An action agenda for our planet

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An action agenda for our planet

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the United Nations. It is also the year when countries will come together to adopt the next generation of goals for our people and their only home - planet Earth. 2015 will also see the hosting of a Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and the Climate Conference in Paris. It will be a historic inflexion point for the global approach to development.

This new agenda will stage the transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the next generation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with a new time horizon of the year 2030. The new SDGs will build on the MDGs which covered poverty, gender equality, health, education and environmental sustainability, but in a way which is deeper, more integrated and policy relevant. They also include nine more goals to cover the broader scope of the sustainable development agenda which include more economic issues, such as growth, employment, infrastructure and inequality; environmental concerns that include water, energy, terrestrial and marine ecosystems; and most importantly a goal with targets promising more peaceful, better governed and inclusive societies.

The earlier MDGs succeeded in focusing political will and international development resources on a number of priority objectives which include, in addition to sharply reducing poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary school enrolment with gender parity, checking the HIV/AIDS pandemic, promoting gender equality and substantially reducing preventable deaths from malaria, diarrheal diseases and complications of childbirth. For the past two years, an unprecedented engagement has helped define what should succeed the MDGs in 2016. The UN member states have elaborated on a new goal and target framework that builds on the work of the MDGs, but one which calls for a fundamental rethink in all economies and societies.

In shaping this future agenda, governments have been joined by the voices of millions around the world including women, children, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, business and industry, workers and trade unions, farmers, local authorities, the scientific and technological community and civil society. There could be no better process to give meaning to the involvement of “we the people” - as set out in the UN Charter - in determining their own destiny.

Halving extreme poverty in the past 15 years has been an extraordinary accomplishment by any standard. Yet, there are still many millions of poor and vulnerable people left behind in the world and development must include them. Hence, the ambition of the sustainable development goals is to end extreme poverty and hunger, while leaving no one behind.

The new goals will take us into the second quarter of the 21st century. During the next 15 years, more countries will graduate from being least developed countries, and middle-income and upper-income countries will continue to grow and to provide productive and decent employment to their populations.

As more and more of the world’s population joins the global middle class, demands on the environment and our natural resource base will also continue to grow. Already we are consuming each year one and a half times the Earth’s annual capacity to regenerate itself. We are drawing down precious natural capital just to live the way we are. Climate change already poses a serious threat that, if left unchecked, risks undermining the livelihoods of the poorest and worsening food insecurity in some of the most populated regions of the globe.

If all the Earth’s inhabitants are to be able to enjoy a decent standard of living, the wealthy will need to shift to much more sustainable patterns of consumption, and producers everywhere will need to shift to more sustainable patterns of production. Thus, the future agenda and goals are universal, calling for action on the part of everyone everywhere, beginning in the developed world, to shrink their environmental footprints, to create a “safe operating space” for all countries to prosper. The planetary limits cannot be transgressed and our climate system, our oceans, land and atmosphere must be preserved, regenerated and made safe. We hope that a significant and meaningful outcome in Paris in December will strengthen global efforts in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Many worry about the price tag of the transition to the bold new goals. But this agenda is not about aid and concessional flows to developing countries alone. It is more about the fundamental transformations in all societies and economies. Resources have to be raised and spent primarily in countries themselves. All the important economic actors - governments, the business sector, banking and insurance, financial institutions and intermediaries, the trading system -have to be part of the accelerated impetus for sustainability. The financing for development conference in Addis Ababa in July 2015 will be an important landmark on the way to financing the implementation of the new sustainable development goals.

Let us make sure that we do not let our people and our planet down. History has given us this chance; let us not fritter it away.

*The author is director at the United Nations Division for Sustainable Development in New York.

by Nikhil Seth

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