The next big thing for global transformation

Written by Anne-Sophie Stevance in conversation with Paula Caballero Gomez, a driving force behind the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals on the Future Earth blog

Do you think that the development and environmental communities are ready to work together in an integrated way? There is a concern that universal integrated goals will reduce the focus on poverty eradication.

Paula – That was one of the biggest hurdles. There was a concern that the SDGs would deviate from the poverty agenda and detract from the MDGs. But that’s totally absurd. The specific MDG targets have to be integrated and taken further in whatever new framework we come up with. MDG1 is specifically about poverty, but – in some way – all the MDGs are to do with poverty. But poverty is far more complex than just income numbers; poverty has to do with multiple deprivations. There is a continuum between poverty and prosperity, and we need to understand what it means to pull people out of poverty irreversibly. Over two billion people live on less than $2 a day. At the other end of the spectrum one per cent of humanity are consuming 30 per cent of resources or some equally absurd number. That doesn’t work – one planet is not enough for everybody to live like a middle– or high–class person in an OECD country under current standards. The food riots, the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street were not started by the poorest of the poor – they were started by people who have middle–class expectations and don’t want to lose what they already have. This is no longer just a developing country issue. Look at the unemployment rates in Spain, or the growing inequality in the US. Entrenched poverty is a universal agenda and it’s linked to sustainable consumption and production. If we are really serious, we need a universal agenda rather than stop-gap paternalistic approaches to dealing with poverty. We need scientists to tell us what the thresholds of sustainable production and consumption are.

The MDGs alone cannot pull people out of poverty. The MDGs are about ‘end of the pipe’ solutions such as hunger, whereas the SDG would be about food security systems – that means putting in place the necessary structures, processes and investments; that means thinking about the role of commodity price volatility, stock markets, and farmers’ access to credit. You have to work out how to deliver energy and water to isolated communities and support sustainable livelihoods. The SDGs can thus provide a structured approach and would go a long way towards bridging the gap between the environment and development communities. Since Rio+20 for example, many countries have appointed somebody in the post–2015 brief who works across different ministries and there is active engagement at national level between the environment and development communities. The changes are happening.

An important thing to remember is that metrics are voluntary. Take GDP for example. There’s no treaty on GDP, but everybody measures it because it’s useful. The SDGs will do the same thing – it’s a metric. But we have to work hard to get the SDG framework right. The SDGs will not work if they’re unclear, or too expensive, or unsubstantiated. If we get them right, they could be a tool for launching a truly major transformation – globally.

Click here to read the full interview.

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