The global ecological and environmental challenges we are facing can be solved by shifting our ways of thinking from anthropocentric to ecocentric, and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can be a guiding star on this path.
Adopted at the turn of the millennium, the MDGs have determined development policies of the past 15 years. Their main goal was the eradication of poverty and hunger in the world. While some parts of the world have had relative success in achieving most of the 8 goals and 21 targets set forth by MDGs, others are still facing hard times in eradicating poverty, feeding their people, providing adequate norms of living and improving degrading environmental conditions.
Succeeding the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the SDGs are going to be widely used and discussed as an agenda setting framework for governments, International Organization, NGOs and UN Agencies for the next 15 years. What can they do better?First, even if the MDGs spoke of environmental sustainability as the foundation on which strategies for achieving all the other MDGs must be built, in comparison with the SDGs, the MDGs were steeped in a more anthropocentric paradigm. Proponents of the anthropocentric view believe that poverty and hunger can be eradicated by improving the socio-economic conditions of population, giving comparably little importance to the environmental aspect of poverty. Advocates of the ecocentric view argue that sustainable use and access to the basic natural resources and public goods are much more important than the dollar value earned by an individual per day.
The adoption of SDGs now marks the transition, also institutionally, to a more ecocentric view: While MDGs that had only one goal directly related to the environment, SDGs now have at least 7 goals out of 17 that directly focus on the environment and human rights for healthy living conditions; they are more holistic and inclusive.
To be sure, eradication of poverty and hunger are still the main focus. But, as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) notes, “poor people depend on the environment for their livelihoods and well-being. Improved management of the environment and natural resources contributes directly to poverty reduction, more sustainable livelihoods and pro-poor growth.”
Second, SDGs can provide a platform for currently more than 500 Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) in the world that deal exclusively with matters related to the environment. UNEP and various other UN agencies and programs, as well as international environmental organizations and financial institutions have done a lot to make this happen, but we need global community to understand that we have all the necessary tools and resources to tackle poverty and hunger.
While this huge number suggests fragmentation and a lack of cooperation, the SDGs with its holistic and inclusive more ecocentric approach can be the ultimate guiding star for environmentally sustainable development.