DG’s Column

High-level report proposes SDGs – how are forestry and landscapes linked?

The new UN report on a post-2015 development agenda presents a more complete picture of a future development agenda.
Tropical forest landscape in Uganda. Photo credit: Douglas Sheil/CIFOR

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On 30 May 2013, the report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda was handed over to Ban Ki-Moon by the President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The report is a direct follow-up of the Rio+20 meeting a year ago. It aims to define development priorities, objectives and targets and includes concrete proposals for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The panel of 27 people was co-chaired by the presidents of Indonesia and Liberia and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Long deliberations remain before we have a post-2015 development agenda that is agreed by the world’s countries; however, this report constitutes one of the most significant milestones in this process, well worth reading and analyzing.

In part, the report builds on the process and progress monitoring of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). I referred to the background and process of the MDGs in an earlier blog entry, noting that there is plenty of room for improvement when moving toward SDGs, such as the need for reduced complexity, clearer measures of progress and better acknowledgement of the need for cross-cutting efforts.

Is the new report an improvement? Yes it is. It represents a much more elaborate political process and presents a more complete picture of a future development agenda. From a first reading, I have the following initial comments, mainly related to the SDGs and their associated targets:

First, the report proposes 12 SDGs and 7 cross-cutting issues. This is too many to comfortably handle as a package in communications or dialogue.

However, the report also suggests a higher level set of five transformational shifts. In my view, five is a good number, and perhaps the five transformational shifts is what we will primarily refer to. I detect some correlation with the five goals I suggested in a previous blog entry on SDGs, noting that there are perhaps only so many ways to cut this cake. The five proposed shifts are listed below, with indicative links to the ideas I floated:

1. Leave none behind (c.f. equal opportunities, social protection)

2. Put sustainable development at the core (c.f. sustainable landscapes)

3. Transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth (c.f. green growth with equity, infrastructure for all)

4. Build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all (c.f. social protection)

5. Forge a new global partnership (c.f. green growth with equity, social protection)

So what about the 12 more detailed goals and targets in the report, and how do they relate to CIFOR’s and CGIAR’s work on forestry and landscapes? I have the following observations:

1. End poverty. This remains the overarching development goal. It includes securing rights to land for people and businesses as well as social protection systems for the poor and vulnerable, which are also major priorities for CIFOR and CGIAR. But I don’t understand why an indicator on reducing deaths from natural disasters is included under this goal – it would seem to fit better under goal 9 (manage natural resource assets sustainably).

2. Empower girls and women and achieve gender equality. This proposed goal upgrades the issue compared with the MDGs, which is a positive change. Gender issues in agriculture, forestry and fisheries are also obvious and a high priority for CIFOR and CGIAR.

3. Provide quality education and lifelong learning. I would have liked to see higher-level education included here.

4. Ensure healthy lives. The MDGs had several of its eight goals dedicated to health; these are now concentrated into one goal, which seems to make sense. However, nutrition, which I would categorize as an important factor for a healthy life, is not included here.

5. Ensure food security and good nutrition. This topic is obviously a main focus for CGIAR and it is good to see a stand-alone goal on food security. However, the focus in the five proposed indicators remains on the supply (quantity) of food production, while nutrition is less prominent. More importantly, the broader aspects of food security – in particular, access to food – is not covered at all. It is questionable that food security is reduced to producing calories off the land when we know that food insecurity is mainly caused by poverty and inequality. In other words, the formulation of the goal does not resonate well with the indicators suggested.

6. Achieve universal access to water and sanitation. This is a major focus also for CIFOR and CGIAR. The role of forests for a safe and stable water supply both for human consumption and for agriculture is clearly a top priority for our work.

7. Secure sustainable energy. This is an important goal and clearly a driver to achieve several of the other goals. However, the role of biomass is downplayed and actually discouraged by reference to indoor air pollution. The role of wood and biomass for energy is and will remain very important, in particular for poor and vulnerable people. Improving production and utilisation in this area will have a very high return in sustainability terms and should have rendered a higher attention in the formulation of indicators.

8. Create jobs, sustainable livelihoods and equitable growth. This goal provides an opportunity to emphasize and enhance the role of labor and capital in the land-based sectors – the largest employer in the world. It is an area where I believe CGIAR could do more. Further, CIFOR and ICRAF are engaged in work that seeks to improve and scale up investment opportunities in sustainable land-use practices – another area that this proposed goal covers.

9. Manage natural resource assets sustainably. Good to see a stand-alone goal on this topic, with opportunities to establish landscape approaches across sectors – again a major focus for CIFOR and CGIAR. The indicators are a bit patchy – a more holistic perspective on natural resources would have been useful. For example, decreasing GHG emissions from land use could have been an indicator, and increasing vegetation and soil biomass in the landscape could have been another. Further, the bio-economy (an essential part of the green economy), could have been highlighted by having an indicator on income or return on investments from sustainable natural resources products and services.

10. Ensure good governance and effective institutions. Crucial goal for progress, and good to see a more prominent positioning compared with the MDGs. In particular, it is encouraging to see an indicator on reducing corruption.

11. Ensure stable and peaceful societies. Important, but less directly related to CIFOR and CGIAR work, possibly with the exception of upholding laws related to the protection of natural resources.

12. Create a global enabling environment and catalyze long-term finance. As mentioned under goal 8 above, improving and scaling up finance for sustainable land use is a fundamental success factor. Investments in sustainable agriculture, forestry and fisheries and associated value chains may be a very direct route to sustainable development. But there are many hurdles. In my view, CIFOR and CGIAR could emphasize these issues a bit more.

Conclusively, the proposed transformational shifts, goals and indicators provide an excellent platform for the future priorities of CIFOR and CGIAR. There is already a discussion in the consortium whether we should be better aligned to the SDGs rather than constructing separate goals for the CGIAR. We would then have a more direct route to mainstream development politics and possibly project a more relevant agenda to a broader audience.

Follow Peter on Twitter: @pholmgren

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