The year of sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The year 2015 will be our gen­er­a­tion’s great­est op­por­tu­nity to move the world to­ward sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment. Three high-level ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween July and De­cem­ber can re­shape the global de­vel­op­ment agenda, and give an im­por­tant push to vi­tal changes in the work­ings of the global econ­omy. With United Na­tions Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon’s call to ac­tion in his re­port “The Path to Dig­nity,” the Year of Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment has be­gun.

In July 2015, world lead­ers will meet in Ad­dis Ababa, Ethiopia, to chart re­forms of the global fi­nan­cial sys­tem. In Septem­ber 2015, they will meet again to ap­prove Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals (SDGs) to guide na­tional and global poli­cies to 2030. And in De­cem­ber 2015, lead­ers will as­sem­ble in Paris to adopt a global agree­ment to head off the grow­ing dan­gers of hu­man-in­duced cli­mate change.

The fun­da­men­tal goal of th­ese sum­mits is to put the world on a course to­ward sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment, or in­clu­sive and sus­tain­able growth. This means growth that raises av­er­age liv­ing stan­dards; ben­e­fits so­ci­ety across the in­come dis­tri­bu­tion, rather than just the rich; and pro­tects, rather than wrecks, the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment.

The world econ­omy is rea­son­ably good at achiev­ing eco­nomic growth, but it fails to en­sure that pros­per­ity is eq­ui­tably shared and en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able. The rea­son is sim­ple: The world’s largest com­pa­nies re­lent­lessly – and rather suc­cess­fully – pur­sue their own prof­its, all too of­ten at the ex­pense of eco­nomic fair­ness and the en­vi­ron­ment.

Profit max­imi­sa­tion does not guar­an­tee a rea­son­able dis­tri­bu­tion of in­come or a safe planet. On the con­trary, the global econ­omy is leav­ing vast num­bers of peo­ple be­hind, in­clud­ing in the rich­est coun­tries, while planet Earth it­self is un­der un­prece­dented threat, owing to hu­man-caused cli­mate change, pol­lu­tion, wa­ter de­ple­tion, and the ex­tinc­tion of count­less species.

The SDGs are premised on the need for rapid far-reach­ing change. As John F. Kennedy put it a half-cen­tury ago: “By defin­ing our goal more clearly, by mak­ing it seem more man­age­able and less re­mote, we can help all peo­ple to see it, to draw hope from it, and to move ir­re­sistibly to­ward it.” This is, in essence, Ban’s mes­sage to the UN mem­ber states: Let us de­fine the SDGs clearly, and thereby in­spire cit­i­zens, busi­nesses, gov­ern­ments, sci­en­tists, and civil so­ci­ety around the world to move to­ward them.

The main ob­jec­tives of the SDGs have al­ready been agreed. A com­mit­tee of the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly iden­ti­fied 17 tar­get ar­eas, in­clud­ing the erad­i­ca­tion of ex­treme poverty, en­sur­ing ed­u­ca­tion and health for all, and fight­ing hu­man-in­duced cli­mate change. The Gen­eral Assem­bly as a whole has spo­ken in fa­vor of th­ese pri­or­i­ties. The key re­main­ing step is to turn them into a work­able set of goals. When the SDGs were first pro­posed in 2012, the UN’s mem­ber said that they “should be ac­tion-ori­ented,” “easy to com­mu­ni­cate,” and “limited in num­ber,” with many per­haps 10-12 goals ar­eas.

Achiev­ing the SDGs will re­quire deep re­form of the global fi­nan­cial sys­tem, the key pur­pose of July’s Con­fer­ence on Fi­nanc­ing for De­vel­op­ment. Re­sources need to be chan­neled away from armed con­flict, tax loop­holes for the rich, and waste­ful out­lays on new oil, gas, and coal de­vel­op­ment to­ward pri­or­i­ties such as health, ed­u­ca­tion, and low­car­bon en­ergy, as well as stronger ef­forts to com­bat cor­rup­tion and cap­i­tal flight.

The July sum­mit will seek to elicit from the world’s gov­ern­ments a com­mit­ment to al­lo­cate more funds to so­cial needs. It will also iden­tify bet­ter ways to en­sure that de­vel­op­ment aid reaches the poor, tak­ing lessons from suc­cess­ful pro­grammes such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS,

Tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, and Malaria. One such in­no­va­tion should be a new Global Fund for Ed­u­ca­tion, to en­sure that chil­dren ev­ery­where can af­ford to at­tend school at least through the sec­ondary level. We also need bet­ter ways to chan­nel pri­vate money to­ward sus­tain­able in­fra­struc­ture, such as wind and so­lar power.

Th­ese goals are within reach. In­deed, they are the only way for us to stop wast­ing tril­lions of dol­lars on fi­nan­cial bub­bles, use­less wars, and en­vi­ron­men­tally de­struc­tive forms of en­ergy.

Suc­cess in July and Septem­ber will give mo­men­tum to the de­ci­sive cli­mate-change ne­go­ti­a­tions in Paris next De­cem­ber. De­bate over hu­man-in­duced global warm­ing has been seem­ingly end­less. In the 22 years since the world signed the UN Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change at the Rio Earth Sum­mit, there has been far too lit­tle progress to­ward real ac­tion. As a re­sult, 2014 is now likely to be the warm­est year in recorded his­tory, a year that has also brought dev­as­tat­ing droughts, floods, high-im­pact storms, and heat waves.

Back in 2009 and 2010, the world’s gov­ern­ments agreed to keep the rise in global tem­per­a­ture to be­low 2 Cel­sius rel­a­tive to the pre-in­dus­trial era. Yet warm­ing is cur­rently on course to reach 4-6 de­grees by the end of the cen­tury – high enough to dev­as­tate global food pro­duc­tion and dra­mat­i­cally in­crease the fre­quency of ex­treme weather events.

To stay be­low the two-de­gree limit, the world’s gov­ern­ments must embrace a core con­cept: “deep de­car­bon­i­sa­tion” of the world’s en­ergy sys­tem. That means a de­ci­sive shift from car­bon-emit­ting en­ergy sources like coal, oil, and gas, to­ward wind, so­lar, nu­clear, and hy­dro­elec­tric power, as well as the adop­tion of car­bon cap­ture and stor­age tech­nolo­gies when fos­sil fu­els con­tinue to be used. Dirty high- gov­ern­ments en­com­pass­ing fa­vor­ing the 17 a to­tal pri­or­ity

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car­bon en­ergy must give way to clean lowand zero-car­bon en­ergy, and all en­ergy must be used much more ef­fi­ciently.

A suc­cess­ful cli­mate agree­ment next De­cem­ber should reaf­firm the two-de­gree cap on warm­ing; in­clude na­tional “de­car­bon­i­sa­tion” com­mit­ments up to 2030 and deep­de­car­bon­i­sa­tion “path­ways” (or plans) up to 2050; launch a mas­sive global ef­fort by both gov­ern­ments and busi­nesses to im­prove the op­er­at­ing per­for­mance of low-car­bon en­ergy tech­nolo­gies; and pro­vide large-scale and re­li­able fi­nan­cial help to poorer coun­tries as they face cli­mate chal­lenges. The United States,

China, the Euro­pean Union’s mem­bers, and other coun­tries are al­ready sig­nal­ing their in­ten­tion to move in the right di­rec­tion.

The SDGs can cre­ate a path to­ward eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment that is tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced, so­cially fair, and en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able. Agree­ments at next year’s three sum­mits will not guar­an­tee the suc­cess of sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment, but they can cer­tainly ori­ent the global econ­omy in the right di­rec­tion. The chance will not come along again in our gen­er­a­tion.

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