Europe leads sustainable development agenda

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Europe has led progress on the MDGs and SDGs, cutting extreme poverty, improving access to drinking water and spreading education. [khym54/Flickr]

Sustainability should be integrated as a leitmotif and goal of every policy formulated and implemented, writes Stuart Reigeluth.

Stuart Reigeluth is founder of Revolve Media and vice-president of Revolve Water.

In the aftermath of World War II, international powers formed the League of Nations that became the United Nations, controlled by the Security Council of the big post-war five that would lead to a cumbersome and irrevocably politicised institution. This was the price and process of economic cooperation and international diplomacy that helped rebuild Europe, and that would ultimately spawn the ethos of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that changed millions of lives for the better.

Europe emerged as the global leader of the eight MDGs that aspired to eradicate extreme poverty, provide primary education, empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability and create global partnerships. Europe is the largest donor to advancing these noble goals and therefore can proudly claim to have helped achieve the following results:

  • Extreme poverty was halved five years ahead of the 2015 MDG deadline
  • 90% of children in developing regions are enrolled in primary school, and school enrolment disparities between boys and girls have narrowed
  • the global number of people without access to drinking water has been halved
  • malaria deaths and HIV infection rates are down, with anti-retroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS much more widely available

These are sobering indicators that international development aid can bring such positive results. But foreign aid is a double-edged sword, for overall it may improve health but it often carries political implications and breeds competition and complacency. This is particularly true in neighbouring southern and eastern Mediterranean regions adjacent to Europe where all kinds of humanitarian crises are the new norm, where funding crisis prevention and conflict management is now a perpetual process rather than a means to more sustainable solutions.

Seasons of migration and refugees

The word ‘sustainability’ was not mentioned in the MDGs, according to Ahmed Alhendawi, UN Secretary General’s Envoy for Youth, when speaking at the first AMWAJ forum in Amman, Jordan, last November. But now that’s all we hear; sustainability is in everything we do, it’s the triple bottom-line of new lifestyles and values that makes what is good for the environment also good for society and excellent for business. The Sustainability Formula: environment + society + business.

Speaking at the opening of the AMWAJ (“waves” in Arabic) forum on environmental sustainability and social entrepreneurship, Alhendawi contextualised the current Arab predicament by stating that the Arab countries comprise 5% of the global population and 56% of the world’s refugees, a sobering ratio… the global average of unemployment is 13% per country, in the Arab regions it’s 30%… The brain drain is massive and no Trump anti-migration laws will stop the flow of people to greener lands.

There are an estimated 100 million youths in the Arab regions and Alhendawi claims we need to create some 60 million jobs by 2020. What happens to the other 40 million? They go to the cities, try to find a job or an opportunity to cross the sea to get a better life, perchance a job. Germany welcomed over one million refugees from the Syrian crisis alone, which is generous and tolerant, but also a drop in the bucket compared to things to come. And this was the hottest year in recorded history.

Finding sustainable solutions

Since the eight MDGs expired in 2015, they morphed and expanded to become the 17 inter-connected and mutually-reinforcing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Everywhere now, we hear of sustainable growth, environmental sustainability, human development. The concept of sustainability is more than a trend: “it’s the name of the game”, as Alhendawi remarked; paraphrasing former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said somewhat dramatically that this is the “first generation in history that has the means to eradicate extreme poverty (by 2030) but also the last generation to thwart climate change”. No pressure

Drama aside, the world population may reach 9.2 billion in 2050, 2.2 billion higher than today, increasing most in South Asia, the Middle East and Africa, all key regions of EU development funds. The “Sustainable Development in the 21st Century (SD21) project summary for policy-makers” states that by 2050: “urbanisation will reach 70%, implying an increase of 2.8 billion people in urban areas, compared to a decrease of 0.6 billion in rural areas.” How to avoid the Malthusian trap of demand outpacing the supply of resources?

Sustainability is all around you. It’s in the way you move from place to place; it’s in what you eat and where your food comes from; and it’s in how you live at home. There are solutions you are using and implementing now – some inadvertently, some intentionally. Tell us what you do and what future you want to see: #ShareYourIdeas and #InheritYourFuture for better health, cleaner cities, and greener lives. Join the INHERIT project today and surprise the world with an innovative idea or a creative concept.