The Musketeers of development

Does the zero draft of the Sustainable Development Goals take enough note of the crucial interdependencies between goal areas?

Simon Milledge's picture
Insight by 
Simon Milledge
16 July 2014
Meceburi Forest, near Nampula, Mozambique (Photo: Mike Goldwater)

Meceburi Forest, near Nampula, Mozambique (Photo: Copyright Mike Goldwater)

How about we apply the mantra of "All for one and one for all" as we ride into the melée of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) negotiation process? Let's look at the whole set and see if it all works for our sector and if our sector is working for all. 

The 'Zero Draft (PDF)' of the SDGs sits on the table, awaiting negotiation. Soon to leave the Millennium Development Goals to the confines of history, a new era of international ambition is upon us. Development must be sustainable, in every sense of the word. 

But did we pay attention to these historical processes? Whatever your area of interest or expertise, we all know that looking at just one side of the die is insufficient – as IIED Director Camilla Toulmin made very clear in her blog last month. None of us work in silos. The success of one sector depends very much on the efforts of many others in diverse and varying fields. For the SDGs to achieve their noble aim of being 'transformative,' 'universal' and 'integrated,' they must be looked at as a whole, no matter what our field. 

Take forestry. Gazing across the diverse 17 goals and 146 targets now on the table, we began mapping a 'module' of relevant areas for forestry. We are building a picture of how much forests impact on development and, in turn, how much other development targets can impact on, and support, forests. 

A question of interdependencies 

How can we have successful, thriving forests that ensure positive livelihoods without people having security of rights, access and control over land? And how will this be fair and successful without inclusive decision-making processes and universally transparent governance? How can the drivers of deforestation be addressed while also enabling economic opportunity and market access?  

We need coherence in our approach to food systems and growth through trade and business − and important as they are, they must not undermine social inclusion or environmental sustainability. We also don't need forests to be treated purely from an environment perspective associated with risks, but also as a source of opportunity for sustainable development. Above all, as discussed by IIED's David Satterthwaite, the means of implementation of these targets are as important as the goals themselves and we must leave no gaps. 

We know forests are relevant to a wide range of sustainable development outcomes that can't necessarily be separated: food, energy, water, health and climate change. By securing water supply and soil quality, they are an integral part of sustainable agriculture. Want to ensure a supply of freshwater? Restoration of watershed ecosystems is pivotal and forests play a central role.

Their diverse products and the ecosystem services they provide make them a source of economic opportunity and cultural significance for millions. The forest module captures such outcomes – but more is needed.

Everything is connected: Targets looked at as part of the forest module approach to the Sustainable Development Goals ( 2014)

Transformative change

The forest module – some of the targets from which are given in the delightful word cloud above – looks beyond sustainable forest management, deforestation and reforestation. It is making sure that targets aimed at creating the right environment for forests to deliver sustainable development outcomes are all in place. Beyond the environmental, therefore, we are looking at targets on things like social justice, alternatives to GDP, education and training, and fair market systems.

Looking at the SDGs in this way has revealed issues that now need to be better reflected, if we want truly transformative change. Let's take some specifics. Targets that promote industrialisation and economic growth are a potential danger zone for small-scale producers and enterprises if taken alone. If their needs are not properly reflected, they may inadvertently lose out to large-scale industrial actors.

With an ever-increasing need to balance land use demands for things like food and fuel, and with targets to reach these, we still need participatory and negotiated land use planning to make sure it's fair. There are also critical gaps to plug if we want to be sure to support locally controlled forestry: where is the respect for both individual and collective forest rights, the emphasis on strengthening producer organisations, or redistributive justice in forest land allocation?

Using this approach, any sector can help negotiators find coherent outcomes across the whole SDG framework. They can check that when these targets are implemented nationally, they will be properly and sensibly integrated. This way, each of us can ensure that our sectors are working together to really bring about universal sustainable development.

Let us go forth then, Musketeers of development, d'Artagnans of your sector. Find your own 'module' as you take in the whole picture. Put forward your perspectives, map out your needs. All for one and one for all.

This blog by Simon Milledge, a principal researcher in IIED's Natural Resources Group, was originally posted on the Independent Research Forum website.