Putting ourselves out of business – forward planning for the PEP

The 20th Poverty Environment Partnership (PEP) meeting focused on the opportunities for an integrated approach to development as embraced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but recognised that key challenges still remain to make implementation a reality.

Blog by
29 June 2015

Paul Steele is chief economist at IIED and the PEP coordinator

If we succeed in implementing the SDGs and integrating poverty and environmental issues into the global agenda, we will be out of a job by 2030, participants gathered for the 20th PEP meeting in Edinburgh were told.

This was the message from the Department for International Development's (DFID) Julian Wright, speaking at the end of the two-day 20th Poverty Environment Partnership (PEP) meeting, hosted by IIED, and focused on 'Implementing the SDGs for inclusive, climate-resilient, green economies'. But he told the meeting, there's a challenging job to be done before we plan our own funeral.

Set up at the 2002 Johannesburg Summit (Rio+10), the PEP seeks to build a wider understanding of the relationship between poverty reduction, environmental resource management and climate change. 

That relationship and the need for an integrated approach have arguably been recognised in the SDGs, due to be endorsed by the UN General Assembly in September this year, and the subject of a recent animation (also available below) by IIED. The summit will be a key feature in a crucial year, which also sees major conferences on finance for development and climate change.

But as the meeting heard, while the goals represent real progress in linking poverty, environment and climate, their implementation will require fundamental changes to our approach to development at all levels to achieve zero poverty and zero net emissions.

In the world's rapidly growing cities, we will need to recognise the challenge of addressing concentrated poverty in urban environments, the need for jobs and basic services, and the need for resourced municipal governments to be able to partner with the private sector and urban poor to respond to these needs.

In rural areas, we will need to better understand how ecosystem services – fisheries, forests, wetlands – can offer a ladder out of poverty rather than a poverty trap.

We need to understand local circumstances and work with local organisations, and find the delicate balance that provides social and environmental wellbeing – as seen in the example of pastoralists in Tanzanian drylands who understand how to adapt to their changing environment.

We need to better understand the role played by micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in providing jobs and economic development, and to recognise how these engines of economic activity are threatened by a lack of access to finance, to markets, to technologies, skills and information.

We need to identify policies that transform the way in which markets and financial institutions behave to allow them to thrive.

And we need to better understand ways in which policies can be made more coherent to avoid support for the poor being dealt with in one silo, while action to improve climate resilience is dealt with elsewhere. This means building bridges, but it also requires a better understanding of what works, and what doesn't. There are information gaps.  

The challenges are huge – for governments, for donors, for the development banks, and for the people on the ground. It means changes to funding, to governance, to the way in which development takes place.

But there were also success stories. In Durban, South Africa, climate adaptation work prioritises generating local revenue and creating jobs.

In Mozambique, involving communities in forest management (participatory forest management) has resulted in positive local results. In Laos, where natural resources provide some 20 per cent of GDP, revenues are being invested in education, healthcare and social services. 

The European Union's Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) agreement with timber-producing countries brings government and civil society around the table, to seek better forms of implementation.

Sharing these stories about what works, identifying the gaps in our knowledge, and learning from each other will all be key to the future success of the different agencies involved in the PEP, and the success of the SDGs.

The PEP can support that by providing a learning platform, and by being a network of networks, where ideas can be exchanged and developed.

As IIED's then director Camilla Toulmin concluded, the SDGs may have made poverty and environment issues central to the global agenda, but the real work is still to begin.

Paul Steele (paul.steele@iied.org) is chief economist at IIED and the PEP coordinator.

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