Did you hear the news? The world has a plan. An all encompassing plan to end poverty, feed everyone, create stable governments and peace and bring all of us in balance with nature and the limits of what our planet can handle. This plan includes all men and women, business and government, rich and poor countries, old and young, people and planet. This plan is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
On Friday, September 25, 193 world leaders adopted the SDGs at the UN General Assembly. The 17 goals are far-reaching and aspirational, and after three years of global consultation and negotiations, their adoption is a tremendous achievement.
For the first time, there is a broad recognition that the issues the SDGs seek to address are not defined by borders or governments. We see with our own eyes how poverty and hunger live side-by-side with affluence and obesity across the world. We know that social and economic stability in every nation now depends on our ability to collectively govern the entire planet’s environmental stability.
This is a significant shift in thinking from the past, where the environmental agenda has been pitted against the development agenda, as if the two were mutually incompatible. In fact, one cannot successfully exist without the other. But this mantra of conflict has plagued the progress of work on climate change and ecosystem management for decades.
The UN conventions on climate change (UNFCCC) and biodiversity (UNCBD), for example, have struggled by being wrongly perceived as environmental conventions. Countries meet regularly to argue and disagree about who will share the burden, and how much of it, to solve the global problems. This perception fails to recognize that a stable climate and biodiversity are the very crucible for economic growth, the alleviation of poverty, and the advancement of prosperity — without an environment that sustains the planet, there can be none of this at all.
The same is true of the Millennium Development Goals. They focused on halving poverty, on hunger, and the lack of education and health. They paid lip service to environmental sustainability and they did not focus on attaining full development for all.
The world in which we live is global, and inter-dependent, and that is what the new SDGs recognize.
The new development agenda has a truly universal framework that goes beyond the separatism of simply environmental, social or economic sustainability. It is an inclusive agenda for world prosperity that incorporates the safe operating space of a stable and resilient planet.
But this is not how the UN or the global media are communicating this new agenda is being communicated to the world.
Instead of celebrating this new integrated and universal agenda for all people and planet, the SDGs have been launched as an agenda to “finish the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals.” As in: we’ve come half way, and now it is time for the final stretch. The UN lights up its buildings with visuals that emphasize our opportunity to end hunger, poverty, child mortality, and provide education and basic health care for all poor people in the world.
These are surely top priority issues, but they are not all that the SDGs are about.
The SDGs provide a new framework that is very different from the MDGs (which focused on poverty eradication only) and very different from the old sustainable development agenda, which was about reducing environmental impacts as far as possible within nation states.
The SDGs are designed to solve systemic problems. They set out goals to eradicate poverty, attain food security from sustainable agriculture for all people, provide education and basic health care for all, deliver gender equity and transparent governance, and good economic development, within the planetary boundaries of a stable climate system, healthy oceans, sufficient freshwater, and the protection of all biodiversity. They recognise one cannot be achieved without the other.
It is an agenda which recognizes that all 194 nations sit in the same boat. We need to collectively make the transition to a better and more sustainable development approach to stand any chance to prosper in the future. True sustainability is the only vehicle for growth, innovation and development.
The SDG framework is a unique opportunity to implement a sound and ambitious plan to provide a prosperous future for all within the safe operating space on Earth.
We have no time to lose. The science is clear. We only have a few years to bend the global curves of negative global environmental change to avoid disastrous outcomes for humanity.
To put it simply: it is now or never. The goals are the opportunity to expand beyond an agenda of poverty alleviation. Instead we now need everyone to embrace the plan in its full breadth: governments and, financial institutions and businesses must all plan to align their strategies and investments with the plan. Measure their progress and be transparent about their impacts, good and bad.
Leaders across the world deserve recognition for delivering a plan, a framework in which true sustainability is the key. They have affected a step-change, by launching a fully integrated agenda for world prosperity that is universal. It is equally as important for the U.S., the E.U. and Turkey as it is for all of Africa, China and India.
We are the first generation who can eradicate poverty and ensure abundance for all. We are also the last generation with the chance to turn humanity away from the destructive path that is leading to a planetary crisis.
Let ours be the generation to bring harmony to both people and planet. Let’s all seize the full opportunity presented by these 17 SDGs, and create our common future through a journey of sustainable prosperity for all. We have a plan.
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