When Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote that “All that is solid melts into air,” they intended it as a metaphor for the disruptive transformations that the industrial revolution implied for established social norms. Today, their words can be taken literally: Carbon dioxide emissions and other industrial pollutants released into the atmosphere are said to be changing the planet — with huge implications for the environment, health, population movements and social justice. The world is at a crossroads, and much of the progress that has been made in these areas could vanish into thin air.
In 2007, former South African president Nelson Mandela founded The Elders to address just such risks, mandating this independent group of former leaders to “speak truth unto power.”
That is what we will do at the launch of the new Sustainable Development Goals at the UN General Assembly later this month.
The goals will succeed the Millennium Development Goals, which guided international development efforts from 2000 to this year. The current plan is credited with helping millions of people escape illiteracy, disease and hunger, and placed development at the heart of the global political agenda. However, their overall impact was often inadequate, particularly in fragile, conflict-ridden states — and they failed to include sustainability in their targets.
The new goals represent a quantum leap forward, because they recognize the vital links among challenges — including poverty in all its forms, gender inequality, climate change and poor governance — that must be addressed in tandem. Seventeen separate goals might seem unwieldy, but their cumulative effect should mean that no topic or constituency falls through the cracks. Sustainability is finally being integrated into global development, in line with what campaigners have been demanding for decades.
As former leaders from the global north and south, we are particularly pleased that the new goals will apply to all UN member states and not just those in the developing world. In this way, we hope they will become as “universal” as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — a vital element of the civic armory in the fight for fairness.
Implementation and accountability are key. Fine words are not enough; leaders must commit to putting plans into action, and societies must be vigilant in tracking progress and blowing the whistle when not enough is being done. Too often, summit declarations have melted into air once the delegations went home and short-term political calculations regained the upper hand.
This time, the stakes are higher. The decisions taken this year, at the summit and at the climate conference in Paris in December, could have a lasting impact on the planet’s future. A stable climate underpins prosperity, poverty reduction, and the rule of law. If world leaders in Paris do not agree to credible measures to keep a rise in temperatures to below 2oC, the new goals will not be realized.
It is not a choice between reducing poverty and addressing climate change. Indeed, the effects of climate change could undo the development gains that the existing goals helped to achieve. There is a risk of suffocating heat waves, severe droughts, disastrous floods and devastating wildfires. Entire regions could experience catastrophic declines in food production. Sea levels could rise, drowning major cities and small island states. Large populations could be displaced, exacerbating existing economic strains and social tensions.
At the same time, there is an emerging consensus — among grassroots organizations and central bankers alike — that inequality poses a serious threat to people’s livelihoods and prosperity worldwide. Globalization has led to a weakening of social contracts within nation-states and regional blocs and even among continents.
The answer to inequality cannot be to build walls, hoard wealth, and stigmatize poor and vulnerable people. Sustainable prosperity requires that all groups within a society share equitably in the benefits of economic growth — especially as societies become ever more interdependent. For this reason, we are particularly encouraged by Goal 10 of the new plans, with its commitment to reducing inequality within and among countries, as well as a focus on gender equality throughout the goals.
Any framework or process will have its limitations. International summits are too often conducted in a way that is remote and alienating for people outside the conference hall. Back in the 1980s, the UN commissioned what became known as the Brundtland Report to address mounting global concern about damaging environmental, social, and economic trends. The report defined the concept of “sustainable development” and called for radical change.
It warned: “Unless we are able to translate our words into a language that can reach the minds and hearts of people young and old, we shall not be able to undertake the extensive social changes needed to correct the course of development.”
Sustainable growth and development policies cannot be imposed by diktat; they must be designed and implemented in a way that heeds the views and experiences of ordinary people. To implement the goals and minimize climate change, massive shifts will be required to move away from the fossil-fuel-driven economic model. Public understanding and consent will be crucial.
World leaders must have the courage to take bold decisions, explain their necessity, and implement them in a just and effective way. They have no right to deny a decent future to future generations. It is no longer a question of choices, but an obligation to prevent catastrophe. The time for action is now. This opportunity must not be allowed to melt away.
Gro Harlem Brundtland is a former prime minister of Norway and a member of The Elders, a group of independent global leaders working for peace and human rights. Graca Machel is former minister of education of Mozambique, founder of the Graca Machel Trust and a member of The Elders.
Copyright: Project Syndicate
Since COVID-19 broke out in Taiwan, there has been a fair amount of news regarding discrimination and “witch hunts” against medical personnel, people under self-quarantine and other targets, such as the students of a school where an infection was discovered. Quarantine breakers are almost certainly on the loose and it is only natural for people to be vigilant. One in Chiayi was found by accident at a traffic stop because his helmet was not fastened. However, those who follow the rules by quarantining themselves should be encouraged to keep up the good work in a difficult situation, instead of being
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator-at-large Wu Sz-huai (吳斯懷) has said that there is a huge difference between Chinese military aircraft circling Taiwan along the edges of its airspace and invading Taiwan’s airspace. He also said that whether it is US or Chinese aircraft flying along or encircling Taiwan’s airspace, there is no legal basis to say that such actions imply a clear provocation of Taiwan, and asked the Ministry of National Defense not to mislead the public. People who hear this might think that it is not a very Taiwanese thing to say. US military activity in the vicinity of Taiwan
As the nation welcomes home Taiwanese who had been stranded in China’s Hubei Province — arguably one of the most dangerous places on Earth since the novel coronavirus outbreak began in its capital, Wuhan, late last year — problems surrounding the “quasi-charter flights” that brought them back have been largely overlooked. The media used the term to describe the two flights dispatched by Taiwan’s state-run China Airlines because they do not count as charter flights. Taiwanese wanting to board those flights had to travel — most likely by train — more than 1,000km from Hubei to Shanghai Pudong International Airport
As the COVID-19 pandemic spins out of control, many parts of the world are experiencing shortages of medical masks and other protective equipment. I am studying in Washington state, which at the time of writing is the US state that has suffered the largest number of deaths from the novel coronavirus. The week before last, UW Medicine — an organization that includes the University of Washington School of Medicine and associated medical centers and clinics — sent its volunteers an e-mail asking the public to make masks and donate them to hospitals. Attached to the message was a mask donation