The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recently released four Briefing Notes on the post-2015 development agenda with recommendations on how to (1) achieve a balanced, ambitious and inclusive framework that integrates the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development; (2) accelerate the shift towards sustainable consumption and production (SCP); (3) ensure a clean and healthy environment; and (4) ensure green and decent jobs for poverty eradication.
Integrating the three dimensions of sustainable development: How to achieve a balanced, ambitious and inclusive framework
Building on the understanding that the three dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental) are interdependent, the first Briefing Note argues that future sustainable development goals (SDGs), targets and indicators should be assessed by their ability to leave no one behind and provide a life of dignity for all; achieve greater prosperity in an inclusive manner within the capacity of the earth’s life support system; and increase capital to achieve greater resilience and secure future generations’ livelihoods.
According to UNEP, “affordable solutions for breaking the poverty trap and assuring basic livelihoods are available that do not further degrade the environment.” These solutions can be found in green and innovative technologies, in changing production systems, employment patterns and technologies, and in behavioural change. To be most effective, UNEP calls for a “universal transition towards an inclusive green economy and sustainable consumption and production;” one that addresses persistent and deep rooted inequalities and discrimination. Such a transition requires sustainable management of and investment in natural capital, social capital (i.e. knowledge, societal systems), and resource efficient economic capital (i.e. infrastructure and production capacities).
Future SDGs should also build upon and reinforce existing commitments, goals and targets (not duplicate them) and their implementation. Solution-oriented targets should be actionable, capture an integrated vision, and support one or more goals; direct and proxy indicators are encouraged to be disaggregated in order to allow for differentiation. Above all, both targets and indicators should be scientifically credible, verifiable, measurable, based on best available information and evidence, and match the level of ambition (new forms of measurement).
Sustainable consumption and production
The second Briefing Note demands that the future SDGs and the post-2015 agenda will accelerate the shift towards sustainable consumption and production (SCP) patterns and promote socio-economic development within the safe operating space of the earth’s life support systems. The two-page document puts forward that by maintaining or even increasing natural capital, a shift to sustainable production and consumption patterns creates expanded and even new opportunities for poverty eradication, and for enhancing prosperity for all.
This was also recognized at Rio+20, where world leaders adopted the Ten-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns (10YFP). In addition, the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has recognized that SCP should be embedded in the SDGs, either as a stand-alone goal, or cutting across other goals that may be established on food, health, economic growth, industrialization, cities and ecosystems.
The shift to SCP requires – on the supply side – the sustained provision of natural resources that are key to human survival (water, food, energy and productive/habitable land) and of factors of production for economic development (renewable and non-renewable resources, such as timber, fibre, metals and minerals). Other requirements are: (1) pollution, associated with human and economic activity and harmful for human health or the degradation of ecosystems, is being reduced; and (2) resource efficiency in government policies, public and private sector management practices, technology choices, and investments.
On the demand side, people will not need to consume less, but they will need to consume better, in a more intelligent, safe and environmentally sustainable way. As UNEP explains, sustainable consumption is more than purchasing behaviours; it involves all types of interactions between individuals and infrastructures (mobility, leisure, housing), which together make up lifestyles and livelihoods. A shift to more sustainable consumption requires: (1) a mix of policy, economic and voluntary instruments, including formal and informal education; and (2) awareness-raising among consumers, civil society, private sector and policymakers to trigger changes in human values, equity and lifestyle choices.
In addition, UNEP proposes the following targets to be achieved by 2030:
• “Raw materials: Improve overall resource productivity by 30 per cent in 2030 as a stepping stone towards doubling the resource efficiency of production and consumption by 2050; achieve a national average material intensity of consumption per capita (tonnes per capita) of 10.5 tonnes/capita/year in 2030, with the ultimate aim of achieving 8-10 tonnes/capita/year in 2050.
• Energy: Doubling the global rate of improvement of energy efficiency from -1.3 per cent for 1990-2010 to -2.6 per cent; doubling the share of renewable energy in the energy mix (from 18 per cent in 2010 to 36 per cent in 2030); reducing premature deaths due to air pollution by 50 per cent.
• Food: Doubling the yearly rate of energy and water productivity increase in food systems; enhancing productivity (by 40 per cent) of food systems by improving ecosystem management and maximizing resource efficiency through sustainable agriculture, fisheries and consumption patterns; reducing by 50 per cent food loss and waste.
• Water: Bringing freshwater withdrawals in line with sustainably available water resources to maintain ecosystem and human wellbeing; increasing the safe reuse of urban and industrial wastewater flows; reducing contamination from chemicals and waste of ground and surface waters resulting from human activities;
• Shelter: Achieving a 50 per cent reduction in energy-related CO2 emissions from buildings; achieving a 25 per cent decrease in the rate of raw material extraction for building and construction; renovating all existing social housing to meet energy-efficiency standards, thus reducing costs for the poor and providing healthy environments.”
Human health and the environment
In its third Briefing Note, UNEP draws attention to recent estimates that indicate that almost 25 per cent of all diseases and deaths are the result of risks from unhealthy living and working environments. It discusses the devastating effects of air pollution, inadequate management of chemicals and wastes, poor water quality, ecosystem degradation, climate change and ozone layer depletion, especially on the poor. In addition, it calls for effective environmental management and integrated solutions that will ensure a clean and healthy environment. These include:
• “Switching to cleaner fuels and alternative sources of energy, and more efficient production and use of fuels and energy.
• Developing comprehensive chemicals management strategies; mainstreaming chemicals management into national public health, social and economic development programmes; regulating and reducing the use of chemicals of highest concern and substituting them with safer alternatives; integrating and coordinating international and intergovernmental programmes to increase synergies and effectiveness; and developing new national and international approaches to financing sound chemicals management.
• Phasing out of the remaining ozone-depleting substances (ODSs), particularly hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), and ensuring sound management of existing ODSs captured in buildings and equipment.
• Sustainable land and forest management, along with conservation and restoration.
• Restoring catchments and improving wastewater management; improving water quality by raising service standards; promoting innovative low-cost and low-carbon technologies; and providing robust and effective water governance through more effective institutions and administrative systems.
• Implementing measures to reduce impacts from climate change, including the use of light covered surfaces for buildings and roads; the planting of urban trees and gardens in strategic locations; sustainable wetlands management; effective use of climate; and closer collaboration between the meteorological, public health and environmental authorities in the provision of tools to identify elevated risks, take preventive measures and plan effective responses.”
Green and Decent Jobs for Poverty Eradication
Green jobs are not just for high-tech enterprises, this fourth Briefing Note indicates. Innovative economic and environmental policy reforms, fiscal measures, and green investments can prevent the loss of meaningful employment opportunities in both urban and rural areas; expand and diversify the local job market; and contribute to the transfer of technology and skills necessary for both long-term poverty eradication and sustainability. According to UNEP, nature-based and other green jobs can create prosperity for all while safeguarding the Earth’s life support systems and the ecological foundation of the economy.
A combination of inclusive green economy measures, social policy tools, and clearly targeted investments could increase the volume, composition and quality of employment while sustaining and strengthening the economy’s ecological foundations, and ensuring social protection. Countries at all levels of development are moving towards greener economies. For example, employment in environmental goods and services in the United States in 2010 was 3.1 million (2.4 %) and growing. In Brazil, 2.9 million green jobs (6.6 % of formal employment) were recorded in 2010 in sectors aimed at reducing environmental harm
For more information UNEP’s vision for post-2015, click here.