A Critical Crossroads

The economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development must be fully integrated in the post-2015 development agenda
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The glaciers on Mount Rwenzori have decreased in area from 2.7 square miles to 0.4 square miles in the last 100 years.
Smart investments in such technologies as rural electrification and energy-saving stoves could go a long way to relieve pressure on forests and help guarantee the integrity of water catchments.

We stand at a critical crossroads that will determine the fate of our planet, our people and our prosperity. The world eagerly awaits the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals. This September, the United Nations General Assembly will adopt an ambitious, universal and transformative agenda, which will cover all three dimensions of sustainable development—social, economic and environmental—galvanized by the political dimension. It will build on progress made in implementing the Millennium Development Goals and catalyse action at all levels. Uganda, which holds the Presidency of the Sixty-ninth Session of the United Nations General Assembly, will have the historic privilege of chairing the summit that will adopt this new agenda.

The inaugural session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), held at UNEP in Nairobi last year, called for the full integration of the environmental dimension in the sustainable development agenda, acknowledging that a healthy environment is an essential requirement and key enabler for sustainable development. The UNEA outcome also called for ambitious universal implementation of the post-2015 goals aimed at eradicating poverty, protecting the environment, and providing inclusive social and economic development in harmony with nature. It called for the acceleration of efforts to promote sustainable consumption and production, including sustainable lifestyles and resource-use efficiency.

It emphasized action to address climate change in accordance with the objectives and principles of the UNFCCC; full implementation of multilateral environment agreements; and strengthening efforts to halt biodiversity loss and combat desertification, drought and land degradation to ensure resilient ecosystems. In view of all this, I believe that transformative post-2015 development hinges on the integration and judicious balance of the three dimensions of sustainable development to achieve the desired change.

Environmental degradation and limited access to critical resources like water, land and energy are often the key causes and drivers of poverty. Lack of access to affordable energy options has contributed tremendously to a rapid decline in forest cover as households resort to unsustainable use of charcoal and firewood from the forest for their needs. Eighty-five per cent of all Ugandans depend on wood, one of the indicators of energy poverty. Increasing finance for investment in areas like renewable clean technologies will be critical for many developing countries in their quest for rapid economic growth and social transformation.

Smart investments in such technologies as rural electrification and energy-saving stoves could go a long way to relieve pressure on forests and help guarantee the integrity of water catchments. They could provide clean energy for small-scale industries, liberate women from their lot as “collectors of firewood”, and improve the health and well-being of families currently suffering indoor pollution.

Promoting the use of such renewable sources as solar power or wind in water pumping systems could contribute to conserving environmental resources, and reduce their operational and maintenance costs. The savings accrued could then be re-directed to extend services to unserved populations. It will be critical to invest in smart solutions like these that simultaneously address all three dimensions of sustainable development.
Uganda’s commitment to sustainable development is reflected in our Vision 2040 and in the ongoing preparation of the second of six successive five-year national development plans (NDP-II). For us, sustainable development must entail a structural transformation anchored on industrialization that is characterized by value addition, economic diversification and sound management of our natural resource base. Industrialization is a powerful tool for economic transformation that will generate inclusive and sustained economic growth, create productive employment and decent work, and lift millions of our people out of poverty.

The proposed 17 sustainable development goals have the potential to transform our planet. If they are to succeed in doing so, however, we must have firm commitments and follow-up action on the finances, technology, knowledge and skills required to implement them. The outcome of the July 2015 conference on financing for development will therefore be a critical indicator of the chances for success. While I recognize that the sheer magnitude of the resources required dictates that they come from all sources—domestic and external, private and public—existing commitments, and the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities, must not be negated or watered down. Quality targets and indicators are vital for tracking progress.

Nowhere is the need to integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development more evident than in the issue of climate change, which adversely affects them all in all countries. Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to its impact. Uganda has been hard hit. At the start of the last century, the snow-capped glaciers on Mountain Rwenzori’s highest peaks had a combined area of around 2.7 square miles. They now measure less than 0.4 square miles. If no action is taken and the current trend continues, the snow glaciers on the Mountains of the Moon will completely disappear in the next two decades. This will affect the environment, the tourism industry and the livelihoods of the people in the area.

For the 300 Ugandans left dead after landslides and floods swept through Buduuda, in Eastern Uganda in 2010, any action is already too late. Their tragedy is a combination of climate change, population pressure, environment degradation and social factors.

2015 is a particularly important year for integrating the economic, environmental and social dimensions of sustainable development. We expect to conclude a legally binding international agreement on climate change at COP21 in Paris this December. We hope for a breakthrough at the International Conference of Financing for Development in Addis Ababa this July, and we look forward to a new sustainable development agenda that will guide and give impetus to local, national, regional and international action in the years to come. It will take innovation, commitment and political will from all of us to ensure that this unique opportunity to secure our planet, our people and our prosperity is not squandered. ▲