By Peter Head, Founder and CEO The Ecological Sequestration Trust
I was in New York City for Climate Week and the UN General Assembly (UNGA) meeting on 25th September when the 17 Global Goals for 2030 were signed by 193 countries. It was a very moving and emotional week as well as a productive one and now I am back in London, there is a little time to reflect.
30 years of my life have been spent championing the use of sustainable development frameworks and targets to improve investments and achieve more value for society from of development. We showed in London that it worked for people in the city and that it could be carried through into the delivery of the wonderful 2012 Olympic Games. I became a member of the Thematic Group 9 at UNSDSN that drafted and fought hard for the inclusion of Goal 11 on Sustainable Cities and Communities.
The Pope was in New York and almost became a bigger story than the Global Goals, but really reinforced the moral issues at stake “ Any harm done to the environment is a harm to humanity. We are not authorised to abuse it, much less to destroy it”. He met President Obama who said “together we can uphold the dignity of every human being”.
So, to be there when the UNGA gavel came down at 11.15am on 25th September, to see our goal 11 beamed onto the UN building and to experience 60.000 people in Central Park dancing and celebrating this global change of direction, was all very moving and exciting. More leaders attended this UNGA than ever in the history of the UN and billions of people are now aware of the new Global Goals through the media campaign. Richard Branson tweeted immediately that “Today might be the most important day of our lives”. Ban Ki-moon hailed the Goals as “a universal, integrated and transformative vision for a better world”
I attended over 20 meetings and events in that week and the first thing we were all discussing around the New York venues was “why did what we all wanted, actually happen now?” “What has changed to make everyone agree this sophisticated new direction for the human race?”. This unprecedented moment in human history and “why now” was addressed many times by Jeff Sachs. His view is that EVERY country around the world is scared of what is happening to them – unprecedented floods, water shortage, fires, the largest mass human migration, widening gap between rich and poor, food shortage, storm surges, ice melting, sea level rise and escalating conflict. Everyone is now listening more carefully to the science which is saying this is going to get a lot worse. The global scientific community, which came together to draft the Global Goals at the request of Ban Ki-moon, can provide an opportunity to follow a new more resilient path. Following a huge public consultation process, everyone has rather surprisingly agreed!
Mark Carney’s spoke about the current serious risks to the financial system, soon after I returned, in London.
“We don’t need an army of actuaries to tell us that the catastrophic impacts of climate change will be felt beyond the traditional horizons of most actors – imposing a cost on future generations that the current generation has no direct incentive to fix”.
More frequent storms, hotter summers and an increase in flooding have driven up the global insurance industry’s annual weather-related losses to $200bn (£133bn) a year – a fourfold increase in 30 years. However, if the whole world moves now to tackle growing risks and threats together then business can innovate across a more level playing field, meaning that the Goals were also welcomed by the private sector in New York. Paul Polman from Unilever said “there is no enduring logic for poverty, business has a great opportunity to reduce poverty, feed people, and provide work”
Something we discovered at our February 2015 meeting in Bellagio, where we produced this report , which was reinforced often during the week, is that there is enough capital available in the world now to shape this change of development direction. The problem we face is that most countries do not have the capacity to bring forward bankable projects and investments. If this can be facilitated then money can flow into more resilient investments which in turn will help to stabilise the financial system.
Back in New York, there was complete agreement at every meeting I went to that this is not a ‘pick and mix’ set of goals. Because of the profoundly interlinked set of problems we are facing everywhere in the world, there is general clarity that they must be addressed holistically everywhere. This means that people who are focussed on particular goals will need to work collaboratively with others to achieve this. Jeff Sachs said that to achieve this we need “Facebook for SDGs”.
There was also widespread agreement that this cross sectoral collaboration needed to extend across geographic scales from small communities up to city regions, to national and to global collaboration if it were to succeed. The writing and agreement of the Global Goals shows that this can be made to work, powered by data and advanced communications.
The UN Data Revolution was launched in Addis Ababa in July 2015 and was followed up in New York on 28th September with the launch of a new Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data to address the need for robust, high quality datasets to support Global Goal delivery. Everyone seems to agree that Global Goals can only have impact if there is data to plan, review, and follow-up on commitments. Data must also be available to everyone, not just governments or aid agencies, and used by them to make decisions and hold their representatives to account. The whole point of the publicity behind the Global Goals is to encourage people to do this and this was rammed home by politicians, business leaders, film, fashion and music super-stars and scientists on the stage at the Social Good Summit on 27th September. The challenge laid down there was “whether we can fill the world with greater humanity, not just technology”
Four years ago the Trust was created to step into the empty space between public sector, private sector, NGOs and research to create the tools to enable them, anywhere in the world, to collaborate in a holistic way across geographic scales. This allows improved decision making for sustainable development and the connection of finance to bankable projects which are risk sensitive. The background to this approach is data and systems modelling
Our learning over this period means the Trust is now in a great position to support the implementation of the Sendai Framework, the new Global Goals and the outcome of Paris COP21 and to demonstrate how to do it in our demonstration regions in Accra in Ghana, Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia and Suzhou in China over the next 2 to 4 years. We have offered to create a data specification and data gathering methodology, linked to systems platform resilience.io, which can support all these needs at national and regional scale and involve communities in the change process. This could then be scaled globally as an open-source methodology from 2019 onwards.
Our partners Future Earth are working with us in our demonstration regions and together we will be able to support preparation of project portfolios suitable for funding to start the journey towards the Global Goals, even before the full resilience.io platform is available.
It feels like a much more daunting task after New York, just realising the urgency and scale of the task, but the Trust is clearly in the right place at the right time with the right team and the right tools being developed and we hope we can help facilitate the global transformation to a more resilient future.