February 2, 2018

Executive Group Meeting prepares for high-level talks on Sustainable Development

Dorothy Goh, New School

As a graduate student majoring in Environmental Policy, I was given the amazing opportunity to attend the Executive Group Meeting (EGM) held in New York this January.

The EGM focused on the importance of interlinkages between sustainable development goals (SDGs) and targets and explore themes for the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) that is to be held in July 2018. There is a growing consensus that it is impossible to achieve individual goals without using an integrated approach to address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

SDGs will require “transformational change”

Among the issues highlighted is the loss of agricultural diversity (or agrobiodiversity) with implications for food production, nutrition, health, and ecological resilience. Terrestrial ecosystems have many interlinkages with other issues such as climate change, agriculture, and sustainable consumption and production. Ingrid J. Visseren-Hamakers, from George Mason University, suggested that if we want to address SDGs in a unified and integrated way, we will need fundamentally different policy instruments and approaches. We need to address this through “Transformational Change”. We need to look at underlying causes of non-sustainable practices and addressing the underlying causes of tradeoffs between the SDGs. Visseren-Hamakers also pointed out that if we were to really make a difference and make the change from an unsustainable to a sustainable system, the transformation process will be costly. However, there are ways to mitigate transitional costs. For example, we could provide people the opportunity to learn new skills in order to make the transition from a job with unsustainable practices to one with sustainable practices.

Spatial planning across the urban-rural continuum

Another issue that was brought up by both panelists and participants was the importance of addressing the linkages between urban and rural spaces and addressing interlinkages at landscape or territorial levels. There are flows of natural resources, ecosystems services, goods, capital and people across the urban rural continuum. Maruxa Cardama from Cities Alliance and Feliep Decorte from UN Habitat stressed the importance of spatial planning on a city region scale could help reinforce interdependence between the rural and the urban areas. This includes addressing problems with land use and the mismanagement of land, ecosystem services such as landscape degradation, and enables participatory and inclusive planning for landscapes and territories.

Agreement on importance of subnational approaches

A major challenge that we are experiencing is getting actors outside the UN agencies, national governments and research community who have yet to be exposed to the SDGs to understand that existing efforts to balance economic opportunities and the wise use of natural resources are in fact an emerging pathway to implementation of the SDGs. Presenters and participants agreed that the vertical integration of SDGs from landscape or territorial to national levels will be served by recognizing the importance of subnational approaches. This includes landscape, territorial and city region scales of knowledge sharing and implementation.


Dorothy Goh is a student in Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy at the New School.

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