Taking an integrated approach to eliminating poverty and sustaining natural resources

As the UNDP-UNEP Poverty Environment Initiative celebrates its 10th anniversary in Edinburgh, guest blogger Michael Stanley-Jones explains how its integrated approach is key for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

28 May 2015
The Poverty-Environment Initiative is celebrating its 10th anniversary at a meeting with partners in Edinburgh, Scotland (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED)

The Poverty-Environment Initiative is celebrating its 10th anniversary at a meeting with partners in Edinburgh, Scotland (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED)

The Sustainable Development Goals are coming. In September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly will consider the adoption of 17 SDGS to guide global development over the next 15 years. They are likely to include a pledge to end poverty in all its forms everywhere.  

No small task.

Sceptics will say that eliminating poverty is utopian; setting such ambitious goals is unrealistic and unlikely to be achieved. We have heard this before. Much the same kind of claims were made about the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that the world committed to achieving by 2015.

Then the goal was to halve extreme poverty. We also set a target of halving the proportion of people without access to improved sources of water. We achieved both, five years ahead of schedule. In these cases, setting global goals with clear targets worked and time has proven the sceptics wrong.

Yet poverty eradication and environmental degradation remain among the greatest challenges we face today. It is important that governments considering adoption of the new goals make the links between poverty eradication and sustainable development. They are intrinsically linked.

When natural resources are being used unsustainably, there is a high economic cost. And it is poor and vulnerable groups who depend on the bounty of nature for their livelihood – smallholder farmers and fishers, indigenous peoples, nomads, girls and women – who lose out.

The Poverty-Environment Initiative, a joint effort of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), has worked over the past decade with the governments of 28 developing countries to demonstrate how an integrated approach to reducing poverty and ensuring sustainable use of the environment and natural resources can help us meet the challenges of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

An integrated approach is one that works across sectors, tackling the twin challenges of poverty reduction and resource management through joint planning, targeted budgeting and engagement with affected communities and stakeholders.  

The integrated approach works with economic evidence to drive decision-making. It is government-owned and government-led. It sets measurable targets and monitors the impact of policy interventions and investments. It is iterative and open to correction when targets are missed. It learns from its own experience and feeds this learning back into the development process at country level.  

This week, the Poverty-Environment Initiative is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The initiative will launch a new publication, 'Mainstreaming environment and climate for poverty reduction and sustainable development: a handbook to strengthen planning and budgeting processes', during the 20th meeting of the Poverty Environment Partnership, in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The handbook draws upon a decade of 'road-tested' experience that can help countries apply an integrated approach for future implementation of the SDGs.

Through the Poverty Environment Partnership, we aim to bring the lessons of mainstreaming poverty-environment and poverty-climate concerns into the global dialogue on implementation of the SDGs at national and local level. When the new set of global development goals are adopted, we mean to hit the ground running.

Michael Stanley-Jones (michael.stanley-jones@unep.org) is programme officer (communications, knowledge management and outreach) with the UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative.