IDSS Features Alum Anga Timilsina
December 15, 2023
Alumnus Anga Timilsina (cohort ’01), who serves as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Global Advisor on Governance and Anti-Corruption, recently presented a talk titled “Democratic Backsliding and Increasing Polarization: Impact on Global Development Goals,” as part of Pardee RAND’s International Development Speaker Series (IDSS). Student Joan Chang (’18) moderated the talk.
Timilsina discussed the global issues of the backsliding of democracies and polarization and their impacts on the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), based on the UNDP Signal Spotlight 2023, the Human Development Report, the Freedom House report, and the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) Report on Democracy 2023. The UN focuses on upholding the principles of democratic governance, such as rule of law, civic space, representation, constitutional rights, press freedom, and more. However, he said, global norms and standards on democratic principles and human rights are being weakened, with shrinking civic space, worsening economic performance, rising social unrest, inadequate representation, and lower trust in government institutions. The UNDP recently explored how to improve collective action to address global challenges in an increasingly polarized world. Lack of trust is related to sense of insecurity, which exacerbates the situation.
He explained that democratic backsliding consists of the erosion of democratic norms and is happening in both developed and developing countries. Polarization consists of the divergence from norms, such as in political polarization or social polarization among groups with different characteristics. It impacts globalization, trade, conflict, and other issues, especially as countries become inward-looking and focused more on national self-interest than on shared global interest. Meanwhile, multipolarity and lack of trust in government institutions are on the rise. The poly-crisis of the climate, the economy, and politics, and other areas, contributes to democratic backsliding. Other existential threats such as climate change, emerging technologies, and artificial intelligence, also contribute to global risks. Democratic backsliding and increasing polarization reinforce each other.
Importantly, he added, democratic backsliding and increasing polarization have significant impacts on international development, in particular, the SDGs, which consist of 17 goals, 169 targets, and 232 indicators. Specifically, SDG 16 represents peace, justice, and strong institutions, and it focuses on the “how” of international development, namely, rule of law, democratic principles, and other norms. Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, which considered international development to be a developing country issue, the Sustainable Development Goals are truly global – based on the “five Ps” of people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership – and emphasize integration more for goals and development.
Future projections of international development to the years 2030 and 2050 depend in large part on how society addresses the existential threats of climate change as well as conflict, technology and AI, and other aspects of the global poly-crisis, he said. The next few years are critical, with the UN climate change conference, COP28, which took place in the UAE, two billion people voting worldwide in the coming “super” election year, the G20 becoming proactive under the presidency of Brazil in 2024, and various international conferences such as the Fourth International Conference on Financing for Development. The U.S. presidential election especially will impact the setting of global norms and standards, he said. The U.S. should lead collective action to address global challenges, as the nation leading the Democracy Summit and the Conference of the State Parties to the UN Convention against Corruption, among other international democracy-related conferences. Other entities play a role, too, such as legal courts increasingly making decisions that favor future generations, and private sector promoting and mainstreaming the concept of climate change and agenda of sustainability.
For current Pardee RAND students, Timilsina emphasized that the rigorous analytical training that the school provides, notably econometrics coursework and project work in future simulation and micro-modeling, helps equip graduates to pursue future work that addresses these global challenges. He added that is important to not limit work to the U.S. but explore international development and acquire relevant experience.
Summary by Joan Chang