October 10, 2016

Out of bed and seeing progress on the SDGs

Martin Harper, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

I emerged from my sick-bed last week to attend an event at the Zoological Society of London – Natural Partners: integrating development and environment to deliver sustainable development.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) had joined forces with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Christian Aid and the Catholic Agency For Overseas Development (CAFOD) to profile and discuss how we can integrate human development and environment ambitions. Being well again only increased the thrill of hearing examples of how partnerships with business, local communities and governments were transforming lives and landscapes in some of the poorest regions of the world.

Stimulating cases

We heard from Serah Munguti (who works for the BirdLife International partner, Nature Kenya) about innovative (and award winning) approaches to land use planning in the Tana River Delta of Kenya that was seeking to reconcile competing needs of local people, agriculture and wildlife. The Delta is not only one of the poorest areas in Kenya, but also host to extraordinary natural resources, including birds only found in Kenya. This has been a long saga, but Serah’s optimistic presentation suggested that we may have found a durable way forward.

We also heard about how a partnership between ZSL and a carpet company called Interface was recycling discarded fishing nets to use in carpet tiles to reduce marine pollution and create income for local people.

And we heard about how the Better Cotton Initiative was setting new standards for a commodity that we all use to make it better for the people that produce it, better for the environment it grows in and better for the long term future of the sector.

These case studies were a stimulus for a debate about how we can live up to the ambitions of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Brought into effect in January this year, the SDGs are designed to end global poverty and safeguard the future of our planet.

Serious balancing act

The ambition is massive, but serious questions remains as to how these goals will be realised – how we can balance human development with environmental sustainability.

In his eloquent opening, Achim Steiner – former Executive Secretary of the UN Environment Programme, and now at the Oxford Martin School – stressed the importance of working together to ensure that we don’t find ourselves having the same conversations in 2020 and 2030.

It was encouraging to note from the case studies that integrated sustainable development can and does happen. But it isn’t yet operating at the scale required to make a significant impact. In truth, the environment is seen by some as a barrier to development and vice versa. Our panel tackled these issues head on. How can we reframe that understanding and speak in a language that connects to others’ concerns? How can we set, develop and deliver a shared vision for sustainable development?

Increasing collaboration

But things have moved on. Looking back to the Millennium Development Goals, it is striking how separate each of their eight goals were. They failed to address the fundamental links between, for example, access to resources like clean water or healthy food and gender equality. The SDGs, by contrast, are a universal and indivisible set and already represent a huge step change in the international approach to sustainable development. But they now have to become a reality.

One clear message from our event was that no single organisation, nor a single sector, nor even perhaps a single government can achieve the SDGs on their own. Governments need to set the ambition, provide governance and the legal frameworks to make it easier for people to do good and cause no harm. Businesses can provide investment and help create sustainable livelihoods. Civil society can encourage people to act on good evidence, inspire others with practical examples and collaborate with others to influence change.

It is only by forging the strong partnerships between government, business and civil society that we will be able to tackle the enormous problems facing our planet.  Evidence shared at this event showed that this is happening – we are committed to working together to address the world’s problems with the seriousness they demand.

Martin Harper is the Conservation Director of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the UK Partner of BirdLife International. You can follow Martin’s regular blog here: www.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/b/martinharper/default.aspx.

Featured image: “Kenya’s Tana River watershed is badly affected by soil erosion. Soil pollution impacts communities using it downstream.” Credit: Georgina Smith via CIAT on Flickr.

More From Martin Harper
More In Events in Staying Current

1 Comment

  • Amelia Roster
    November 3, 2016 at 7:41am

    I am glad to hear that people are doing hardwork to make achieve these goals. We all should contribute to these causes and help in fulfilling sustainable development goals. More awareness must be created among people so that they can tackle these massive problems head-on.