Next year, the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will expire with victories seen in too few of the eight milestones set.
In their place, the United Nations will put what are being called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a new set of global milestones (there are currently 17, but my fingers are crossed we’ll narrow the focus) aimed not only at ending global poverty, but doing so in such a way that preserves our Mother Earth and holds both ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ countries accountable for achieving them at home.
This means that under the goals, it will be just as important to address the child poverty epidemic in Toronto, Canada, where 29% of children and rising live in low-income families, as it will be to ensure that the ~2.5 million residents of informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya have access to basic sanitation and housing infrastructure.
That’s a great thing.
But I’m worried – and not just because the SDGs appear on track to define goals even more ambitious than the MDGs, which we didn’t achieve.
I’m worried because we still seem to be defining development as growth.
For example, I just started reading Jeffery Sachs’ new book, and in the first chapter he says: “SDGs call for socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable economic growth.” (Sachs, The age Of Sustainable Development, p. 13)
Continued growth at the rates we see today is the opposite of sustainable.
I’ve said this before.
The 1972 book Limits to Growth warned us of this, and recent research illustrates that we’re well on our way to fulfilling their predictions.
If we really want the SDGs to guide us towards economic, social and environmental sustainability every one of us needs to eliminate the tired and dangerous idea that development = growth from our lexicon, so we can get down to the vital business of making room for a new definition of development – and then working to achieve it.