame-
rica and the Caribbean, better known as CEPAL,
“the prevailing relationship between China and
Latin America and the Caribbean has been of a
North-South nature” (ECLAC 2016, p.14).
Third, since 1998 private ows to developing
countries have become more and more impor-
tant; Foreign Direct Investment and remittan-
ces are the largest nancial ows to developing
countries, with 600 and 450 billion of US dollars
respectively in 2014. Remittances include only
the ocially registered ones, hundreds of billions
are assumed to enter developing countries in an
unocial way. International aid is around 130
USD billion. Private benefactors and philanthro-
py ows have also increased enormously in the
rst fteen years of the new millennium.
B. However....on the dark side
Unfortunately some negative economic facts
characterize the international economic situa-
tion and could jeopardize the progress towards
the new SDGs.
First, since 2007-2088 a major nancial cri-
sis has hit the rich countries generating large
variability and major turbulences in nancial
markets. International nance is characterized
by systemic risk; the best description of this
situation is in the work of Hyman Minsky, who
foresaw the potential damages of uncontrolled
nance more than forty years ago. His ‘nancial
instability hypothesis’ dates back to the mid-se-
venties when the overall market for derivatives
was still puny(see Minsky, 1974).
More ows could come from some new development
banks such as the New Development Bank of the BRICS
and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, AIIB, both
initiatives were launched in 2014 with the backing of Chi-
na(see Grifth-Jones, 2014).