Global sustainable development agendas: a holistic ecosystem

June 8, 2021

Javier Surasky 
Program Officer Governance and Financing for Sustainable Development

Sustainable development is a multidimensional concept that is born from the balance between the social, environmental and economic dimensions. 

The above statement is sufficient to explain why the widespread belief that to speak of “sustainability” is equivalent to the environment should be considered a mistake. Far from it, the idea of ​​sustainable development implies the holistic and balanced integration of the social, the environmental and the economic dimensions. 

Limiting the commitments made by countries in terms of sustainable development to the 2030 Agenda is an error of a similar magnitude to restricting the idea of ​​sustainability to caring for the environment.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development stands as a benchmark for international debates on the subject, but it is far from being a document that brings together the complete set of current global commitments on the matter. In this sense, we can highlight in the text of the Agenda the following references, among several others:

  • It is stated that its foundations are found in the main international human rights treaties and in the Declaration on the Right to Development
  • The value of the commitments made at the major United Nations conferences of the 1990s is reaffirmed
  • The Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development is considered an integral part of the 2030 Agenda
  • It includes the need to consider the results of the XXI Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which would end up adopting the Paris Agreement
  • In the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, references are made to the contents of the Framework Convention of the World Health Organization for Tobacco Control, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 and the Convention on the United Nations on the Law of the Sea

It is clear, then, that working in favor of sustainable development implies considering a plurality of interlinked agendas and commitments. Exposing these communicating vessels, promoting an integrated approach and working on the synergies that occur in this broad framework of global sustainable development agendas is one of Cepei’s critical tasks. And we do it based on evidence, producing data, information and knowledge, and working with partners in different sectors that share this comprehensive vision.

Although addressing all the global sustainable development agendas in this space is not possible, we briefly present those that occupy the priority place in Cepei’s work.


Transforming our world: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The “2030 Agenda” is the main international consensus for the promotion of sustainable development. Adopted in 2015 by the Member Countries of the United Nations as a result of a negotiation process involving multiple actors, it defines 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that are broken down into 169 specific goals.

The Agenda also defines five critical working areas in favor of sustainable development known as the “5Ps”: people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnerships

Along with this, it establishes principles that should guide the path towards sustainable development, among which the following stand out:

  • Leaving no one behind
  • Interdependence between the SDGs
  • Universality of the Agenda
  • Promotion of multi-stakeholder work
  • Working outside watertight compartments

The agenda also establishes a political vision of the world projected for 2030, a chapter on means of implementation and a scheme for the analysis and monitoring of progress in its implementation at the national, regional and global levels.


The Addis Ababa Action Agenda for Financing for Development

The negotiation process of the 2030 Agenda was carried out in parallel with the one aimed at reaching an agreement on the key elements to finance sustainable development. This second negotiating process came to an end when in July 2015, just months before the 2030 Agenda was adopted, the Third International Conference on Financing for Development met, where the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third InternationalConference on Financing for Development was adopted. This document expresses a global agreement on the modalities and tools that must be mobilized to generate the financial resources that progress towards sustainable development requires.

It covers considerations of public and private, national or international resources, and identifies seven areas of work on which funding efforts should focus:

  1. Social protection and essential public services for all
  2. Scaling up efforts to end hunger and malnutrition
  3. Overcoming shortcomings in infrastructure
  4. Promotion of inclusive and sustainable industrialization
  5. Generation of full and productive employment and decent work for all, promoting micro, small and medium-sized enterprises
  6. Ecosystem protection
  7. Promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies

The main topics that this document covers are:

  • International cooperation for sustainable development
  • The use of national tax systems in support of sustainable development
  • The sustainability of external indebtedness
  • The importance of contributions in science and technology
  • Innovations and trade as generators of resources for sustainable development
  • The systemic issues that affect the generation, distribution and access to economic resources necessary to promote development, such as global economic governance, the need to democratize decision-making in international financial institutions, price volatility in international markets of commodities and international migration.

The “Addis Agenda” includes a chapter on the importance of generating timely and reliable data, and determines the creation of a Technology Facilitation Mechanism, which will then be developed by the 2030 Agenda.


The Paris Agreement

Like the two previous agreements, the Paris Agreement (to combat climate change) was adopted in 2015. Unlike the previous ones, which are political agreements, it is a legally binding agreement that creates enforceable obligations on its members. This difference means that the Paris Agreement had to go through a ratification process before entering into force, which finally happened in November 2016.

The main objective of this agreement is to keep the increase in world temperature in this century below 2 degrees Celsius, taking its pre-industrial levels as a reference point, and making efforts so that the increase in global temperature does not exceed 1,5 celsius (34,7 fahrenheit).

To achieve this, obligations assumed aimed at:

  1. Creating a sustainable technological framework
  2. Improving national capacities for action against climate change and its effects
  3. Mobilizing financial resources required for the other two purposes

One of the central elements of the Paris Agreement is the establishment of a mechanism to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Its main instrument is the so-called “National Determined Contributions (CDN)”. All countries that are part of the treaty are obliged to present the NDCs periodically to report on their emission levels, as well as the specific measures they undertake to reduce them: Mitigation measures or adaptation measures (capacity building response to the effects of climate change).

The compilation of national commitments results in the establishment of a national emissions inventory that, according to the Agreement, must be updated every five years. The first set of Nationally Determined Contributions was submitted between 2016 and 2018. The first update was to take place in 2020, five years after the Agreement was adopted. The COVID-19 pandemic led several countries to request a postponement of the deadline and it is expected that between 2021 and 2022 the process will advance strongly.


Human rights as a sustainable development agenda

The global framework of rights and obligations established in multiple legal documents for the protection and promotion of human rights sets the context for any effort aimed at sustainable development; Sustainable development necessarily implies placing people at the center of any action.

The link between human rights and sustainable development is becoming stronger. In theory, we can mention the commitment made by the States in the preamble of the 2030 Agenda to “ensure that all human beings can fulfill their potential with dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.”

On the human rights side, the response adopts an equal perspective: Not only the Human Rights Council has had for a long time documents on issues directly connected with sustainable development. As an example we list the following:

  • Independent Expert on Human Rights and International Solidarity
  • Special Rapporteur on the right to development
  • Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment
  • Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order
  • Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

In recent years, the Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights that is carried out within the framework of the United Nations, the main global process monitoring respect for human rights by States, in which they report their progress and receive recommendations of their peers on measures to be adopted, has begun to issue recommendations that take as reference the 2030 Agenda.

Source: Own elaboration
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