Challenges in achieveing the Sustainable Development Goals

The 15 years since the world agreed on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have seen the fastest reduction in poverty in human history. But with more than 800 million people in the world still suffering from hunger the need for action is ever more pressing.

With the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) due to be agreed by the UN in September, this week’s EU’s European Development Days conference in Brussels heard that the big challenge is how best to tackle the outstanding issues of sustainable development.

The event heard that one possible way forward is Germany’s Charter for the Future which sets out the priorities for achieving the SDG goals.

The eight action areas include ensuring a life of dignity for all, protecting natural resources and combining economic growth and sustainability.

The Charter was drawn up between April and October 2014 and endorsed by the German government, business, civil society and academia in the country.

It focused on finding common objectives and explains how and with whom Germany development policy intends to contribute to achieving the SDG objectives.

Speaking on Wednesday at a news conference on the second and final day of EDD, Thomas Siberhorn, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development in Germany said, “The Charter offers some tremendous opportunities for systematically linking development policy objectives and implementation of the post-2015 agenda.

Siberhorn said, “We need a new understanding on development cooperation, a new approach which is not exclusively for German policymakers but a holistic, all inclusive one involving all relevant parties, including civil society, the private sector and academia.

“If we continue to live in the West as we are doing now we will exceed our planetary boundaries and will need a planet three times as big. This is not possible of course so that is why we must change and reorganise the way we live and work.

“We need a better understanding of how to act in a globalised world. This is our shared responsibility.

“Nor can we be indifferent to the living and working conditions in other parts of the world. That is why development should matter to all of us.”

He stressed the need for an “ambitious, universal and comprehensive” set of SDGs in the autumn, saying, “But even more important than this is the question of how we are going to implement these objectives. The Charter is an instrument for achieving this.”

The Charter outlines political goals for transformative action not only within development policy but in other policy areas.

This, noted Astrid Krone-Hagenah, head of the Brussels office of the German Retail Federation, should not be surprising as the economic and political conditions for eradicating poverty are shaped not just by development policy but by trade, financial, economic, foreign, energy and climate change policy.

When it comes to sustainable consumption she said the retail sector has a “central”role to play, not least in promoting sustainable supply chains and in using recycled materials.

The newly-launched “Partnership for Sustainable Textiles” in Germany, which it was announced now has 100 members, is an example of good practice, she said.

Nils Behrhdt, of the international development directorate in the European Commission, said the Charter “compliments” the post-2015 process and will contribute to “shaping how the planet will look by 2030.”

While the Charter was “visionary” he cautioned that “we must go beyond state level and bring everyone on board on this journey.”

Ensuring a dignified life for all people is the first goal of the charter. Strategies towards its implementation must consider the promotion of human rights as much as the environmental limits of our planet.

Andreas Hartmann, of the Permanent Representation of Germany to the EU, described the Charter as “unique and very special”, pointing out the reference to the promotion of human rights which, he said, was “particularly important” for Europe.

“It is a very ambitious document but we now must talk about how we go about implementing its proposals.”

The Charter also places a strong emphasis on the ethical and political obligations incumbent upon a globalised world economy.

Production and consumption patterns of people around the world are interdependent at many different levels. These global inter-relationships in the “ONE WORLD” are described in the Charter.

This also means that the well-being of European citizens not only depends on decision-making processes at home but the extent to which the international community is able to work together effectively to tackle global challenges.

Common problems also include restructuring energy systems to avert the dangers of climate change, expanding and restructuring social security systems, implementing human rights and altering patterns of production and consumption to make them more sustainable.

The EDD heard that timing of the SDGs later this year present an important opportunity to inject fresh impetus into the UN’s three pillars of sustainable development – environmental, social and economic. Germany’s Charter for the Future chimes with making the SDG process relevant to governments, businesses and citizens alike.

By Martin Banks

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