Debate

New development goals after 2015 - where do we start?

Within the UN, work is underway to develop new sustainability goals and the new goals that will replace the Millennium Development Goals in 2015. To avoid the recurrence of previous negotiation failures, there must be a common and long-term development perspective with a clear agenda in addition to poverty reduction, writes Måns Nilsson, SEI Research Director

UN Sustainability Conference Rio + 20 came and went. The summit did not generate much attention or important agreements. What happens now?

The UN system is trying to agree on a new development agenda that will replace the Millennium Development Goals, as well as set goals for sustainable development, so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The two processes can and should be brought together. What does it take for these processes to yield more results than the Rio + 20 conference and the processes that preceded it?

A fundamental problem in recent global talks has been the lack of a common perspective on where the international community is headed, and a lack of trust between countries and different interests. The widespread lack of confidence has delayed several crucial treaties, from trade negotiations (Doha) to climate talks (Copenhagen).

With their growing economic and political influences, the world's emerging economies are becoming more and more central in the negotiations. This could create opportunities for better coherence between countries' interests and priorities. But, instead, the world is becoming increasingly polarized and the multilateral system increasingly powerless.

If the world wants to see a viable development after 2015, we must have a common and long-term development perspective with a clear agenda. In such a perspective, economic development in poor countries is, of course, fundamental. We must ensure basic needs - such as security, adequate livelihoods and access to food, water and energy.

But when countries and societies rise from poverty, they also want to take advantage of all the possibilities of modern life, with its benefits and personal freedom. Sustainable development goals must reflect this transition process. What would such an agenda look like?

But when countries and societies rise from poverty, they also want to take advantage of all the possibilities of modern life, with its benefits and personal freedom. Sustainable development goals must reflect this transition process. What would such an agenda look like?

In the energy sector, the UN's goals for basic energy supply are a good starting point - but they mostly concern South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, as almost all communities today lack adequate energy services. In addition to those goals, we also need goals for emerging economies, such as the expansion of low-carbon technology and increased energy efficiency. For developed societies, additional goals are needed; clean energy systems, increased energy efficiency, and how we choose to consume energy. When then South Asia and Africa have basic energy, perhaps around 2030, they will climb a step in development and on the way to 2050 hook in the goals of expanding carbon dioxide-efficient technology and increased energy efficiency. Seeing and acknowledging these change processes over time will be crucial for new development goals to have a global mandate.

Some preconditions for this perspective have already been put in place: at the Rio + 20 meeting, it was decided that sustainable development goals (SDGs) should be universal and engage all countries and peoples. They are equally important for both the poor and the rich, but in different ways. But all countries are interested in a development where the citizens' basic needs and future hopes are within reach, including social safety nets, a secure life, a clean environment and opportunities for economic development.

With the universal as a starting point, we can build a new common development agenda beyond poverty, which instead highlights clean water and good sanitation, secure access to food and education, good livelihoods, access to modern and clean energy services, livable cities and safe housing.

With the universal as a starting point, we can build a new common development agenda beyond poverty, which instead highlights clean water and good sanitation, secure access to food and education, good livelihoods, access to modern and clean energy services, livable cities and safe housing. Such an agenda may in fact be quite natural to transform into concrete goals, which both local and national institutions can support.

Of course, it will also meet with resistance, and demand both strong political will and effective communication with various interest groups. However, a grasp of the overall picture, and how it will change over time, is the very basis of a common development agenda. Without it as a starting point, the discussions on "beyond 2015" and global sustainability goals will remain a struggle and territorial dispute, and only deepen the pit that the intergovernmental system is currently digging into.

Måns Nilsson, Head of Research, Stockholm Environment Institute

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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