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Posted on 30 July, 2018 by

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High-level incrementalism and global transformation

Fred Boltz, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is working with the Resilience Shift on our work to influence the water sector. He writes about the challenges of global cooperation where “slow, modest, hard-fought progress is the result anticipated from a global political process designed to permit self-expression, to enable multilateral negotiation and to foster progress borne of consensus.”

Each year, over a two-week period the United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) convenes the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) for a formal, intensive review of progress on a subset of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established by all nations in 2015 as collective global development aims to 2030. The HLPF process provides the opportunity for nations to self-report on progress and offers a platform for UN agencies to report on collective targets and indicators, and allows partners from public, private and civil society groups to feature advances in paradigms and practice.

Recognizing the urgency and magnitude of our global development challenges, practitioners seeking to fulfill ambitions of increased awareness, investment and action may be alarmed by the lag in SDG progress. The process can drain the enthusiasm and energy of the most ardent advocates. And none who attend these fora expect anything different – slow, modest, hard-fought progress is the result anticipated from a global political process designed to permit self-expression, to enable multilateral negotiation and to foster progress borne of consensus.

Faced with this reality, any reflective agent of change, such as the Resilience Shift, must question – Why? What is the value of engagement at the highest-levels of multilateralism?  The benefits seem modest – socialization, learning, political will-building, agenda-setting – but are instrumental to global scale change in human development: its governance, norms, resourcing and orientation.

If we aim for a resilience shift – the adoption of new paradigm for critical infrastructure design and development – we must build awareness, understanding, and demand for resilience among the nation-states who design and direct the official development agenda.

UN ECOSOC set a common theme for the July 2018 HLPF dialogues: “Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies”, which for the first-time established resilience as a key tenet of progress. This framing alone set in process a socialization among all member-states and participants – translating, researching, interpreting, describing resilience.  As this theme will be maintained for future HLPF gatherings, alignment around resilience as a paradigm for development will effectively continue through 2030, creating a receptive global body for introducing advances in science, practice and policy.

From July 9-13 2018, the Resilience Shift, the Stockholm International Water Institute and diverse partners of our multi-stakeholder water alliance, contributed to dialogues and corridor negotiations of the HLPF, to share advances in the science and practice of water system design for resilience and advocate for resilience as a key tenet of progress in global development efforts.

While The Resilience Shift (RS) has just begun its water and resilience efforts, we are intently building upon progress forged in partnership – from advances in ecological and engineering science, to urban and regional resilience planning tools, among a growing global community with the common aim of building a resilient future through water (Open Letter).

As we endeavor to change prevailing paradigms to a resilience orientation, it is useful to understand where the development community stands in its comprehension and adoption of resilience as revealed during the HLPF.

  • The adoption of resilience as a central HLPF stocktaking theme was a key step – building awareness, understanding and acceptance of resilience as an aim.
  • Diverse perspectives and interpretations of resilience exist. Most referenced resilience as the ability to thrive under the most acute and chronic vulnerabilities of concern to their nations and interests, and how these would be exacerbated by climate change. We understand resilience more broadly, as the ability to thrive under change derived from any number of drivers – climatic, social, environmental, economic, and their compounded impacts – and thus find opportunity in this broad receptivity.
  • While there is value in broad application and exploration of the meaning of resilience to development, however, diverse and divergent definitions also point to a risk of incoherence and loss of meaning if the term is too broadly and loosely applied.
  • This also suggests an important demand for progress in articulating the concept of resilience, the science underpinning it and consistent practices for diagnosing and measuring it.
  • Perhaps most importantly, the HLPF established a common political signal and expression of collective will to pursue resilience as a shared aim for development progress.

 

With these modest collective steps forward, we raise our aims to translating political will into progress in the science, practice and policy necessary to improve approaches to sustainable development.

Our efforts under The Resilience Shift, to advance the foundations of resilience definition, diagnosis, design, and execution for critical infrastructure have a receptive global audience and an urgent relevance to a greater global aim of transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies.

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