Tuesday, 6 October 2015

UN Sustainable Development Summit: “We’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit”

The UN has just finished its summit on sustainability:
United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 .:. Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform

With the mainstream press taking an interest in the 'SDGs':
What are the Sustainable Development Goals and why do they matter? | Daily Mail Online

This is the perspective from the FT just before the summit:

Sustainable Development
When world leaders gather this month at the UN General Assembly, they are set to endorse an ambitious package of global economic, social and environmental objectives for the coming 15 years.

View this special report
Special Report
Inside this Report:
Split over value of UN development goals
Fears revised aims will dilute achievements and hold back progress
Paris greenhouse gases pledges fall short
December’s UN meeting on climate change aims to do more than end with eloquent promises
UN goals seek to improve women’s lives
Equality is still a long way away
Sanitation needs more private investment
More than 2.5bn people lack basic services, says UN
View this special report
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Sustainability - Topics - FT.com

And this is the perspective from the the UN's sister organisation from after the summit: 

IMF’s Managing Director Christine Lagarde on how to implement the Sustainable Development Goals

On Friday, September 25, the United Nations formally adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a set of 17 goals aimed at lowering global poverty, hunger, and inequality and addressing environmental challenges. Ahead of the U.N. Sustainable Development Summit—where the SDGs were adopted—the Global Economy and Development program at Brookings hosted International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde for a discussion on the IMF’s role in implementing the post-2015 development agenda and the SDGs.
Implementing the post-2015 development agenda: A conversation with IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde
Here are some of the main takeaways of the discussion:

1.   Excessive inequality is particularly detrimental to sustainable growth.

Social issues like high levels of unemployment, particularly among youth, and income inequality are directly related to countries’ sustainability of growth, said Lagarde. Increasing the income and revenues of a country’s bottom 20 percent of earners has been shown to have a significant positive impact on sustainability. Steps that can be taken to drive down inequality include a combination of policy measures and redirected spending to focus on programs bringing direct benefits to citizens.

2.   Women are critical to closing gaps in three areas of policy: learning, labor, and leadership.

Lagarde insisted that beyond being a humanitarian and moral duty, it simply is an “economic no-brainer” for countries to improve the education levels of females. Countries should encourage women to enter leadership roles because when they do, it creates a role model effect inspiring other women to seek leadership roles. Through empirical analysis, the IMF has been measuring the impact of additional learning in young girls and observed increases in country earning levels and GDP as a direct result.

3.   Countries must take care of their poor before implementing policy measures that are going to affect them.

Lagarde discussed the removal of fossil fuel subsidies and their asymmetric distribution several times throughout the event. Typically, only 20 percent of a country’s subsidies go to those who need it— whom Lagarde identified as being critical to countries successfully removing subsidies. In an IMF study on countries attempting to phase out and remove fossil fuel subsidies, only those who actually addressed the 20 percent first were successful in achieving complete elimination.

4.   The public sector has a significant role to play in increasing sustainability through reorienting public spending and investment.

At the country level, investment in public infrastructure is extremely conducive to stimulating growth, Lagarde said. Infrastructure facilitates social sustainability and inclusion because increasing citizens’ accessibility to schools and jobs encourages women’s empowerment and education.
IMF’s Managing Director Christine Lagarde on how to implement the Sustainable Development Goals | Brookings Institution

The problem is getting the message out there - especially to younger people:
Can Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and Coldplay make the global goals famous? – podcast | Global development | The Guardian

There are other post-summit commentaries, however:
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals: Global Schizophrenia | Global Research - Centre for Research on Globalization
UN Sustainable Development Goals: The Matrix Reloaded | Opinion | teleSUR English

Here's a critical, longer-term view of the role of the UN:

Sustainable Development: A Sham?

June 12, 2010
The two-pronged concept of trade and environment is what forms the modern-day notion of development. Though they are at the epicenter of the globalization debate, there is much discord between them in the domestic as well as the international community. Both trade and environment are but imperative elements of globalization; however, harnessing one by harming the other would do nothing but cause irretrievable damage to Planet Earth.
Initially, economic growth and the consequences of such growth on the environment was thought of as disconnected from one another. Today, however, when a lot of harm has been done to the environment and the damage is irreversible, the international community including both developed and developing countries have begun to recognize the problem of the trade-environment debate.
Keeping this debate in mind, modern environmentalists discovered, with much elation, the concept  of ‘sustainable development’ in the late 1980s. Sustainable development, according to the Brundtland Commission Report (or, ‘Our Common Future’), “is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
It can be conceptually broken down into environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and socio-political sustainability. There have been several conferences and summits throughout the world addressing the concept of such development. The United Nations International Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE) in 1972 decided that the international community would not consider environment and  economic and social development policy objectives separately. In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) or the Rio Earth Summit, a blueprint of humanity’s interaction with the environment through sustainable development, was prepared. Recently, in 2009, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen was held.
However, these summits/conferences are of little or no use. There is no legal force to compel  nations to adhere to these environmental agreements and no international police force to take action if these nations flout the rules. Factories and industries in several nations continue to emit harmful gases. For roads to be built, forests are fast disappearing. Plenty of people in various nations even now waste resources. So, is sustainable development only a concept, only a notion fabricated by the world to hoodwink itself from impending doom?
Scores and scores of conferences have been held, millions of people have met, and terms have been discussed and debated. However, the environment has not been freed from the fetters of pollution. The environment still continues to die a silent death. So, is the much-hyped concept of sustainability an empty phrase? Is it a sham, a creation of the modernists to keep the world from seeing that one day it shall all come to an end?
My perspective on sustainability might seem extremely cynical and I might dress it up as a ‘postmodernist view’ but the situation is as Canadian Environmentalist, David Suzuki, has described, “we’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit”. It is a truism that in the hustle-bustle of the environmental debate, all nations are but chasing world-power. In such a situation, the concept of sustainable development seems to be only a lie that nations tell their people.
Deya Bhattacharya
Sustainable Development: A Sham?Development

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