The European Commission tabled proposals on Monday (2 June) for tackling the “intertwined challenges of eliminating poverty” and “ensuring progress is sustainable”, in the EU’s contribution to the post-2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Governments and the UN are already in negotiation over the SDGs, a set of targets to take over from the Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015. The SDGs are to apply to the entire world, pushing governments to balance economic and social progress with the environment’s capacity to regenerate.
Negotiations are said to be entering a “crucial phase” at the UN over the set of goals, despite the difficulty of finding international agreements at previous summits, such as at the Rio +20 conference in Brazil.
“A new framework is needed to rally the international community to tackle the intertwined challenges of eliminating poverty, improving well-being while ensuring that progress is sustainable within planetary boundaries,” Janez Poto?nik, the European commissioner for the environment, said in a statement with Andris Piebalgs, the commissioner for development.
“The UN post-2015 agenda should be universal, and provide a comprehensive response for all,” he said in presenting the Commission’s contribution to the SDGs debate.
Negotiators from a number of countries, in particular China, India and Brazil, have been wary of agreeing to a set of goals that may put the brakes on their rapid economic development.
“What we say is that you cannot eradicate poverty without sustainable development,” said Joe Hennon, spokesperson for Poto?nik. “Some are against the green economy idea. It’s seen as the developing world saying we’ve used up the resources and now the developing world cannot follow. Our argument is it’s a green economy or nothing.”
Hennon added: “Their livelihoods depend on their ecosystems… To eradicate poverty, you can’t do that if there’s no fish or polluted or over-used land.”
The communication, published yesterday (2 June), comes just before this year’s ‘Green Week’, a set of debates focusing on the links between environmental policy and the EU economy.
The EU executive’s communication, agreed to by the entire college of commissioners from the 28 EU member states, loosely defines its position on the main areas where societal progress is needed. These include poverty, inequality, health, food security, education, gender equality, water and sanitation, sustainable energy, decent work, inclusive and sustainable growth, sustainable consumption and production, biodiversity, land degradation and seas and oceans.
The Commission refers to the need to take a “rights-based” approach to achieving progress in the SDGs, through justice, equality and equity, good governance, democracy and the rule of law, peace and freedom from violence.
These were problems “no single ministry can solve”, said Monika Linn, of the UN Economic Commission for Europe, adding: “Cross-sectoral cooperation is necessary”.
Linn, the UNECE’s principal adviser and director for development policies and cross-sectoral coordination, continued: “We found that we need nothing less than a great transformation to ensure the future of the planet and its people,” adding that a reduction of “all forms of inequalities” was necessary.
“In most EU member states, people enjoy good living standards but there are still big inequality gaps and they are increasing”, she said at a conference last week on the SDGs in the European Economic and Social Committee, an EU consultative body.
The gaps in equality also exist between the genders, argued Sacha Gabizon, a member of the Women’s Major Group in the SDGs discussions. “In many countries in the world, women do not have the same rights,” she said, citing the distribution of land rights and lack of suitable hygiene facilities, which were preventing some women from attending school regularly.
Women’s groups also had strong positions on societal problems such as hormone-disrupting chemicals, the arms trade and environmental justice, she added.
There are expected to be some 17 SDGs, compared to the 15 MDGs, with talk of grouping them into thematic ‘clusters’.
Poorer countries may then take a similar approach to the MDGs, focusing on the eradication of extreme hunger and poverty and the improvement of infant mortality and maternal health, for example.
“For high income countries, transformation to a green economy is important,” Linn said.
EU ministers and the European Parliament are to discuss the communication, which, if accepted, will form the basis of EU negotiations in the UN.
Senior UN officials have called for more redistribution of wealth in order to ensure societal progress is sustainable and a move away from policies aimed solely at boosting economic growth.
“Putting growth at the centre of our policies is not right for today’s challenges. That is a bold statement and it will be difficult to have a consensus, if at all,” Linn said. The UN presented a report at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, urging governments to break the link between greater resource consumption and human well-being, a position which is also supported by some civil society organisations.