The world is nearing the completion of three years since the inception of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as Agenda 2030. Phenomena like unnatural rain patterns, receding glaciers and forest fires are becoming more and more frequent. In view of the damage these cause to forests, human lives and wildlife, nobody can question the relevance of sustainability. However, exactly why do the SDGs matter, what is being done to achieve these goals and how do they impact our lives?
In a famous essay, economist Jeffrey Sachs explains why these goals matter: First, they are essential for social mobilization. The world needs to be oriented in one direction to fight poverty or to help achieve sustainable development. Adopting global goals helps individuals, organizations, and governments worldwide to agree on the direction—essentially, to focus on what really matters for our future.
A second function of goals is to create peer pressure. With the adoption of Millennium Development Goals earlier, political leaders were publicly and privately questioned on the steps they were taking to end extreme poverty.
A third way that goals matter is to encourage epistemic communities—networks of expertise, knowledge, and practice—into action around sustainable-development challenges. When bold goals are set, those communities of knowledge and practice come together to recommend practical pathways to achieve results.
Finally, goals mobilize stakeholder networks. That kind of multi-stakeholder process is essential for tackling the complex challenges of sustainable development and the fight against poverty, hunger, and disease.However, stating goals is merely the first step in implementing a plan of action. Good policy design, adequate financing, and new institutions to oversee execution must follow goal setting. And, as outcomes occur, they must be measured, and strategies must be rethought, under the motivations of clear goals and timelines.
Indian ecologist Madhav Gadgil’s report on the biodiverse Western Ghats had warned that the combination of massive ecological destruction and extreme weather events may trigger disaster. The Gadgil committee had strongly recommended a ban on certain new industrial and mining activities in the area. The warnings were largely ignored. The recent devastating Kerala floods are seen as a consequence.
Environmentalists and the United Nations through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have been studying and warning about these kinds of events and disasters for over two decades. We are now seeing them play out!
In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed, along with 192 other countries, the United Nations sponsored compact, Agenda 2030. It came into ‘force’ from the 1st January 2016 and will run up until 2030. A 15-year time frame to get our development processes in such a manner so that they comply with sustainability guidelines and we reach the 17 SDG goals and 169 targets. The Government of India has tasked NITI Aayog with implementing these goals.
NITI Aayog, the government's think-tank, has taken several steps towards this end. In August, it entered into a three-year partnership with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) to develop an action agenda for the industry to contribute towards SDGs. To spur healthy competition between states, it is coming up with a SDG Index. It will rank states based on their performance on 82 schemes of 38 central ministries, using 75 indicators to capture SDGs.
NITI Aayog has recently suggested setting up of an overarching Himalayan Authority. The recommendation has come at a time when owing to excessive commercialisation of India’s hill stations, forest cover, lakes and waterfalls have started diminishing or vanishing. The proposed authority will ensure integrated development of the fragile ecosystem of hilly states. It will regularly assess and rank Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) states based on their performance (in protecting their natural resources and ecosystem) and provide recommendations for incentives.
Sikkim, its government and its people, have been visionary in anticipating the future requirements of Public Policy promoting Sustainable Living. Even before the country was actively engaging in the sustainability dialogue, the Chief Minister of Sikkim, Pawan Chamling, was awarded the Greenest Chief Minister award by the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi in 1998. Further, in 2016 Chamling received the prestigious Sustainable Development Leadership Award by the World Sustainable Development Council in New Delhi at the hands of then President Pranab Mukherjee. Accolades for Sikkim have been plenty – the Only Organic State of India, the First Open Defecation Free State of India and the Cleanest State of India, to name a few.
Sikkim is a success story because its goals are supplemented by proper policies and implementation. For example, when Sikkim takes a policy stance like not allowing anyone to climb Mount Kanchenjunga, then it is preserving its heritage and making progress along Goal 13. Besides, it is avoiding the cost of cleaning up the mountain for our future generations. Remember how commercial mountaineering has turned Mount Everest into the world’s highest rubbish dump?
Few of the notable actions taken by the government include ban on green felling of trees, promotion of climate resilience programmes, spring rejuvenation programmes, organic mission and green school mission. It is no wonder that Sikkim has become a state whose green policies continue to be lauded and acclaimed, and one which needs to be emulated.
The Bangkok Climate Change Conference, September 4-9, hit a roadblock over finances. This extra round of negotiations was meant as the final step in preparation of a framework for implementing the landmark 2015 Paris Accord. A major stumbling block was a plan for developed countries to spend $100 billion a year to finance projects in the developing world.
While the guidelines for implementing the Paris Accord are imperative for a clear and defined action on Climate Change, there will remain many other, wider questions on the issue of sustainability. How can we make Sustainable Development an everyday affair? Is building a SMART city a better way of living and that too sustainably? What can our education system do toward this end? How do we build better and more environmentally friendly roads? How can we make our citizens walk more and shun cars? And this list can go on and on.
We can find answers which might point us in the sustainable direction and that too locally. However, this promise can only be fulfilled if we all make the ‘sustainable’ choices in our policies - every day living and working!
(The author is an Indian Member of Parliament. He can be contacted at email@example.com)