As UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015, all eyes are set on how the world community prepares to develop successor framework for environmental and development policy. The UN MDGs were agreed in 2000 to respect and uphold the limits of our earth. Then the world leaders assembled in New York for the Millennium Summit marking the fifty-fifth session of the UN General Assembly decided to push development agenda setting eight time-specific goals in areas of education, health, and environment etc.
The review of those goals shows the mixed results. In some areas of development progress is satisfactory but in others the countries have lagged behind in meeting the goals. Even Nepal has taken pride in fulfilling the goals in health by drastically reducing child mortality rates though our achievement in education is not encouraging.
When the international community starts working on formulating the post-2015 development agenda, which though will be known as sustainable goals, it needs to take a serious note of our past accomplishments. The new goals by whatever name they will be known will focus on both economic development and environment.
Barbara Unmuessig, President of the Heinrich Boil Foundation (Project-Syndicate piece on Radical Goals for Sustainable Development, December 23, 2014) has said that combining environmental and developmental frameworks is a good idea. Her contention is premised on the fact that such frameworks are supported by the success of a number of international conventions and agreements concluded at the auspices of the UN. These UN agreements cover a range of issues like conservation of biodiversity, human rights protection and the reduction of poverty considered to be vital for development.
In Barbara’s opinion, to make sustainable goals achievable and help promote sustainable development the world community has to pay attention to arresting environmental degradation, which is due to destruction of fertile top soil and global plastic production. There are no international agreements crafted so far in addressing these problems and she believes that forthcoming sustainable development goals should deal with problems of environment, human rights and development holistically.
As opined by Jeffrey D. Sachs, a Professor of Sustainable Development, (Project Syndicate “The Year of Sustainable Development” December 9, 2014) coming year will be our generation’s greatest opportunity to push the agenda of sustainable development. According to him three upcoming UN conferences slated between July-December, 2015 will be utilized for reshaping global development agenda. These negotiations will be related to financing for development, approving sustainable development goals (SDGs) to guide national and global policies until 2030, and conclusion of an international treaty on climate change.
In this vein the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s appeal to the international community in defining the goals of sustainable development clearly looks pertinent. Ban has explained that only clearly-defined goals of development can inspire people, business leaders, politicians, scientists, and civil society around the world to move toward those goals. His message on the subject can be better understood by recalling the report he produced for the General Assembly known as “The Road to Dignity by 2030”. This is a synthesis report by the UN chief on the Post-2015 Agenda.
A total of 17 target areas have been identified by the committee of the UN for enhancing sustainable development within the next 15 years. As past negotiations suggest the member states were in favor of keeping 10-12 goals that would cover all 17 areas of priority. Negotiations on the issue have been continuing since 2012 when sustainable development goals were first proposed before the UN. It is likely that such meetings will be convened until the end of next year before finally agreeing on the exact text.
The very title of UNSG’s report shows that there would be priority on issues of ending poverty and conserving the earth’s ecosystem, among other things. What is note worthy about the report is that it has accorded due attention to past mistakes in launching development agenda. Appropriately, the report quotes from Rio+20 Outcome Document, “The Future We Want”. This document was agreed during the 2012 conference organized in Rio as a follow-up to 1992 Rio Summit on Environment and Development.
According to the Outcome Document, “We recognize that people are at the center of sustainable development and, in this regard, we strive for a world that is just, equitable and inclusive, and we commit to work together to promote sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development and environmental protection and thereby to benefit all.”
It becomes clear that we are looking forward to action-oriented and people-oriented programs that should lead us to a world characterized by justice, equity, and inclusiveness. There is emphasis on inclusive economic growth, social development, and conservation of the planet.
It may be opportune to list here the sustainable development goals, which the UN committee has identified and the source is The Report of the Open Working Group of the General Assembly on Sustainable development Goals (A/68/970). These are related to ending poverty and hunger, ensuring healthy lives and equitable quality education, sustainable management of water and access of affordable and modern energy for all and sustainable consumption and production patterns.
Moreover, there are goals concerning the reduction of inequality within and among nations, conservation of earth resources, combating desertification, the promotion of peaceful societies for sustainable development, among others. Identification of goals is important but not enough. We need to learn good lessons from past experiences. The Millennium Development Goals could not be achieved as expected despite the efforts. The world community should thoroughly review the 2001-15 period for us to take guidance from the same and reformulate the policies in the areas where we have lagged behind.
We have been warned by the scientists time and again that we must strive for the conservation of finite resources and stop global warming to make this earth inhabitable. Therefore, it is hoped that all world leaders would become serious to conclude an internationally verifiable climate treaty by the end of 2015.