A few months ago, the Colombian government created what passed for excitement among international climate and development types, with its proposal for ‘sustainable development goals’. In a paper that is surprisingly short given the talk it’s generated, they proposed a set of goals which, in essence, incorporate the current Millennium Development Goals, but go well beyond them in including a range of possible goals on sustainability and the environment.
At the time, Alex raised a set of important questions here on GD about the what, the who and the how of any future SDGs. And over at CGD, Charles Kenny made a plea for the SDG and the MDG people to start talking to each other to provide some of the substance to underpin these ideas.
And since then? Global negotiations are funny things. In the absence of almost any of the substance that Charles was asking for, and without answers to any of the questions posed by Alex, the SDGs have continued their onward march. Representatives of thirty countries recently met in Bogata to agree some objectives for SDGs, based around reconciling poverty reduction and sustainability.
The SDG train has clearly left the station – even though no one really knows what they are. This is a little disheartening for innocent folk like me who like to believe that facts matter (yeah, I know, hopelessly outdated – I may as well be writing this on a Smith-Corona).
Given that no one really knows what SDGs are, but they sound good and people seem to like them, what might they actually be? Where is the meeting ground between environment and development that could form the basis of a set of goals, and what difference would it make to go about things this way?
Putting sustainability into poverty reduction:
If the MDG project has been about putting forward a set of positive things that need to happen for poor people: more money, more health, more education, what are the sustainability goals that could fit into this sort of framework? The things we need more of, from a sustainability and a development point of view, are, among others, more clean energy, more sustainable sources of water, and more food grown in ways that does not irrevocably deplete natural resources. These are things one could imagine putting into a new set of goals to go alongside the more traditional MDG concerns of health, education and income. Some of them, like water, are even in there already, though almost ignored.
So far so good, but the poverty reduction bit is actually the easy bit. Continue reading