Monday, February 6, 2012

Time to set Sustainable Development Goals

With the possibility of recession in the EU and slowdown in major economies, policymakers the world over are looking for pragmatic policy initiatives to avert further hardships brought about by a series of crises—food, fuel, financial, economic, environment and sovereign debt. Given this backdrop and the increasing anxiety over the long term resilience of people and the planet, it is high time the world chose to integrate economic, social and environmental dimensions of development and move on the path of sustainable development, which has been defined as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

To this end, recently, the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability urged in its report presented to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that in order to achieve sustainable development, the people should be placed at the center of any development strategy. By urging for the integration of social and environmental costs while determining world prices and measuring economic activities, it calls for a set of sustainable development indicators that go beyond the traditional approach of Gross Domestic Product, and recommends that governments develop and apply a set of Sustainable Development Goals that can mobilize global action and help monitor progress.

The 22-member panel, established by the Secretary-General in August 2010 to formulate a new blueprint for sustainable development and low-carbon prosperity, was co-chaired by Finnish President Tarja Halonen and South African President Jacob Zuma. The Panel’s final report, Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing,” contains 56 recommendations to put sustainable development into practice and to mainstream it into economic policy. If fully implemented, these measures will have profound implications for societies, governments, and businesses.

The report argues that the eradication of poverty and improving equity must remain priorities for the world community and that empowering women and ensuring a greater role for them in the economy is critical for sustainable development. Furthermore, it calls for improving health and education; ending of subsidies on fossil fuels, which is around US$400 billion each year, and agricultural subsidies, which is also around US$400 billion in the OECD countries alone; changing financial market regulation to promote long-term, stable and sustainable investment; improving access clean water, sanitation and food; meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and going beyond them; ensuring universal access to affordable sustainable energy by 2030; and having universal telecommunications and broadband access by 2025.

The Panel’s report underscores the importance of science as an essential guide for decision-making on sustainability issues. It calls on the Secretary-General to lead efforts to produce a regular Global Sustainable Development Outlook report that integrates knowledge across sectors and institutions, and to consider creating a Science Advisory Board or Scientific Advisor.

The report provides a timely contribution to preparations for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Brazil in June 2012. A recently leaked draft agenda document for the Rio+20 asks countries to sign up for 10 new sustainable development goals for the planet and promise to build green economies at the first earth summit in 20 years. Importantly, the recommendation of the panel, if implemented, will put the world in a path of sustainable development that will not only propel prosperity, but also ensure measures to sustainably utilize natural resources and environment to meet that end.

As global population reaches 9 billion by 2040 and middle-class consumer increases by 3 billion over the next 20 years, the world will need at least 50 percent more food, 45 percent more energy and 30 percent more water. These cannot be addressed with the existing development paradigm. The world needs to adopt a new approach to the political economy of sustainable development to address the sustainable development challenges in a new and operational way. It is time to work for a sustainable planet, a just society and a growing economy.