As we reflect on the past five years when the ‘No one left behind’ commitment was made, it is vital to evaluate how close we are to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of embracing everyone. It is undeniable that the SDGs were set to provide a direction for alleviating poverty, hunger, health, education and inequality and in them lies the approach to making these changes happen.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were initially framed to provide a solution both to nature degradation and climate change with a clear roadmap that would eventually improve the quality of life on a global scale and not just to the select few. The interlinked 17 goals are built on the tenet of sustainability and if all parties and signatures, were to take this as the basis of development, then we still have a chance to reverse the course of nature and climate change.
2020 was set to be the super year of biodiversity and in a way, it still is as it has illuminated the impacts of human activities over the course of time. The link between nature and health has been sidelined by most leaders in both developed and developing nations. The need to pause and understand the role biodiversity plays in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem is important now more than ever. The ripple effect of the destruction of our natural resources can be felt on all sectors; loss of livelihoods, economic breakdown, political instability and an overall poor quality of life which is the reverse of what the SDGs are aimed at achieving.
Last year, a renewed call for an acceleration of SDG actions to address the pressing challenges related to poverty, infrastructure, innovation, and environmental sustainability was released by experts and analysists. The current goals were structured based on social benefits and equity assuming if people have direct and indirect benefits from development, they then will be inclined to conserve nature and maintain societal order. That premise still holds then and today more than ever. So, what will it take to ensure equitable social benefits from development?
At a close glance, it is clear that the framing of the SDGs assumes that development is premised on the sustainable use of natural resources; The health of land (goal – G15), the ocean (G14), freshwater (G6) and related ecosystems, moderate local and global climates (G13) and generate ecosystem services that benefit the society. This illustrates how nature matters in more ways than one and proves that the extent at which nature continues to be conserved and well-managed, it will eventually contribute to overall benefits to people. The reverse, however, is also true; if nature is degraded with implications to climate, then its ability to contribute services to people will be jeopardized.
From time immemorial, humanity has treated nature as an unlimited resource to be tapped and used at will. What is clear now is that nature has its limits and we must live within the boundaries of its limits. Living within these limits at different levels of society is critical to maintaining nature’s contribution to people. Assuming all users of natural resources commit to the view of using nature in a manner that allows for regeneration and renewal, then potentially, the natural resource base will remain forever, for future generations. This ushers in the concept of sustainable use and its benefits.
The challenge with sustainable development and the concept of sustainable use is that there are so many actors with competing ends, all depending on the same resource. This obviously presents a need for trade-offs in a manner that has little to no impact on nature, the needs of people and economic development. The Sustainable Development Goal framework provides a theory of change that recognizes the value of economic, environmental and social assets in their entirety.
African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) acknowledges that for this theory of change to work, its application is dependent largely on mutual agreement and understanding of the limits and proper environmental regulations. The principle of stewardship in sustainable use is key to the continuation of nature’s contributions to people and must be nurtured both in the transformation of natural resources and the consumption of products.
At the end of this year’s UN General Assembly, over 150 world leaders convened at the first UNGA Biodiversity Summit. The summit, under the theme “urgent action on biodiversity for sustainable development,” provided an opportunity for these world leaders to reignite their commitments that have existed mainly in writing and convert them into actionable policies that will draw us closer to the 2030 agenda. The emphasis that nature-based solutions must be embedded in COVID-19 recovery and wider development plans was echoed throughout the well-attended virtual event. We commend the dozens of political leaders who signed on to the Now that the we see some political will from the highest levels of some countries, we need proper mechanisms to track and hold entities to account on their commitments.
What the world needs to give focus to in driving Sustainable Development Goals in the next 10 years is sustainable use. This two-way street relationship needs to be part of all our development plans. COVID-19 has taught the world that what happens in one part of the world can affect the other, with no regard for status. What presents today as a pandemic is a harbinger of what could befall the world if nature degradation continues unabated and the effects of climate change come home to roost.
We need to shift our thinking around what nature is to us. We have to start looking at nature as an investment that will secure not only our future but the future of those yet to come. Once we take this as our primary responsibility from the household level all the way to the very top, we will see progress at a much faster rate.
The writer is Frederick Kwame Kumah – AWF, Vice President – External Affairs