People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership – Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

At the end of September the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed and published.  They will come into effect at the end of 2015, following the completion of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and cover the period 2016-2030. Unlike the MDGs, the idea is to involve the whole world in taking responsibility for development and place greater emphasis on three key issues that were missing previously: the role of women; the importance of education; and the focus on cities.

All of this is hard to argue with of course but it is worth remembering we are now fast approaching another critical conference in Paris where the UN Climate Talks present a challenge to draft and agree a meaningful commitment that supersedes the Kyoto Protocol.

Two major hurdles remain as the Paris deadline nears: climate finance, and emissions cuts. Back in 2010, the world agreed on building up a Green Climate Fund to help developing nations to tackle the impacts of climate change. The developed nations promised to provide the fund with US$100 billion by 2020. That hasn’t been forthcoming.
Not only that, it is clear the pace of negotiations is troubling. With just weeks remaining all Parties were almost unanimous in acknowledging that progress was insufficient. “It would be a catastrophe if the new treaty froze the existing reduction targets and pledges. We do need more regular adjustments that respect the latest climate science outcomes and the development of renewable energies” said Martin Kaiser, head of the Greenpeace climate policy unit.

The United Nations definition of sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Previous dialogues on sustainability have more or less focused on climate change and environmental issues, but the new paradigm of sustainability includes all efforts towards an inclusive, sustainable and resilient future for people and the planet. There is a significant departure from the previous framework to now include a “harmonising” of three elements: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection.

Politically Led

The document is considered a political statement not a technical solution. Criticism that there are too many goals and targets is understandable but the SDGs cover a much broader range of issues than the MDGs. The millennium goals only covered “safe” themes such as poverty, primary education and child mortality. The SDGS weigh in on more meaty topics, such as governance, institutions, human rights, inequality, ageing, peace and climate change. The inclusive, detailed international negotiations have involved middle income and low income countries and as a result they are universal , holistic and ambitious –  the product of the 7m people who have given their views.

That said, not everyone agrees with the goals. Medical journal The Lancet, for example, describes them as “fairy tales, dressed in the bureaucrats of intergovernmental narcissism, adorned with the robes of multilateral paralysis, and poisoned by the acid of nation-state failure”.

This is the people’s agenda, a plan of action for ending poverty in all its dimensions, irreversibly, everywhere, and leaving no one behind,” said Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general. Putting people first is undoubtedly a strategic signal that global population, health and sanitation will top the list of priorities, but for the first time there is an explicit commitment towards education, something welcomed by a wide group of expert practitioners including The Global Alliance of Tertiary Education Sustainability Networks who wrote an open letter to present to the Chair of COP21 in Paris this December.

Whilst the ‘western’ approach to education for sustainable development has largely been focused on environmentalism, Iain Patton, CEO of the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges who are a key player in the Global Alliance, believes there ‘will [be] benefit from this wider and more inclusive perspective … it’s no longer just about a nice green lifestyle but about international hunger, injustice and poverty’.

The new Global Goals say to us in the north: you may have much higher GDP per capita, but that doesn’t mean your societies are immune to problems that affect everyone in our interconnected globe’, says Patton. ‘It’s a reminder that the pursuit of prosperity isn’t just something for people far away to worry about’.

A New Prominence for Cities

It is arguably the eleventh goal, SDG 11, and its promotion of safer, more inclusive and resilient cities that makes them genuinely revolutionary. After all, two thirds of humanity will reside in urban settings by 2030 and by 2050, roughly 6.4 billion people – almost the equivalent of the planet’s current population – will live in a city. SDG 11 calls for greater investment in infrastructure, governance and safety in all urban spaces and human settlements, including slums, shanty-towns, ghettos and favelas of the world’s most fragile cities. The focus on informal settlements is crucial since the proportion of people living in slums is massive, and growing. There are already around 1 billion people living in slums today, as compared to 650 million in 1990. This population will grow to almost 2 billion over the next three decades.

Steve Turner, a city policy maker in Manchester believes overall the ‘goals are valuable in generating a ‘shared’ vision, providing some form of collective view of where we want to be going’. But he, like many, recognises that whilst the SDGs and the Climate Treaty are drafted, agreed and published by UN Members they will not be delivered by the UN or even national governments, but rather at the city/metro level where the Commission are not the delivery agents.

Critically, Turner recognises that without an effective mechanism for enforcement they can be ‘ineffectual’, ‘if we are serious about this then there needs to be an injection of rigour around their delivery.’

The UN recognises this and the targets will be reviewed systematically using a set of global, largely quantitative, indicators. These will be developed by a specially convened Inter-Agency Expert Group on SDG Indicators and agreed subsequently by the UN Statistical Commission as well as the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly. Each nation and region will then go on to develop its own indicators.

Whilst the stats, numbers and measures might all sound rather clunky and dull, the SDGs give us an unparalleled opportunity to shape the international and national development agenda.

Women and Education – Fundamental to the SDGs

For example, much greater emphasis has been placed on the role of women and their access to education around the world. Whilst the rhetoric of the Sustainable Development Goals is laudable they are criticised for not garnering the financial commitment to achieve it. “In order for the SDGs to be met, implementation and financing plans must address inequalities and human rights, especially for women and girls. The financing plan being advocated by the US and other northern countries will merely uphold the world we have and not get us to the world we want,” said Serra Sippel, President of the Center for Health and Gender Equity.

Like re-taking your marriage vows, the Sustainable Development Goals re-state the importance of those Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of 2000 and, with the benefit of hindsight, experience and in the light of a rapidly changing world, reaffirm those commitments. So, are the Sustainable Development Goals the world’s biggest promise…. or the world’s biggest lie? Will the SDGs really re-shape the plans and behaviours of nations, multilateral institutions, companies, development organisations and people, to make the world a fairer and more sustainable place?

Many believe the goals have helped to direct public policies and budgets towards the poorest and are recognised as important drivers of international policy which ensure that national governments maintain a commitment to these global challenges.

Eddie Murphy, a respected sustainability expert at Mott MacDonald believes that ‘the MDGs have had some impact on driving governments to put in place legislative interventions to implement positive impacts, and this has helped the green agenda’.

In addition to the evidence about indicators, the MDGs created a real ‘hook’ that kept global poverty on national and international agendas.  Annual multilateral reviews of achievement; the MDGs + 5 and MDGs + 10, UN General Assembly meetings; and numerous regional and national meetings meant that poverty reduction received much greater attention around the world than it had in the past. At the same time, there are perfectly plausible arguments that most of the numerical progress made wasn’t a direct consequence of the MDGs, and that critical promises were broken.

It’s [Not] All About the Economy [But]

Amongst the financial recessions that have hit globally perhaps the MDGs have maintained at least some profile for the environmental agenda. Teresa Hitchock, a Partner in DLA Piper UK LLP and Head Safety, Health and Environment believes the Millennium Development Goals fell short of achieving their objectives in the face of other world crises such as terrorism , ebola and the Syrian conflict.  She believes ‘sustainability is still seen as the second cousin to immediate pressures’ and hopes the SDGs will redress that.

Many believe that whilst governments and policy makers have been active they have been unable, or unwilling, to lock-in business benefits to achieving the goals set out. Whilst there is a strong human rights agenda emerging there is a growing belief the SDGs must concentrate on making sustainability good business sense. This is a view shared by Paul Caulfield, Director of the MBA in CSR at the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility at The University of Nottingham Business School. He sees ‘the main objective of SDGs as being to provide a common language and currency for business strategies’ so that what makes good business sense is doing the right thing. Are you listening Volkswagen?

Ahead of the climate negotiations in Paris it’s reassuring that SDG 13 states the need to ‘Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’ including the commitment to strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate related hazards and natural disasters in all countries ; integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies, and planning; improve education, awareness raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction, and early warning; a implement the commitment undertaken by developed country Parties to the UNFCCC to a goal of mobilizing jointly USD100 billion annually by 2020 from all sources to address the needs of developing countries in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation and fully operationalize the Green Climate Fund through its capitalization as soon as possible; and to promote mechanisms for raising capacities for effective climate change related planning and management, in LDCs, including focusing on women, youth, local and marginalized communities.

That sounds like a pretty sound framework – making it absolutely crystal clear that the delivery of Goal 13 is, in no doubt, dependent on some concerted effort and commitment at those talks.

The new SDGs bring together people, organisations and governments committing to reducing poverty and inequality, moving towards environmental sustainability and promoting social justice.  What’s not to like? The ambition is great, so let’s not do them down for that. If even half of the SDGs were achieved then by 2030 we should be living in a better world.

Liverpool’s Commission on Environmental Sustainability Reports

I have written about three cities in England setting up ‘commissions’ to review their aspirations, plans and resources to ensure they are sustainable in previous blogs. In January 2015 I wrote about those three commissions and their ‘one’ outcome. “Faced with depleting local authority resources and in times of change – both in terms of political leadership, centralisation vs devolution, economic challenge and environmental change – can ‘commissions’ such as those set up in Birmingham, Sheffield and Liverpool help shape the future strategic direction of a city’s commitment to environmental sustainability?” 

The key question I asked in that blog was What should be the role of the Council? in those cities. My conclusion was that a strong city council leader will attempt to deliver against all three in both the short, medium and longer term. Perhaps the only chance they have of doing that is in partnership with other public, private and their sector partners with a healthy challenge from academia.

So, it’s encouraging, as Liverpool’s Commission led by Professor Nigel Weatherill, Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of Liverpool John Moores University, reported its findings yesterday and made a very clear statement of intent that the Mayor would lead this agenda and facilitate integrated cross-boundary and cross-agency working to bring this to fruition.

I was invited to give evidence to the Commission last year and I am delighted that some of the observations I made have been endorsed and incorporated into the recommendations of the report. In particular, I was pleased to see that the Commission recognises the City of Liverpool is not an island – it has to work collaboratively with its neighbouring authorities and its economic area. The role of the LEP and any city region is crucial to this. It clearly recognises that economic wellbeing is underpinned by an approach that supports and understands the wider sustainability agenda.

Whilst you might expect transport, energy and waste to feature it was pleasing to see emphasis placed on the role of the City’s universities and of education, engagement and behavioural change. These areas are out of the comfort zone of most local authorities, so it is pleasing to see these recommendations published. Of course, we look forward to seeing how cash-constrained local authorities might respond to this challenge.

Finally, it was particularly pleasing to see the link made between a smarter, digital city and one that was sustainable. Almost all of the Core Cities are building links between these two strategic objectives. Notably Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester. I trust Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle will follow suit.

The recommendations are set out below and the full report is available.

1. Environmental issues cut across political boundaries and timescales
1.1 The Mayor should seek a commitment from our local political leaders for a single unified vision for an environmentally sustainable City Region.
1.2 The Mayor should appoint a Director of Environmental Sustainability to report directly to him with resources and authority to be effective.
1.3 The Mayor should work with his counterparts across the North of England and propose a Northern Commission on Environmental Sustainability. The terms of reference should mirror those set for this Commission.

2. Maximise economic benefits from renewable resources
2.1 An integrated sustainable energy strategy must be initiated by the Mayor.
2.2 The Mayor should establish a team to explore options for a Liverpool municipal or city-wide community energy company.
3. An integrated transport system for the future
3.1 A strategy to deliver an integrated, innovative and sustainable transport system must be developed and implemented. This strategy must meet the demands of a growing population in a modern, dynamic and
economically thriving city and address:
• Improved airport, port and city connectivity for vehicles and citizens
• Integrated smart ticketing across all modes of transport
• Easier personal accessibility to some railway stations
• Park and ride facilities
3.2 The Mayor should call on the Combined Authority and Merseytravel to
immediately begin the process to take back control of the bus network.

3.3 The Mayor must take action to ensure Liverpool’s roads are safe for
cyclists with protected cycle lanes and other solutions to increase the
safety of cycling.

4. Education and engagement drives behavioural change
4.1 The Mayor must work in a visible way with community leaders to communicate the vision, debate the issues and task leaders to raise awareness of environmental sustainability within the fabric of the city.

4.2 The Mayor should bring together educational leaders and task them with raising the awareness and understanding of the importance of environmental sustainability and the inevitable changes that are required
in our society.
4.3 The Mayor must task the universities and colleges to develop a joint International Research Centre for Environmentally Sustainable Cities.
4.4 The Mayor should work with health and educational professionals to help raise the profile of the importance of the environment and sustainability to personal wellbeing.
4.5 The Mayor must create a digital vision for Liverpool that can become the platform for social media and other forms to communicate, engage and help deliver a smart, green city.
5. Quality of place matters
5.1 The City Council should adopt a ‘Meanwhile Use’ strategy for plots of available land across the city.
5.2 The Mayor must ensure that local people are involved in the review of Liverpool’s green spaces.
5.3 The Mayor should bring forward a green corridor strategy and as an exemplar should take action to pedestrianise areas within the Knowledge Quarter and monitor impact.
6. Redefine waste as a resource
6.1 The Mayor should request a full review of waste collection to improve recycling rates and improve cleanliness all at a reduced cost.
6.2 The Mayor should call for an integrated waste strategy that transcends political boundaries and recognises waste as a valuable resource to be developed as a matter of great urgency.

7. Securing our future
7.1 The Mayor should request an integrated appraisal of the whole of the infrastructure in Liverpool with consideration given to factors inherent in an historic city.
7.2 The Mayor should work collaboratively with the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and sector leaders to explore innovative inward investment opportunities to support business growth and economic prosperity.
8. The Liverpool of the future
8.1 The Mayor should invite local organisations to continue the discussion and keep the debate alive and should instigate an annual event to benchmark and monitor progress as Liverpool navigates its way towards
environmental sustainability.

A change management perspective on sustainable development in higher education

A new blog by Will Lambrechts – A change management perspective on sustainable development in higher education rightly states: “Looking at sustainable higher education from a change management perspective indeed reveals the complex nature of the institution and the underlying reasons why certain initiatives are taken and others are not.”

“The results indicate that the conceptual model helps to get a profound understanding of human related barriers for integrating sustainable development in higher education, as well as to understand the underlying reasons for these barriers and linkages between them in different stages of the integration process. Another main lesson learned is the importance of continuously supporting ambassadors of sustainable development integration in higher education.”

Why is it important that universities keep investing in their Estate Departments?

Why is it important that universities keep investing in their Estate Departments? “The Student Perspective” | The Technical Recruitment Company.

Despite the Higher Education environment recently experiencing unsettling changes and funding cuts, it has become apparent that investment in universities Estate Departments is more crucial than ever. As a current Higher Education student I have experienced this situation first hand, and whilst completing an internship at The Technical Recruitment Company, my attention has been drawn to the necessity for investment in this sector of the built environment.