Make 2015 the year we did our best for the planet

Grassroots groups and protesters have given the battle against climate change a high public profile. Picture: Getty
Grassroots groups and protesters have given the battle against climate change a high public profile. Picture: Getty
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We have a real chance to make 2015 the year we did our best for the planet and for humanity, writes May East

“The stars are aligned for the world to take historic action to transform lives and protect the planet” – Ban Ki Moon

This year is a critical one for the planet and for humanity, with a series of defining moments that will have a transformative impact for generations to come.

In July, governments and business sector entities will meet in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to agree a strategy for financing sustainable development. In September, the new set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) will be adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. In December the Paris COP (conference of the parties to the UN framework convention on climate change) is expected to settle a long-awaited climate deal. Last but not least, December will mark the end of the 15-year cycle of the millennium development goals (MDGs).

Building upon the successes and lessons learned from the MDGs, the SDGs are expected to become an important tool for national priority-setting, mobilisation of resources and the achievement of specific development gains. Unlike the MDGs, which served as goals for developing nations only, the SDGs will apply to all countries.

The current SDGs comprise 17 goals and 164 individual targets. Crafted by the UN’s open working group (OWG), they represent a remarkable achievement in marrying sustained socio-economic growth and sustainable use of natural resources.

The breadth and depth of the proposed SDGs is unprecedented. Adopting a rights-based approach the new agenda is expected to leave no-one behind and promote social inclusion for the most vulnerable groups. At the same time, it is expected to set the environmental limits and critical natural thresholds for the use of natural resources, such as biodiversity loss, and land use change. An integrated approach that breaks down the “sector silos” is a key to a successful post-2015 agenda. For instance, climate change cannot be addressed in isolation of other issues such as poverty, access to water, food security, desertification and even migration trends.

The OWG has passed the baton to intergovernmental negotiators who are now drafting the terms of the final accord. As the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki Moon, said at the opening of negotiations in January, “expectations are high for the international agreements to be concluded this year, and a huge amount of work remains to be done”.

With some divergences on what is being described as “technical proofing”, some member states fear that disagreements over the final detail risk undermining the very careful political balance struck by the OWG proposal.

Back at home, Scotland is steaming ahead, engaging discussions on the relevance of the international goals and how to deliver them once agreement is reached. A post-2015 working group was established last year, comprising members of sustainability and international development organisations, academic institutions and the Scottish and UK governments. The team has been meeting regularly to follow the process closely and most importantly, to provide a Scottish voice in discussions led by the UK government.

Awareness-raising events have been planned throughout the year in conjunction with the business community, parliamentarians, Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities, local authorities, NGOs and academics.

With the level of engagement so far, there is a great expectation that Scotland will be ahead of the game in the implementation of the SDGs nationally. These are early stages but over the coming months our task is to promote a deep dialogue and develop a coherent plan of action which would fully integrate sustainability in the domestic and international development agendas.

The overriding message that is emerging from the international debates is that it will be impossible to deliver on the ambition of the SDGs without an even higher level of ambition in terms of means of implementation and global partnership. Much will depend on the political will of world leaders. With more than seven million people taking part in My World 2015 – a UN survey to determine what matters most to people around the world – it is clear that citizens worldwide are engaging and wanting their voices heard in this process.

Sustainable development is a global challenge – no country can successfully achieve it in isolation. To be effective, the goals will have to be adaptable to national priorities and levels of development to ensure that they are aspirational but also realistic for all countries. Once agreed in the coming years, the challenge for the international community is to harness these global goals to solve local problems, while eradicating poverty and achieving prosperity for all within the means of the planet’s limited natural resources.

May East is chief executive of CIFAL Scotland