The Sustainable Development Goals

Reflections from Michael Simpson, Executive Director, BCCIC

Our species has managed to grow in both size and complexity. We are not bad at setting targets and achieving them. We have walked on the moon, landed technology on Mars and managed to prove the Higgs Boson with the Large Hadron Collider, pushing our curiosity to the outer and inner limits of the physical universe. But we still have over a billion people living in poverty, inequality still defines our gender perspective and conflict and environmental challenges threaten the foundation of our species well- being. While we may have explored the limits of the physical universe there is much work to do to refine our thinking and our shared ethics. Our minds remain an ongoing challenge, common values elude us and challenges such as climate change that can only be tackled through the global commons have yet to be solved. There has been no shortage of goal setting when it comes to defining the well-being of our species. These common global goals are a matter of mind, opinion and perspective

The world’s largest meeting of heads of states was in Rio in 1992 when Agenda 21 was established. Twenty one agreed upon priorities were set based on the lessons learned during the post-war period about development, the difficult period of the Cold War and the newly emerging awareness about the environment and the limits to growth. Poverty reduction was the talk of the day, brought to our attention by the Bruntland Commission in 1987 with the publication of “Our Common Future”. The report drew the links between poverty, the environment and peace, and established the term “sustainable development” as a common global ethic. Meeting the needs of today’s generation without compromising future generations was the concept and the 1990’s were nicknamed the “turnaround decade”. Treaties were signed and ratified on women’s equality and biodiversity, the Kyoto agreement was established and while some lamented “globalization” others pointed out that without “global public goods” we could not move beyond national boundaries to establish a multilateral way of seeing ourselves.

At the turn of the century, the Millenium Development Assessment tackled the question of how we might venture into the new century and eight goals were established that became known as the MDGs. Back then 2015 seemed far in the future and halving the world’s poor an entirely achievable dream. Since Agenda 21 was established there have been numerous attempts to review our progress including theWorld Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 and again on the anniversary of Rio in 2012 for the Earth Summit. All of these meetings brought us to 2015, the threshold “future year” that we find ourselves in today.

So we are meeting again; this time to define the post 2015 agenda and determine the next fifteen years for our species and our planet. Meetings will take place every month leading up to three weeks of meetings in New York at the U.N. in June and July. Heads of States will then convene in September to ratify the new Sustainable Development Goals which currently stand at seventeen lofty intentions and over 169 specific goals.

In the past Canada has seen fit to include civil society on the official Canadian delegations with two seats and another two seats directly targeted at youth for meetings such as these. That was a good idea and we were recognized for this leadership by other countries. It also underlined the important contribution that civil society can make in determining the future of our planet. Individual NGOs and CBOs would attend these meetings to convene at side events, walk the halls of the U.N. with observer status and try to influence the emerging text of the final documents. All in all, it is a healthy way for a species to try to agree upon a global agenda. Government, civil society, academia, labour, the private sector, faith based groups would all come together as major groups to discuss the future.

This year BCCIC has taken a special interest in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Because these goals will no longer be targeted at developing countries but will apply to each and every nation, they offer us an opportunity to look at our own actions and responsibilities in Canada as well as how we can contribute to development elsewhere. It is an ideal time to see how these domestic and international agendas co-emerge and require a mindset of global citizenship. Our recent provincial tour on Ebola underlines the need to view ourselves as exactly that – global citizens.

In the coming months expect to see us focus on the Sustainable Development Goals and encourage the positive involvement of civil society. This complements the government of Canada’s recent announcement regarding a Civil Society Partnership Policy in which civil society is recognized as a key player in our own right regarding sustainable development. Here at BCCIC we hope to feature the SDGs at our upcoming Annual General Meeting and Assembly in September. We are currently searching for a way to include civil society from British Columbia in the process and particularly to report on how the SDGs might emerge from a Canadian perspective. We are aware that understanding how the SDGs, UN meetings and government and civil society dialogue on these matters is complex and difficult to understand. Even for those of us who have attended meetings and been involved, the complexity of the negotiations process is dumbfounding. In recognition that this can be intimidating we are hoping to craft a peer learning course over the next few months to orient those who would like to know more. For those groups or individuals interested in knowing more or getting involved with ideas on how to engage in the process of the SDGs, we encourage you to contact our office.

Reflections from Michael Simpson, Executive Director, BCCIC

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