Download PDF - United Nations Sustainable Development

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Download PDF - United Nations Sustainable Development

4that sustainability debates are about not some normative,‘nice-to-have’ agenda; rather, they are about whether it isreally sensible to build castles on sand. Beyond this, theyhave a choice between two approaches, one higher andone lower in ambition.Option 1 : A few sustainability related goals, plusmainstreaming ‘green growth’The lower ambition option would focus on winning afew post-2015 goals with strong recognition of naturalresource limits, while also securing strong languageon how to incorporate sustainability into the enablingenvironment for development. Some of the obviouscontenders for goals would be universal access to energy;food security and/or agriculture; and extension of MDG7c on water and sanitation. In each case, there are clearlinks across to sustainability, which could be explicitlyrecognised in goal language.At the same time, the Panel could set out a clear analysisof why and how countries can build sustainability intotheir development plans. The analysis could include theneed for whole of government approaches, and examplesof what that looks like in practice; policies and measuresthat can take sustainability forward (such as full costpricing / regulatory approaches / social protection andother climate adaptation policies); and greater clarity onhow to incentivise the private sector to scale up cleantech investment. Logically, this analysis should extendto all countries, not just ‘developing’ ones: sustainabledevelopment paths are most urgently needed in highincome countries, after all.The key advantage of this approach is that it wouldprobably be sellable to most countries, includingemerging economies and perhaps even the US – based asit is on their voluntary approach. This approach would alsotake the sustainability agenda forward (a bit) from MDG7,by continuing to try to mainstream recognition of naturalresource limits through other areas while focusing moreof the headline post-2015 goals on sustainability-relatedareas.But it would have disadvantages too. A voluntary approachmight increase political acceptability, but at the price ofeffectiveness. It is far from clear that this approach woulddeliver much (if any) additional action. Countries would belikely to limit themselves to ‘no-regrets’ measures and avoidincurring any significant costs in the absence of assurancesabout other countries taking action too – a problem thatwould be especially acute if (as seems possible) politicaldifficulties meant that the Panel ended up saying nothingabout developed countries’ responsibility to tackle theirown unsustainable consumption patterns.Option 2 : Focusing goals explicitly on planetaryboundaries – and fair shares within themThe higher ambition option, on the other hand, wouldbe to seek explicit recognition of planetary boundaries inthe post-2015 framework, and for this to be the basis formainstreaming sustainability into development objectives.This could potentially be achieved through a twin-track setof goals – with one track focused on eradicating poverty,and the other on the nine planetary boundaries proposedby the Stockholm Resilience Centre. Crucially, though, theHigh Level Panel would be setting out proposals on bothareas, rather than deferring sustainability to the WorkingGroup (a recipe for almost certain failure).While planetary boundaries are still a young concept, theyare becoming the most important idea in sustainabledevelopment to emerge in the 25 years since theBrundtland report. They recognise natural resourcelimits as critical – but, importantly, focus not on abstract,polarising ideas like ‘limits to growth’, but instead onevidence-based, quantified limits to the sustainable use ofparticular renewable and non-renewable resources. In sodoing, the approach aims for a clear definition of the safeoperating space for a sustainable global economy. It alsohighlights the most important point about 21 st centuryenvironmental stress: that far from implying gradual,linear change, it is about the risk of abrupt, catastrophicand irreversible shifts as key thresholds are passed.One of the key challenges in developing any set of goals onplanetary boundaries is ensuring that the goals – and policybased on them – can evolve as scientific understandingNYUCICClimate, Scarcity and Sustainability in the Post-2015 Development Agenda

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