13 January, 2015

2015 a year of the Sustainable Development Goals

by Henry Green, Policy Advisor at the Fairtrade Foundation

For me, January brings with it the annual disappointment of breaking my new year’s resolutions. 

It has got so bad that, in recent years, I have adopted the ‘baby turtle’ approach, making as many as I possibly can in the hope that one or two make it. None so far – and I am certainly not the only one struggling.  In fact, an estimated 90% of resolutions end in failure. Whether it’s drinking less or exercising more, it seems that doing better takes more than good intentions. To make a resolution stick you need real determination and planning.

The same truth applies to solving the global problems. When it comes to tackling climate change, poverty and the other big issues affecting smallholder producers and billions of other, perhaps the world has been guilty of rolling over and hitting snooze a few too many times.

However, according to some, 2015 could be the year that this changes. In September the world’s governments are gathering in New York to finalise the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a global plan of action for issues from inequality to loss of eco-systems, which UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has described as “an unprecedented opportunity to take far-reaching, long-overdue global action to secure our future well-being”.

Should we share this excitement? Might we finally see a world where people in developing countries get the kind of fair deal that has been pioneered by Fairtrade?

The goals certainly don’t lack ambition – when they were published in draft form last year, the first was ‘End poverty in all its forms everywhere’. Unfortunately, history tells us that ambition is not enough. After all, the Millennium Development Goals were launched to similar fanfare but ultimately did not deliver on all their promises.

Of course there are challenges. Put them aside for one moment though and you will also find a genuine reason to hope that this could finally be the global resolution that sticks.

This is because, perhaps for the first time, the world has acknowledged through the SDGs that long-term sustainable development will only work if everyone plays their part. This is huge.

They do this in several ways. One is by turning the spotlight onto developed countries, with goals that will challenge them to change their behaviour. Take draft goal 12, which focuses on achieving sustainable global consumption and production patterns. This is incredibly ambitious and difficult, but it also so important – every day at Fairtrade we see the difference that sustainable production – from fair prices to proper labour standards – makes. Including this goal in the SDGs is potentially life-changing for smallholder farmers and workers.

Another important step is recognising that the private sector has to be included in any long-term development strategy. This was a clear ambition from the start of the process, where businesses sat alongside governments and charities on the high-level panel agreeing the principles behind the goals. Although using business to achieve development goals has had mixed results elsewhere – see the Fairtrade Foundation’s research into agricultural public-private partnerships – it is now unavoidable. It might be difficult, but the truth is that businesses have as much power to help or hinder development as governments do.

Achieving global co-operation is as difficult as it is ambitious – but our experiences are cause for optimism. After all, the Fairtrade system is entirely built on this kind of global co-operation, bringing groups with apparently different interests together for a common purpose. From improving business behaviour, to the millions who buy Fairtrade, our success shows that co-operation across borders and sectors is achievable.

With that in mind, and given what is at stake, the SDGs are surely a resolution that is worth committing to.





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