“Human life dependent on ‘planetary boundaries’ that should not be crossed”

This statement was given by one of the panelists in the Second Committee Special Event “Conceptualizing a set of sustainable development goals” which was arranged on 16 October

UN Photo/Eskinder DebebeHuman life on earth would depend on the formulation of a set of sustainable development goals built on an ambitious vision, Kate Raworth, Senior Researcher for Oxfam GB, told the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) on 16 October as it held a panel discussion on this topic.

One of four panellists in the discussion, Ms. Raworth described nine “planetary boundaries” in areas including land use, chemical pollution, climate change and ozone depletion, emphasizing that in order to maintain the planet, they should not be crossed.

Noting that three of the boundaries had already been crossed, with others under major stress regionally or locally, Ms. Raworth underscored that they were designed not “to protect tree frogs or polar bears”, but humanity, and not as part of an environmentalist agenda, but as part of a humanist one.  With “choppy waters” ahead, she said, there was an “extraordinary chance” to develop a real plan to deal with future development.

But that was only half the challenge, she said, describing an inner limit of resource use within which people lacked adequate access to water, energy, jobs, income and gender equality, among other things. “Every human being must have the resources to meet their human rights,” she stressed, calling for a balance between resource use and resource limitation that would exist in a “safe space for humanity.” The current imbalance amounted to an “indictment of the path to development we have followed to date”, she said, adding, however, that the challenges could be met.

Also featured as panellists in the discussion led by the Second Committee Chair George Wilfred Talbot of Guyana, and moderated by Andrew Revkin, Senior Fellow at Pace University’s Academy for Applied Environmental Studies, were Mootaz Ahmadein Khalil, Permanent Representative of Egypt; Manish Bapna, Executive Vice-President and Managing Director, World Resources Institute; and Charles Kenny, Senior Fellow, Centre for Global Development. Shamshad Akhtar, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, also participated in the event, discussing the process for moving forward.

Mr. Bapna, echoing calls for a set of forward-looking Sustainable Development Goals, said they must tackle today’s problems rather than those of yesterday. Also emphasizing that the Sustainable Development Goals must be multidimensional, he said that, unlike the Millennium Development Goals, they needed to focus on sustainability and to make clear the links connecting the three pillars of sustainable development. Moreover, the Millennium Goals asked very little of high-income countries, he pointed out, calling for Goals that would focus explicitly on “global collective action problems” such as climate change and food supply.

The process of conceptualizing a set of Sustainable Development Goals must be open and inclusive, unlike the process that had come up with the Millennium Development Goals, Mr. Bapna stressed, pointing out that the poor had not been consulted to determine how they defined poverty and what must be done to induce change. Fortunately, some organizations were beginning to reach out to the poor, he said, adding that it was important to acknowledging shortcomings in the Millennium Development Goals in formulating the new set of targets.  However, it was crucial not to lose sight of good decisions, he said, urging the Committee to “build on the good decisions and learn from the bad decisions so as to not repeat them”.

Source: UN Department of Public Information

For the complete summary of the meeting:
General Assembly GA/EF/3341 (Department of Public Information/News and Media Division)