The Sustainable Development Goals
What to do. The world has a major problem and that is that we are way off course in our goal in achieving sustainable development. We have had a 40 year run so far. Dating back to the first global conference on the environment and development in Stockholm in 1972, and the simultaneous pubication of limits to growth which correctly pointed out for the world that the challenge of combining economic development and environmental sustainability was still an unmet challenge and in unmet conundrum how can this be done. 20 years later, the world met at the Rio World Summit and adopted 3 major treaties that we have discussed on climate change and biological diversity and on combating desertification.
20 years later in June 2012, the world met for a third time on these great issues. Leaders came together from all over the world and took stock and what they realized was a very unsettling and powerful set of truths. On the one side, all of the evidence pointed out that the diagnosis first made back in 1972 was fundamentally correct that the problem of combining economic growth with social inclusion, and especially environmental sustainability, was a challenge that was so far, unaddressed and getting worse. Second, they concluded that the major actions which were hailed at the time as historic breakthroughs, at the Earth Summit in 1992, had not succeeded.
I’ve already noted on several occasions the Three Fs on the report card given by Nature Magazine to the Earth Summit. The F for climate change, the F on biological diversity, the F given on the treaty on combating desertification, not one of them delivered as promised. So with that in mind, world leaders at the Rio+20 Summit in June 2012 resolved once again to join this battle and that’s where we are today. What are we to do with the world that is going in one direction with very strong momentum. Some good, of economic growth spreading to many places of poverty being reduced in many parts of the world, but a lot that is seriously awry, and getting more and more dangerous. High inequality, some parts of the world still trapped in extreme poverty and cycles of violence and poverty and hunger and disease. And with the growing crisis, of the global environment, whether it is climate change, the sixth major extinction of species on the planet, the dangers to our cities of pollution, overcrowding, lack of infrastructure, we now need as the leaders realized at Rio Plus 20, a new and dramatic approach. Well what did they put on offer, how should the world respond? The first thing the world leaders said is we absolutely must not give up and quoting from the final outcome document of the conference called The Future We Want, the world leaders said, and I quote, we commit ourselves to re-invigorating the global partnership for sustainable development that we launched in Rio In 1992. We recognize the need to impart new momentum to our cooperative pursuit of sustainable development, and commit to work together with major groups, and other stake holders such as business, NGO’s, Universities in addressing the implementation gaps. They also noted something very important and that is that the most urgent task of all in all of the interconnected challenges of sustainable development, of economic development, of social inclusion, of environmental sustainability is the task that the world did take on in the year 2000. When world leaders adopted the millenium development goals, and that is the fight against extreme poverty. We’ve talked a lot about extreme poverty. We should recall, why it is the highest priority, and the most urgent priority and that’s because it is a matter of life and death in the absolute present conditions. One could even define extreme poverty as a condition in which survival is a daily struggle. Remember the people living in extreme poverty, are wondering when their next meal will come from, whether the next drink of water will carry pathogens that could threaten their lives, whether the next bite of a mosquito might transmit malaria to them. In other words, the challenges of extreme poverty are here and now and life and death. And since 7 million children are dying every year before their fifth birthday of conditions that are completely preventable or if not completely preventable essentially fully treatable. We have this crisis, the opportunity, the moral challenge in front of us. And so when the world leaders met at Rio Plus 20, they also noted right at the beginning of the future we want, something that I regard as completely correct. They said, and I quote, Eradicating poverty is the greatest global challenge facing the world today and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. Unless we tackle the end of extreme poverty, we are not going to complete the challenges on the other aspects of sustainable development either. Quote, In this regard, we are committed to free humanity from poverty, hunger as a matter of urgency. We reaffirm our commitment to make every effort to accelerate the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals including millennium development goals by 2015. So in 2012, the world leaders said we have 3 years left of the 15 year period on the millennium development goals. Let’s use those to accelerate progress. Let’s remember that the millennium development goals called for cutting extreme poverty by half, something already accomplished if we take the developing countries as a group, but not accomplished country by country or region by region. And so a lot of work left to do to 2015. But then continuing on after 2015 to complete the job, now here’s where I think the leaders made the single most important step at Rio Plus 20. They said, and I quote, we recognize that the development of goals could also be useful for pursuing focused and coherent action on sustainable development. In other words, they looked at the Millennium Development Goals and said, that was pretty good. That helped to mobilize world efforts on fighting poverty. We need a similar approach on mobilizing world efforts on sustainable development in all of its complexity. And I quote, we further recognize the importance and utility of a set of sustainable development goals, or SDGs. These goals should address and incorporate in a balanced way, all 3 dimensions of sustainable development and their inner linkages. I would summarizeit as saying that the world leaders agreed to make the transition from MDGs to SDGs, from millenium development goals, to sustainable development goals. Taking a leaf from the millenium development goals, the world leaders also made some points about what these new SDG’s should be. And I quote again from the future we want, we also underscore that SDG’s should be action oriented, concise and easy to communicate, limited number, aspirational, global in nature and universally applicable to all countries while taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national politics and priorities. We also recognize that the goals should address and be focused on priority areas for the achievement of sustainable development, being guided by this outcome document, The Future We Want. Governments should drive implementation with the active involvement of all relevant stakeholders as appropriate. Well here you have it, what I think is a potentially historic decision to move to a new global agenda with a set of universally applicable, sustainable development goals and to have those goals help guide the world, rich and poor countries alike in a new era, giving new impetus, new power, new social mobilization, new resources, new political will to a challenge that’s been more than 40 years somehow in our awareness, 20 years under international law, but to date not successfully causing a change of direction for the world. Now, in the outcome of Rio Plus 20 and the call for putting sustainable development at the very core of the international development agenda U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon honoured me and gave me a, a good challenge also which was to help create a global network of problem solving. And I’d mentioned before this new sustainable development solutions network, the idea that we need not only new goals, new political motivation and will, but we need an era of intensive problem solving, of the kind that we’ve been discussing in each of the areas of health and education and sustainable agriculture, sustainable cities, sustainable energy systems, conservation of biological diversity, and all the rest. The SDSN guided by its leadership counsel took on a challenge to advise the United Nations and the Secretary General in particular on what the new sustainable development goals might be, because these will be negotiated to the year 2015, and then be operational beyond. And so the Sustainable Development Solutions Network proposed a concise set of 10 goals that could be a framework of action. These are an illustration of course, because the governments’ meeting in the United Nations, in the general assembly, will ultimately be the ones to choose the goals. But I want to discuss what the STSN proposed, because I think that it shows the power, the range, and the kind of orientation that the SDGs should have and can have to guide us after the year 2015. So the SDSN group said, 10 goals maximum and I think that that’s a reasonable number. It’s pretty hard to get all of the objectives of economical development, social inclusion, environmental sustainability and good governance within a list of 10 goals, but to have more than that would take away the concise power of a limited clear easily understandable set of universal goals. So here are the 10 proposed by the sustainable development solutions network.
Goal number 1 – End extreme poverty including hunger and the more specific definition is End Extreme Poverty in all its forms, in other words, complete the Millennium Development Goals including hunger, child stunting, malnutrition and food and security and give special support to highly vulnerable countries. The basic idea of goal number 1, and it’s goal number 1 not by accident, but because it is the highest priority, is to complete the task started by the Millennium Development Goals of ending extreme poverty. Now, one thing to keep in mind: the World Bank, in its leadership group voted in 2013 to take on this specific objective for the bank, to contribute to ending extreme poverty by the year 2030. So the idea that completing the millennium development goals in the sense of ending extreme poverty in all its forms – income, hunger, disease, lack of access to basic infrastructure can be accomplished by our generation is becoming official policy.
SDG number 2 – Achieve development within planetary boundaries. Now, this ought to make sense by now. It says in the subtitle: All countries have a right to development that respects planetary boundaries, ensures sustainable production in consumption patterns, and helps to stabilize the global population by mid-century. So, the idea is to give support to continued economic growth, especially in the developing countries, to give support to convergence, that developing countries and developed countries should converge in living standards by the developing countries being able to raise their living standards, but for this to happen within the planetary boundaries. And we know through all of our discussions that that means changes in the way that we use energy, produce energy, changes in the way that food is grown, changes in the way that cities are designed and built and so forth.
SDG number 3 – Ensure effective learning for all children and for youth for their lives and their livelihoods. So this is the education goal. It is not stated simply as children in school, though that’s important. It’s stated as effective learning, so that children are imparted with the skills that they need to be productive, to be fulfilled in their lives to be good citizens, and to be able to find decent jobs. We know that as technology is changing, the pathways to decent work also require decent skills and good education. And SDG3, as recommended by the sustainable development solutions network, puts a focus on that.
SDG 4 – Achieve gender equality, social inclusion, and human rights for all. The point is clear. We know that sustainable development rests on one core dimension of justice, fairness, social inclusion, and social mobility and we’ve seen that gender discrimination, discrimination against minority groups, discrimination against indigenous populations are huge barriers to full participation in economic life and to a life satisfaction that is attainable if we honor human rights, if we live up to the universal declaration of human rights.
SDG Number 5 – Again as recommended by this sustainable development solutions network achieve health and wellbeing at all ages. So the subtitle of this is to achieve universal health coverage at every stage of life with particular emphasis on primary health services including reproductive health to ensure that all people receive quality health services without suffering financial hardship. All countries will also promote policies to help individuals to make healthy and sustainable decisions regarding diet, physical activity, and other individual or social dimensions of health. We saw that it is possible to reduce child mortality dramatically, to reduce maternal mortality dramatically, to raise life expectancy, to control many diseases at very, very low cost.
SDG Number 6 – Improve agricultural systems and raise rural productivity and in the more elaborate statement, it says improve farming practices, rural infrastructure, and access to resources for food production to increase the productivity of agriculture, livestock and fisheries, raise small holder income, reduce environmental impacts, promote rural prosperity, and ensure resilience to climate change. We saw the challenges facing small holder farmers, we’ve seen the problems of depletion of fresh water, depletion of fisheries, the impact of climate change. The need to create new technology based, and information based systems for small holder farmers to help raise the most impoverished of these families out of poverty, and to ensure that farm systems are resilient to the changes that are coming, and more productive. So SDG 6 recognizes the centrality of sustainable agriculture and as part of that, the sustainable, sustainability of the food supplies.
SDG 7 – Empower inclusive, productive, and resilient cities.With the longer statement to make all cities socially inclusive, economically productive, environmentally sustainable, secure and resilient to climate change and other risks. Develop participatory accountable and effective city governance to support rapid and equitable urban transformation. We’ve talked a lot about the urban challenge and we have seen using the illustration of New York City how cities can plan in detail for their sustainability on many dimensions and be recommended as SDG 7 calls on cities all over the world to take on this challenge.
SDG 8 – Curb human-induced climate change and ensure sustainable energy. Clear. And the longer statement of this goal is to curb greenhouse gas emissions from energy industry agriculture, the built environment, and land use change to ensure a peak of global CO2 emissions by 2020 and to head off the rapidly growing dangers of climate change to promote sustainable energy for all. We know that we need to cut approximately by half, world emissions by 2050 even as the world economy grows perhaps threefold between now and then. This means the decarbonization of the energy system while at the same time, ensuring that electricity and modern energy services are available for all. A huge challenge, it can be done, but it will require much faster action than we have been taking to date.
Goal Number 9 – Secure ecosystem services and biodiversity and ensure good management of water and other natural resources with the text saying that biodiversity, marine and terrestrial ecosystems of local, regional, and global significance should be inventoried, in other words, measured, managed, and monitored to ensure the continuation of resilient and adaptive life support systems and to support sustainable development. Water and other natural resources are managed sustainably and transparently to support inclusive economic and human development, in other words biodiversity. Maintaining ecosystem services, maintaining the biodiversity that is vital for the functioning of eco systems.
And Goal Number 10 – Transform Governance for Sustainable Development. The public sector, business and other stake holders should commit to good governance including transparency, accountability, access to information, participation, an end to tax and secrecy havens and efforts to stamp out corruption. The international rules governing international finance, trade, corporate reporting, technology, and intellectual property should be made consistent with achieving the sustainable development goals. The financing of poverty reduction and global public goods including efforts to head off climate change should be strengthened based on a graduated sets of global rights and responsibilities. Bottom line, 10 goals to orient the world in clear, specific ways, measurable ways, concise and understandable ways, so that the world can make the shift from our business as usual and increasingly dangerous course, to a trajectory of sustainably development for all. These are the recommendations of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. It’s up to the world’s gov?ernments, following the mandate given at the Rio Plus20 Summit, to choose the sustainable development goals and set a sustainable development agenda for the post 2015 period, to make the transition from MDGs to SDGs. Can these SDGs be achieved? Can this huge effort succeed? Let’s take a look.