The future of development and the question of sustainability
The gathering of the United Nations (UN) this September in New York undoubtedly had a different nuance. It marked the first official meeting to discuss “the future of development”. On Tuesday 25th, parallel to the UN General Assembly, the UN High Level Panel (HLP) of Eminent Persons on Post-2015 Development Agenda kicked off discussions about the continuation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the formulation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In September 2000, 147 heads of state and government officials met at the UN to unanimously adopt the Millennium Declaration, committing themselves to eight global development objectives (the eight MDGs) to be reached by 2015. These MDGs are widely perceived as the global and cross-country measures by which international development efforts would be judged.
Some proponents of the MDGs claim that many countries have exceeded the targets in at least three areas of the MDGs, namely poverty, slums and water. In the poverty category, for instance, it is estimated that in 2010 the share of people living on less than a US$1.25 a day basis dropped to less than half of its 1990 figure at the global level, as reported in the 2012 MDGs publication.
In Indonesia, as explained by the President’s special envoy for the MDGs, there are MDGs targets that have been achieved successfully such as the increased level of PPP (public-private partnership), school enrollment and higher gender equality. It is clear, however, many countries under the current MDGs framework have yet to achieve all the MDGs’ targets. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2008, for instance, when commenting on the achievements of the MDGs, stated: “We have made important progress toward all eight goals, but we are not on track to fulfill [all of] our commitments.”
The 2012 UN report concurred with the secretary-general’s statement. The report projected, among others, that more than 600 million people worldwide in 2015 will lack access to safe drinking water, almost one billion will be living on an income of less than $1.25 per day, mothers will continue to die needlessly in childbirth and children will suffer and die from preventable diseases.
In Indonesia, to achieve many of the MDGs’ targets by 2015, huge challenges remain. One of them chiefly relates to addressing poverty vulnerability, which remains high (i.e. many people live very close to the poverty line and mostly, they do not have social protection).
The aforementioned situation sends a strong, clear message to the UN and all countries to accelerate efforts to further achieve targets already laid out in the MDGs, and to continue efforts to achieve them beyond 2015.
Due to this challenge, Ban formed the UN HLP earlier this year that will advise the UN on the global development agenda beyond 2015.
Ban has appointed three co-chairs to lead this HLP: President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom. The HLP consists of 26 eminent individuals that will help the co-chairs.
The HLP is expected to prepare a bold yet practical development vision, to be presented to participating countries of the UN next year, which will recommend on a global post-2015 agenda with shared responsibilities for all countries with the fight against poverty and sustainable development at its core.
Sustainable development has been highlighted as an important core of the post-2015 development framework because at the Rio+20 Conference this year, countries agreed on the SGDs and many analysts argued that these goals have been generally overlooked in the MDGs.
Experience shows that focusing on economic growth and poverty eradication alone has not necessarily led to human welfare and — most importantly — well-being. A sole focus on economic growth may further result in the increase in social inequality and environmental negative externalities.
If this continues, such unsustainable growth may push our planet close to its “tipping point” (exceeding our “planetary boundaries”). The planetary boundaries, as defined by some scholars, are a safe operating space for humanity, which are identified and quantified so that human activities can move forward without causing unacceptable and irreversible environmental changes.
These boundaries include biodiversity loss, atmospheric aerosol loading, chemical pollution, climate change, ocean acidification, stratospheric ozone depletion, nitrogen and phosphorous cycles, global freshwater use and change in land use. Since most changes in ecosystems are likely to be irreversible, it is imperative that urgent action is taken to address these challenges before it is too late.
The links between poverty and the environment, however, are mostly complex and strongly influenced by local demographic, political, institutional, economic and cultural factors.
The over exploitation of natural resources, for example, which is driven by wealthy investments, may lead to environmental and natural resource degradation and further marginalize poor people, preventing them from accessing these already limited resources or pushing them to face more frequented disasters, such as flooding, land-slides, drought and fires and haze, as a result of the degradation.
The development framework in post-2015, as discussed in the HLP, therefore, should seriously take into account balanced efforts to address poverty, social inequality (both intra-generational and inter-generational equity) and environmental degradation. The framework needs to promote innovation including the promotion of bottom and inclusive approaches — garnering the support from different stakeholders — in the formulation of development agendas in many countries.
In general, the work of the HLP is crucial to define the basic shape of our development in the future. Since the Indonesian President is one of the co-chairs of the panel, Indonesians — and other developing country citizens — need to be proactive in contributing to this process.
It is our future that the HLP is discussing and defining.
With our contribution, it is hoped that the process is enriched and the formulation of “the future of development” will lead to the appropriate level of welfare and well-being of the human population as well as sound and healthy ecosystems of our only planet Earth.
The writer is a doctoral candidate at the Australian National University, and the recipient of the Australian Leadership Award and Allison Sudradjat Award.
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