The Sustainable Development Goals: Why the Nexus approach is vital to the post 2015 Millennium Development Goals
The Earth Summit in 1992 was possibly the most successful UN Conference at creating a coherent narrative on what political leaders should address.
The conference was one of the results from the 1987 UN Commission on Environment and Development, which attempted determine the best strategies for a blueprint to move us towards a more sustainable way of living up to and into the 21st century. The Commission’s Report was the first major document to define sustainable development:
“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
It contains two key concepts:
- The concept of “needs,” in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given;
- The idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.”
The Earth Summit outcomes were:
- Agenda 21 (40 chapter blueprint)
- Rio Declaration
- The UN Framework Convention to Combat Climate Change
- The UN Convention on Biological Diversity
- The Forest Principles
However, instead of implementing the agreements, the world embarked on a huge “globalization party” enabling financial and investment markets to operate internationally, as deregulation increased. The result of the “party” was that the investment in our future was not undertaken and the next generation will, and is, picking up the hangover. Instead of China and India taking a ‘more sustainable’ path to development, they followed the other industrialized models and China is now the single largest omitter of CO2 in the world, producing nearly 50% more than the USA.
The 1990s saw a number of UN Conferences and Summits that took individual chapters of Agenda 21 and expanded them. These included summits on Population (1994), Women (1995), Social Development (1995), Human Settlement (1996) and Food (1997). By 2000, governments were having problems prioritizing goals and decided to create a focused agenda which became the Millennium Development Goals. Developed by the UN Secretary General, World Bank and OECD and created out of the OECD Development Assistant Committee targets, eight goals became the world’s key development goals for the next fifteen years.
These goals were to play a critical role in focusing Official Development Aid (ODA) over the next decade.
There had been hope that the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) would refocus and re-energize the sustainable development agenda, but the attacks on 9/11 severely changed global priorities and the WSSD became a shadow of what was needed with perhaps the only major outcome being an addition of a sanitation target to the MDGs.
The 2000’s saw a number of terms enter the news media with more regularity, terms such as food security, energy security and water security and in the aftermath of the financial crisis the interlinkages between these became more apparent.
In 2011 in preparation for Rio+20, the German Government hosted the first Nexus Conference focusing on Water-Energy-Food. Over the previous twenty years governments had experienced problems dealing with the interlinkages between sectors, but now they were being forced to address them with more urgency as they increasingly realized this was not something they could put off to future generations but was instead going to actually impact on the generation in power now.
A paper produced by the Stockholm Environment Institute for the first Nexus conference estimated the effect of the increased economic activity of the new emerging economies such as India, China, Indonesia, Brazil, the increased population and the increased urbanization of the world on the amount of food, energy and water needed.
The paper predicted a shortfall in food of 30-50%, a need for an extra 40% of energy and a shortfall of water availability of up to 40% – all which will contribute to increased C02 and a higher risk of severe climate change.
In 2012 the World Bank produced a report that said: “97 percent of scientists agree on the reality of climate change. The last 10,000 years temperature has changed by no more than + or – 1 degree C.”
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report adds to the literature that should persuade politicians to take action now.
In 2012, twenty years after the 1992 Earth Summit, governments again met in Rio and agreed this time to develop new goals to replace the Millennium Development Goals. They decided these should be Sustainable Development Goals, and that a new body to oversee these should be created which would be the ”High Level Political Forum.” To prepare for this outcome, two intergovernmental processes should be set up:
- Sustainable Development Goals Open Working Group;
- Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Financing Sustainable Development (how we finance the goals).
Rio+20 said these new goals should be universal and put both poverty eradication and sustainable development at their heart. These new goals will be agreed in 2015 at a Heads of State meeting, but as of December 2013 it looks like we will have:
- Food and Nutrition YES
- Water YES
- Energy YES
- Jobs YES
- Health YES
- Employment (YES)
- Poverty (YES)
- Gender YES and Governance YES – or cross cutting or both?
- Oceans, Urban, Forests, Peace and Security, Disaster Relief, Climate, Biodiversity MAYBE
The critical question is will the goals also be approached from a Nexus perspective, ensuring water targets in energy and food and vice-versa?
The 2014 Nexus Conference (3-7 March) will be held in Chapel Hill and is supported by: UN Department for Social And Economic Affairs, UNDP, World Bank, IRENA, UNITAR, Global Compact, UN Habitat, WBCSD, WWF International, Millennium Institute, Stockholm Environment Institute, WSPA and many others.
It has an impressive list of speakers, workshops and Nexus Dating (you will have to come to see this). This will be an annual event which endeavors to become the place where the community trying to address the interlinkages has a chance to meet, to work and to produce the work to help us onto a more sustainable path.
There are two Albert Einstein quotes I love:
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
Of course if we can’t do this then the second may prove to be more accurate.
“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”