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All societies and economies must change to stop climate change

ht view Updated: Jun 19, 2015 01:18 IST

The year 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the UN. It is also the year when countries will come together to adopt the next generation of goals for our people and their only home — planet Earth. 2015 will also see the hosting of a Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa and the Climate Conference in Paris.

This new agenda will stage the transition from the Millennium Development Goals — the MDGs — to the next generation of Sustainable Development Goals, with a new time horizon. The new sustainable development goals will build on the MDGs, which covered poverty, gender equality, health, education and environmental sustainability, but in a way deeper, more integrated and relevant to policy.

They also include nine more goals to cover the broader scope of the sustainable development agenda, which includes more economic issues such as growth, employment, infrastructure and inequality; environmental concerns that include water, energy, terrestrial and marine ecosystems; and most importantly a goal with targets promising more peaceful, better-governed and inclusive societies.

For the past two years, an unprecedented engagement has helped define what should succeed the MDGs in 2016. The member states of the UN have elaborated on a new goal and target framework that builds on the work of the MDGs, but one that calls for a fundamental rethink in all economies and societies.

In shaping this agenda, governments have been joined by the voices of millions around the world including women, children and business and industry. Halving extreme poverty in the past 15 years has been an extraordinary accomplishment by any standard. Yet, there are still many millions of poor and vulnerable people in the world.

The new goals will take us into the second quarter of the 21st century. As more and more of the world’s population join the global middle class, demands on the environment and our natural resource base will grow. Already we are consuming each year one and a half times the Earth’s annual capacity to regenerate itself.

If the Earth’s inhabitants are to be able to enjoy a decent standard of living, the wealthy will need to shift to more sustainable patterns of consumption, and producers everywhere will need to move to more sustainable patterns of production. Thus, the agenda and goals are universal. We hope a significant and meaningful outcome in Paris in December strengthens global efforts in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Many worry about the price tag of the transition to the bold new goals. But this agenda is not about aid and concessional flows to developing countries alone. It is more about the transformations in all societies and economies.

Resources have to be raised and spent primarily in countries themselves. All the important economic actors — governments, the business sector, etc — have to be part of the accelerated impetus for sustainability. The Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa in July will be an important landmark on the way to financing the implementation of the new sustainable development goals.

Nikhil Seth is director in the United Nations Division for Sustainable Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, New York. The views expressed are personal.