The problem is enormous and growing. The evidence is compelling. Human activity, and our increased consumption of fossil fuels, has resulted in higher temperatures on earth. The best case scenarios of preventing a huge increase in global emissions of CO2 is already looking unrealistic.
A little over a decade ago, there were widespread concerns over a major decline in global agricultural production and a corresponding rise in food prices. With the world’s largest share of arable land, Africa began to witness increased interest from foreign investors, who were optimistic of their ability to transform the continent’s agriculture sector while ensuring that their own countries would enjoy a steady supply of food. A decade later, and with hindsight, such ambitions appear to have been rather naïve.
The average world life expectancy at birth is now over 70 years. We are all living longer, and while this is good news, it is also creating enormous pressures on existing, and often fragile, health care services in many parts of the world.
The first Russia-Africa Summit held recently in Sochi has generated renewed interest in better understanding the links between aid, investments and sustainable development as major world powers compete for influence in Africa.
SDG 7 aims to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030. However, despite considerable talk in national and international circles on the urgency of solving Africa’s power woes, all available evidence points to slow and uneven progress.
Rwanda has been making news headlines in recent weeks. It plans not only to manufacture the first “Made in Africa” smartphone but is also actively promoting renewable energy projects and encouraging urban inhabitants to actively use electric vehicles.
Addressing the challenges of climate disruption, international migration, pandemics, violent conflicts and poverty eradication require increased collaboration across national borders. The growth of nationalism and protectionist policies are, however, forcing many to rethink well-established understandings of the benefits of globalization. With the United States backtracking on previously negotiated agreements on climate, and signalling its desire to cut foreign aid, China has emerged as one of the strongest champions of globalization.
The role and impact of civil society organisations (CSOs) in voicing public demands have dominated recent headlines in many parts of the world. This has resulted in a renewed discussion on how such groups are able to influence public behaviour as well as highlight government failure. While many politicians increasingly question whether CSOs should be involved in political activism, there are also worrying reports of growing political repression and the shrinking space for CSOs to operate in many parts of the world.
Development is not only about income and there has been growing attention in recent decades to better understand the non-economic aspects of human wellbeing.
The growing environmental risks posed by worsening air pollution has generated considerable media attention and resulting citizen anger in recent years, particularly in some of the world’s biggest economies. It is estimated that polluted air contributes to 7 million premature deaths every year.
Access to, and the affordability of, medicines is now attracting increased global attention. Some of this is the result of SDG 3 – ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing for all at all ages – which includes a specific target (3.8): “Achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.”
If you have not heard about it already, here is some good news. Africa will soon be officially declared to be free of polio – a highly infectious viral disease.
Over the past 10 days, I have been traveling across India giving a set of public lectures on sustainable development. During this visit I have had the privilege of interacting with a wide range of individuals – politicians, civil servants, fellow academics and the common man on the street. We have discussed and debated the numerous successes the country has achieved in the past five decades as well as the challenges it currently faces.
In a recent report, Philip Alston – the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights – points to the flip side of human progress. He argues that the impact of climate will be greatest on the people living in poverty and that climate disruption will threaten democracy and human rights in large parts of the world.
Over the past decade, “social entrepreneurship” – defined variously as “the use of new approaches to solve old social problems” (Swab Foundation) and “entrepreneurship carried out for societal benefit” (Skoll Foundation) – has attracted increased attention in business circles. This has corresponded with the interest to actively involve businesses in achieving the SDGs.
Building resilient and sustainable infrastructure – promoted most directly in SDG 9 – is not only important for low-income countries but is also a challenge in many parts of the developed world, where new investments and innovations are required to upgrade existing roads, bridges and tunnels.
A couple of weeks ago, I attended the launch of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019 (SOFI) report at the United Nations in New York. The report does not make for pleasant reading.
Large parts of the African continent continue to face an acute shortage of energy. Hundreds of millions of people do not have any access to electricity. And the few that do enjoy access to the grid, are often not guaranteed continued power supply throughout the day. As governments struggle to boost power generation, they are increasingly being forced to make hard decisions and address numerous tradeoffs.
The Norwegian government has recently issued a white paper on sustainable food systems. Offering a holistic perspective, it highlights Norway’s desire to strengthen its engagement on increased sustainable food production, improved nutrition, creation of jobs as well as effective food governance.
I recently had the pleasure of riding the Madaraka Express – a Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project that connects Nairobi to the port city of Mombasa. It gave me a first-hand experience of how a Chinese “mega project” works, and how it is being financed, maintained and expanded to other parts of Kenya.
I recently attended a fascinating national conclave on institutionalising the SDGs in New Delhi and was pleasantly surprised to find that several state governments in India are showing considerable interest in incorporating the SDGs in planning development projects and programs. But one of the most important debates at this event highlighted the challenges associated with a much-talked-about idea in the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development – “leave no one behind”.
During the past couple of weeks, I have been giving a series of talks on sustainable development at various Chinese universities in Beijing as well as interacting with UN agencies, think tanks and civil society organizations. A common theme that has emerged in these interactions is that China has strongly endorsed the 2030 Agenda, and that the sustainable development discourse is growing in popularity within the country. The interesting question is why.
The start of a new year provides an opportunity to reengage in conversations on how best to achieve sustainable development. The SDGs have been around for more than three years now, and by all accounts progress has been mixed. The 2030 Agenda appears to be at a crossroads and important decisions must be taken for the world to even have a reasonable shot at achieving the ambitious goals. In my view, one issue in particular warrants special attention in 2019: political enthusiasm and leadership for sustainable development.
I was teaching in Malawi a few weeks ago when I accepted an invitation to participate in a debate on the environmental footprint of population growth hosted by The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Although I had not explicitly worked on population policy, I was intrigued by the prospect of better understanding why population is often a neglected area in the mainstream climate change discourse. And the thought of engaging with an Earth Systems scientist and a philosopher was much too good to pass. I was also intrigued by the fact that population control is not explicitly mentioned in the SDGs.
Malawi is an illustrative example of the challenges that low-income countries face as they try to make themselves attractive for aid agencies, international institutions and private sector actors in the quest to promote development and reduce poverty.
- Living within limits Feb. 18, 2020
- The coronavirus: State capacity and crisis response in China Jan. 28, 2020
- Food security and "land grabs" Jan. 21, 2020
Oslo SDG blog
A blog by the Oslo SDG Initiative.