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Opinion

Jeffrey Sachs talks post-2015

Written by Gina Bergh, a researcher at the Overseas Development Institute.

Jeffrey Sachs of UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network fame was in London this week to give his perspective on what future development goals should come after the MDGs. Interesting that this confirmed what was already clear at civil society consultations when the UN High Level Panel met in London last month: some of the most important stuff is just not going to be the easy stuff, with the environment, inequality and tax still at centre stage of discussions on the post-2015 agenda.

So business as usual is not an option – and while this mantra becomes all too familiar that’s no cue to sit back in our seats. In terms of the politics, Sachs reminds us that it means sticking to a path towards a single set of goals, and that the poverty and environment agendas must come together. We can’t risk having two competing sets with one out-shining the other, or risk politicians losing focus on the prize of sustainable development. Besides, Sachs thinks the poverty and environment agendas are parts of the same puzzle, and that it’s only some bureaucrats and cautious country governments still arguing otherwise.

He also outlined his ideas on four key pillars for sustainable development goals (SDGs) – and since he’s the UN Secretary-General’s advisor on this we’d do well to pay attention. The first is about ending extreme poverty, which would bring a continued MDGs style focus. Second: social inclusion. This has to be tackled in rich and poor countries alike (yes, as Jonathan Glennie has been saying for some time now, that points to universal goals). Third is the environment agenda, which has been failing for much too long, and needs a fresh political take to turn it around. And underpinning all three is a fourth pillar on governance to fix ailing public and corporate systems.

Sachs dedicated almost half of his talking time to this final pillar, so maybe it’s the most important or maybe it’s where the most work still needs to be done. Especially, he points out, on limiting the damage that an unaccountable corporate sector can cause to countries’ social and environmental systems. That’s not to say that this sector will have to be part of the problem going forward, and some have already been looking into how it can engage with a new development framework. Sachs thinks corporate engagement should be about ‘lifting the cloak of anonymity’ in which companies often operate, tackling tax havens and spelling out what corporate responsibility actually means… What do you think it should be about?

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