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Reducing inequalities is essential to ensure sustainable development benefits all, especially those furthest behind

A new guide aiming to strengthen how development cooperation can tackle and address more effectively inequalities, has been published by the European Commission.

The reduction of inequalities, both within and between countries, is a prerequisite for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs. When inequalities persist, especially in an extreme way, across economic, social, political or environmental dimensions, sustainable development and social cohesion will always be beyond reach.


Inequalities and sustainable development

Globally, humanity has never enjoyed a higher standard of living, and yet, challenges of extreme inequalities, both within and between countries, remain immense and urgent for many around the world.

Unlike poverty — a characteristic that can be defined at the individual level — inequality is a relational concept that refers to differences between individuals or groups across different dimensions, such as economic or social.

There are still more than 800 million people living in extreme poverty, while 1 % of the world’s population controls more than 50 % of its wealth. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is expected to increase inequalities globally.

Over recent decades, income inequality has been on the rise or accelerating and is currently at rates rarely seen before in history. In developing countries, inequality has increased by 11 % and is getting worse. More than 75 % of people in developing countries live in countries where income is more unequally distributed than it was in the 1990s. Many of the countries with the highest levels of income inequality (economic inequality) are in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Reducing inequalities is both a stand-alone SDG – SDG 10 – and is intrinsically linked to the entire 2030 Agenda, and in particular the goals on ending poverty and hunger (SDG1 and SDG2), good health and wellbeing (SDG3), quality education (SDG4), gender equality (SDG5), clean water and sanitation (SDG6), affordable and clean energy (SDG7), decent work and economic growth (SDG8), resilient infrastructures and inclusive industrialisation (SDG9) as well as more inclusive cities (SDG11) and sustainable ecosystems (SDG15).

The EU’s commitments to reducing inequalities

The EU has over recent years invested in increasing understanding around inequalities and continues to develop knowledge and know-how to better address inequalities in partner countries.

This approach to inequalities stems from the EU’s legal and political commitments stemming from the EU Treaties, and laid out in the European Consensus on Development and the 2030 Agenda.

Eradicating poverty, tackling discriminations and inequalities and leaving no-one behind are at the heart of EU development cooperation policy.
- EU Consensus on Development


A new guide on addressing social and economic inequalities

To support development actors to better address in particular economic and social inequalities through the EU development cooperation, the European Commission, has published a new guide. This reference document provides operational guidance to practitioners and is a follow-up to the 2019 European Commission publication: Implementation of the new European Consensus on Development – Addressing inequality in partner countries, and the related Council Conclusions.

The guide demonstrates how European Union development cooperation can become more responsive to the challenge of reducing inequalities and is divided into three volumes

  • Volume 1 presents the theoretical background and trends to understand inequality.
  • Volume 2 presents 18 “Policy Briefs” on inequalities to guide the design of policies on different topics linked to inequalities, including: health, education, social protection, transport and mobility, energy, climate change, water and sanitation, land, urban development, territorial development, public finance, taxation, trade, growth, digitalisation, financial inclusion, labour and employment, governance and the rule of law, and gender.
  • Volume 3 presents guidelines and tools to help EU staff mainstream inequality across all operations and to assess to what extent inequality is being addressed through development cooperation.

EU-AFD Research Facility on Inequalities final conference - reviewing three years of research

The EU-AFD Research Facility on Inequalities, implemented by Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and funded by the European Union, came to an end after 3 years of work, implementing 23 research projects and producing 150 publications. A final conference was held to present its impressive results from 22 to 25 March and was opened by Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen and Clément Beaune, French Secretary of State to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs. The conference brought together renowned experts and high-level representatives from partner countries.

You can watch the various recordings from the conference here. The key note speeches and an opening panel titled: Inequalities in a world in crisis, which included Branko Milanović, Senior scholar of the Stone Center on socio-economic inequality and Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International can be seen here.