As David Cameron meets today to discuss the Millenium Development Goals, he must not forget the environment

We have made progress on world poverty, but if the environment continues to suffer, thousands will be put at risk

Share
Related Topics

The past twenty years have seen solid progress in terms of international development, with the number of people worldwide living in absolute poverty falling from 2 billion to around 1.3 billion, an achievement spurred by the pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The MDGs have also ramped up progress on child mortality, primary school enrolment, access to clean water and other human development targets.

But the same period has also seen greenhouse gas emissions rising by 2-3% a year, while water scarcity, biodiversity losses, and land degradation have all increased. We are left with a contradiction: progress on human development is now being threatened by the deterioration of our environment.

As the High-Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda convenes in London for their second meeting, there is still debate on the appropriate focus for their discussions (see the post2015.org website for recommendations). One thing that most agree on is that the post-2015 goals should finish the job of the MDGs. But in doing this, they must not lose sight of is the sustainability of development.

Lessons from current climate negotiations reveal that long-term action on the environment and climate is essential

The panel is tasked by the UN Secretary General to recommend "how to build and sustain broad political consensus on an ambitious yet achievable Post-2015 development agenda around the three dimensions of economic growth, social equity and environmental sustainability". These three ‘pillars’, have underpinned thinking about sustainable development for more than three decades.

However, this has encouraged people to see each pillar separately, and to address each dimension of sustainable development in isolation. The difficulties in reconciling approaches to development and to the environment have reinforced this tendency. Most starkly, single-minded focus on GDP growth (the economic pillar) has actively contributed to environmental deterioration.

Current understanding of the deep interconnectivity – indeed, inseparability – of the economy, society and the environment suggests that the pillar metaphor has passed its use-by date. More apt, perhaps, would be to see the three dimensions of sustainable development as intertwined, forming a triple helix – the ‘DNA of development’.

Embedded in this triple helix is the need to address climate change, the economy and society together.

The challenge

What’s the scale of this challenge? According to one recent study, climate change already costs the world $1.2 trillion, a figure that looks set to keep rising, with drastic results for the world’s poorer countries. Economic losses due to such disasters amount to over $100 million a year. Energy consumption is predicted to increase by 50% by 2050 at a time when more prosperity for more people will put even greater pressure on the environment in the future.

With accelerating climate change, and its associated impacts on livelihood opportunities, disasters, food prices, health, biodiversity, and the risk of conflict, coupled with increasing resource consumption, it would be strange indeed if these challenges were not embedded in the post-2015 development goals.

This adds, however, to the political complexity of reaching an agreement. A key area of tension is that consumption goals or targets for richer countries, as part of a wider framework of goals, would be necessary to stay within environmental limits and to provide a safe space for poverty reduction in poor countries.

We need long-term goals

One thing is clear: the goals must be at once universal and particular. They must address levels of resource use and efficiency worldwide as well as reflecting differences between countries (in levels of development, wealth and resource endowments). Any other agreement would be unfair.

As for the HLP, the diversity and sheer complexity of the many issues they are expected to address could lead, at one extreme, to a restrained focus on clearly achievable, and therefore politically acceptable, specific goals, or, at the other extreme, to ambitious all-encompassing goals that are impossible to deliver because they are the responsibility of everyone (and therefore of no-one).

Lessons from current climate negotiations reveal that long-term action on the environment and climate is essential, with short-term injections of resources unlikely to generate the progress required. It is essential that post-2015 goals look ahead to 2050 and beyond. Countries can help to shift public-policy concerns from the short to the longer-term, and scientifically backed environmental targets (such as a 2 degrees centigrade rise in global temperatures) can create political momentum and a focus for mobilising action.

An integrated set of goals is an opportunity that cannot be missed. Without acknowledging the triple helix, we will delay, perhaps indefinitely, the realisation of sustainable development for all.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

Tory modernisation has failed under David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Russian President Vladimir Putin 'hits his foes where it hurts'  

Dominic Raab: If Western politicians’ vested interests protect Putin, take punishment out of their hands

Dominic Raab
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism