As I think about the current challenges facing international development policy I find myself increasingly concerned about how we define development. We talk about “people-centered” development, but our goals still refer to society, economy and the environment as though these can be separated.
To quote Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, African Development Bank Special Envoy on Gender : “Progress on key gender indicators – such as school enrollment and completion rates, maternal mortality, labour force participation, and asset ownership – also depends on investments in water, sanitation, transport, productive assets, and access to financial services.”
My recent work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) taught me that, when we separate the social, the economic and the environmental, we hamper opportunity and creativity – and we may even be doing harm.
The IPCC process was committed to finding ways to express complexity and nuance by bringing together social, environmental and economic analysis. Yet currently we seem conservative rather than progressive.
We need to take unprecedented action to tackle inequality at the international level, acknowledging that it is a global challenge and not just an issue for some countries or some people. Our approach must reflect countries’ unequal capacities to cope with climate change, as the IPCC has highlighted.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) need to be more than a replacement for the Millennium Development Goals. The climate change negotiations must result in outcomes that are significantly more ambitious than previous agreements, including the Kyoto Protocol.
Our slow progress is not necessarily the result of financial limitations. While the UN has estimated that the SDGs will face a US$2.5 trillion shortfall, the World Bank predicts that climate policies could generate US$2.6 trillion annually.
The challenge is therefore to have the right institutions and financial frameworks in place, as well as the necessary skills and people to make these operational.
In my vision, I hope for a process that does more than report a series of numbers. I want to know that when a government reports on its progress, it means that lives have changed for the better. I want to feel confident that while we put safety nets in place for the most vulnerable, we also enable people to leave poverty and never look back.
Finally, I want the public policy process to be shaped by citizens themselves, telling us what they need and why.
The SDGs and the climate change negotiations are not yet where they need to be. But with more efforts from all of us, I believe we can get there.