Let me start with a brief historical overview, albeit in a selective manner, to put sustainable development in perspective. One may go back to the industrial revolution that started in Britain around 1750. Other currently developed countries followed suit later. In this procession, the US joined much later. But the essential point is that the main focus of industrialization was on economic growth, fueled by coal as the starter and later also by petroleum. Development of railway revolutionalized movement of goods and people. All these activities began emitting greenhouse gases (GHGs) in a major way. The GHG emissions accelerated as the industrialization expanded in terms of production and distribution of machinery, equipment, coal-fired heating, vehicles and planes, consumer durables such as refrigerators and air conditioners, etc. The danger that began to grow slowly but steadily in terms of concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere to cause global warming was not recognized early enough.


The rush was to create and own more and more wealth and acquire more and more income. But, obviously, the benefits in terms of wealth and income were captured by the promoters of industrialization, namely, the capitalists.  A realization about the emerging environmental hazard eventually surfaced publicly at the UN Conference on Human Development (UNCHD), held in Stockholm in1972. On the other hand, economic growth, with the consequent increasing GHG emissions and destruction of nature, received a further boost as the structural adjustment programmes were initiated in the 1970s assigning pre-eminent role to the private sector, aimed mainly at economic growth to be accelerated while the role of the state was to be minimized. The rule of neo-liberalism (i.e. reliance on unfettered free market forces and unchecked influence padding by the rich and powerful individuals) relating to both economic and governance spheres began in earnest and has been flourishing around the world ever since. Simultaneously, the GHG emissions have increased phenomenally. It has reached a record level of 400 PPM (parts per million) recently, while it was 280 PPM in pre-industrial times.

After UNCHD, the IUCN's World Conservation Strategy of 1980 further raised awareness related to growing environmental unsustainability of development. Indeed, as the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere and the consequent global warming increased, the likelihood of anthropogenic climate change (manifested in the shifting and changing patterns of rainfall, melting of ice and sea level rise, and more frequent and devastating extreme climatic events such as floods, cyclones, hurricanes, droughts, heat waves, river bank erosion, etc.) began to gather momentum. In response, the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) was constituted by the UN Secretary General in 1983 under the chairmanship of Gro Hurlem Brountland, a former Prime Minister of Norway. The Commission submitted its Report, Our Common Future, in 1987. It called for sustainable development defined as 'development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'. This definition particularly focuses attention on environmental protection and sustainability. The Report also argued that both growth and environmental protection can be pursued simultaneously through organizational and technological innovations, while previously it was thought that the two goals were contradictory and could not be pursued together.

Then came the Earth Summit (UN Conference on Environment and Development—UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. This was a landmark international conference in relation to economic and social development and environmental protection. It produced five important documents, which are: Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, The Statement of Forest Principles, Agenda 21, Convention on Biodiversity, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In essence, this conference addressed sustainability from the points of view of environmental protection, economic growth, and social development. Protection and enhancement of biodiversity and forests have been recognized as important aspects of environmental protection; and principles, policies, and strategies were suggested for the purpose. The Declaration, in essence, called attention to a process of socio-economic development that is environmentally sound. The key goal of the UNFCCC was mitigation, i.e. reduction in the emission of GHGs, in order to arrest and reverse the process of global warming and climate change. Agenda 21 defined sustainable development in terms of an integrated approach to economic growth, social development, and environmental protection along with climate change management. Furthermore, the Agenda put the human being at the centre of this development process.

Alongside, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established in 1987, produced environmental and climate change assessment reports containing scientific evidence on climate change, its impacts, and mitigation: the first Assessment Reports in 1990, the second in 1995, the 3rd in 2001, the 4th in 2007, and the 5th being published in 2013-2014 (one of the three main reports is already out and the other two are expected soon). The three major Reports produced by each IPCC Assessment are titled: Science of Climate Change (Working Group-1); Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (Working Group-2); and Mitigation of Climate Change (Working Group-3). The IPCC, in addition, produces special reports on specific issues as deemed necessary. These IPCC Reports have testified to the fact that climate change has been occurring and in fact worsening. Both natural and human systems are affected as a result of global climate change. In sum, the Earth has been warming, ice smelting, and sea-level rising; and natural disasters such as cyclones, hurricanes, floods, heat waves, and cold spells have been increasing in terms of both frequency and impacts. The Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC Working Group-I on the Science of Climate Change suggests that climate change has been evolving into an increasingly menacing threat to the global society and even the planet Earth itself.

The Earth Summit was in fact followed up under the auspices of UN Commission on Sustainable Development; Inter-Agency Commission on Sustainable Development; and a High Level Advisory Board on Sustainable Development. The follow-up activities including research, publications, and conferences have been mobilizing opinions in favour of sustainable development, involving all its three legs and the focus on human development.

In 1995, social issues received a focused attention in the World Summit for Social Development, held in Copenhagen, Denmark. Also, a review of how the Rio process was progressing was made in a Special Session of the UN General Assembly in 1995. Furthermore, World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) was held in 2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa to review the progress and develop a plan of further implementation based on the progress achieved since 1992 in respect of the decisions taken relating to the pursuit of sustainable development. Outcomes of the WSSD include a Plan of Implementation, emphasizing health issues; a Political Declaration; and a number of implementation partnerships and initiatives. These decisions constituted a boost to the ongoing work on sustainable development.

It may also be mentioned that there were two other important developments prior to the 2002 WSSD. One was the 1999 World Bank-IMF initiated process of Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) to be prepared by the aid-receiving developing countries to be used as a basis for development assistance to be provided to those countries. Such a document obviously focused on the key aspects of poverty reduction, but the PRSPs prepared by many countries were of little avail for them in terms of receipt of expected foreign aid. On the other hand, poverty reduction was supposed to be achieved within the framework of neo-liberal market economy, which has been the ruling paradigm particularly since the mid-1970s. The structural adjustment programmes would continue, focusing on greater and greater role of the private sector with that of the government commensurately rolled back. Under the circumstances, government's ability to take action specifically to address poverty has been constrained.

On the heal of the PRSP came the UN Millennium Declaration in 2000, which in fact proposed a framework for human development to be underpinned by such fundamental principles as freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature, and shared responsibility. But the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which were formulated and adopted as a follow-up of the Declaration were not anchored on the Declaration. In fact, the framework and the directions proposed in the Declaration were totally ignored. The MDGs were picked as a top-down prescription of eight goals and associated targets to be implemented by poor countries, with assistance from the global community. In fact, though, the goals were very clearly specified and so were the targets and indicators. Also, the number of goals was limited. Therefore, the MDG process caught the imagination of the governments, the civil society actors, and other stakeholders around the world. As a result, a number of key targets for 2015 including poverty reduction have been achieved globally and in various countries around the world.

But, the achievements have been uneven across countries. Some countries, particularly in Africa, have not achieved and are not likely to achieve most of the key targets under different goals; and some of them have, in fact, regressed in relation to such key targets as poverty and hunger reduction and social indicators including education, health, and child and maternal mortality. Also, it may be pointed out that the expected support from the international community has not come through for most of the countries embarked on the implementation of the MDGs. Even that during the period 2000-present, i.e. during the implementation period of the MDGs, the overall official development assistance (ODA) has tended to decline. This has happened despite the Monterrey Consensus (March 2002) of fulfilling the commitment made by the developed countries in 1970 to provide 0.7% of their GNPs as ODA to developing countries every year and, as agreed at the Third UN Conference on the LDCs, held in Brussels in May 2001, 0.15-0.20% to the LDCs. In fact, the overall ODA disbursement is still about 0.32% and much lower than the targeted proportion to the LDCs, although a few countries, Scandinavian and other

European, have reached or exceeded the commitment level.

By and large, the particularly successful countries in respect of the major MDG targets, including Bangladesh, have done so essentially with their own resources and efforts. However, despite these successes, understandably, no progress has been achieved in these countries towards sustainable development simply because the MDGs have not been geared to that end.

The intensifying climate change in combination with growing international and national inequalities, mounting tensions and civil strife in many pats of the world, and increasing terrorism around the world has been pushing the world not only on to an unsustainable pathway but, in fact, on a potentially ruinous one. The scope of negotiations under UNFCCC was broadened in concrete terms in the 2007 Bali Conference of the Parties (CoP) to include, along with the original purpose of mitigation, such key dimensions as adaptation, transfer of technologies, financing, capacity building, and a vision particularly relating to a cap on global warming which has later been broadly agreed as well below 2oC by the end of this century compared to the pre-industrial levels. Also, there have been several important successes since the first CoP held in 1995 such as the adoption of Kyoto Protocol in 1997 (CoP 3) and Nairobi Work Programme in 2006 (CoP 12). The Kyoto Protocol required the Annex 1, i.e. developed countries including countries in transition, to cut their GHG emissions during 2008-2012 by 5% compared to the 1990 levels. With the USA remaining outside the Protocol, compliance by many other countries falling short, and some fast industrializing developing countries significantly increasing their GHG emissions, the total global emission has kept increasing fast. The Protocol has been extended into a second commitment period after its first commitment period expired in December 2012. But, while the USA was not in it in the first commitment period and also not in the second, Russia, Japan, Canada, and New Zealand are not participating in the second. The Annex-1 countries remaining in the Protocol now account for only 13 or 14% of the total annual global GHG emission. However, it is the only existing legally binding Protocol and the countries remaining in it can possibly show the way forward, although by themselves they cannot make a meaningful impact in terms of mitigation even if they undertake drastic emission cuts.

Some of the successes achieved since Bali relate to architecture building for financing and technology transfer as well as a decision relating to the preparation of National Adaptation Plans and the adoption of a Framework for Loss and Damage. However, these agreements are yet to be translated into concrete actions. On mitigation, the original only purpose of the UNFCCC, there has been little or no progress in terms of adequate commitments by the developed countries, which are historically responsible for the now raging anthropogenic climate change, in the context of keeping to the above mentioned vision of well below 2oC increase in global warming. In the meantime, not only LDCs, SIDS, and other climate vulnerable countries, which are not at all responsible for climate change, are facing increasing adverse impacts of worsening climate change, but such natural disasters as severe hurricanes, droughts, and floods are hitting the developed countries as well quite frequently.

In relation to forging a legally binding instrument or instrument with legal force, as agreed in Durban (CoP 17), to be signed by 2015, involving all the countries of the world and all aspects of climate change management mentioned above, the progress up to now is very limited. The target of achieving the goal of signing this envisioned agreement in 2015, it seems to me, may not be achieved; and, even if it is, it may not be bold enough in terms of emission cuts and, moreover, its implementation, as agreed, will not start until 2020. By then, it may be too late for arresting and reversing the accelerating global climate change and its increasing impacts. However, the negotiations are ongoing and one would look forward to 2015 for a breakthrough.

In the meantime, the Rio+20 Conference was held in June 2012, also in Rio de Janeiro where the 1992 Earth Summit was held. Here again, the three legs of sustainable development, namely, economic, social, and environmental issues have been reemphasized with the proviso once again that the human being is at the centre of development. This conference called for the formulation of sustainable development goals (SDGs) for the post-2015 period. In this context, it has been suggested that, giving due emphasis on their own circumstances and realities on the ground, countries would pursue greening of their economies under the environmental pillar of an integrated sustainable development pathway.

The formulation of the post-2015 or post-MDG development pathway is now in the works. There are the Rio+20 follow-up and the UN system initiated activities to that end. In the context of the Rio+20 follow-up process, an Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development, consisting of a number of UN member countries, included on the basis of an agreed procedure, has been established. The OWG has been debating, in successive sessions, various aspects related to the contents and manner of arriving at a set of post-2015 sustainable development goals (SDGs) to recommend. The Report of OWG is expected around mid-2014.

The UN Secretary General has set up an institutional framework for the task including the following actors: UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, appointed in January 2012; A Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General on Post-2015 Development Agenda, appointed in June 2012; The High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (HLP), appointed in July 2012; and A mechanism for collating and reviewing the various inputs coming from different stakeholders, towards formulating a set of goals and associated targets and indicators for consideration by the UN Secretary General and finally by the UN General Assembly.

The HLP submitted its Report to the UN Secretary General on 30 May 2013: titled “A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economics through Sustainable Development”, while the UN Task Team had submitted its Report in June 2012 before the Rio+20 Conference: titled “Realizing the Future We Want for All.” Both the Reports have proposed that the post-2015 goals and targets should be anchored on a narrative invoking fundamental principles in line with those proposed in the Millennium Declaration. The HLP Report has also proposed five fundamental shifts to centre around the themes: leave no one behind; put sustainable development at the core; transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth; build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all; and forge a new global partnership. It has also suggested 12 Goals covering various key aspects that need particular attention.

The UN Task Team Report has identified the major weaknesses and omissions in the MDG framework and proposed building on those deficiencies while addressing the new realities for formulating the post-2015 development agenda.

At the same time, as encouraged by the UN, member countries, civil society organizations, UN recognized major groups (children and youth, farmers, business and industry, indigenous peoples, local authorities, NGOs, scientific and technological community, women, workers and trade unions) and other stakeholders have been submitting their analyses and recommendations relating to the formulation of the post-2015 agenda to the UN. The institutional mechanism set up by the UN Secretary General for compiling, reviewing, and drafting a set of goals, targets, and indicators for the post-2015 period, which is expected to be for 15 years, i.e. up to 2030 is at work. This is a difficult task given that proposals and recommendations have been pouring in from various stakeholders from around the world.

As may be noticed from the above few paragraphs that there is a slight difference in the approaches of the Rio+20 and the UN System relating to the conceptualization of the post-2015 goals and targets to be formulated. The Rio+20 process calls for the formulation of post-2015 sustainable development goals (SDGs), while the UN system talks about post-2015 development agenda as a follow-up of the MDGs. This may only be a semantic difference, not real given that sustainability is generally agreed to be at the core. A convergence is expected to emerge so that there will be one post-2015 sustainable development agenda with a manageable numbers goals and targets embedded on an appropriate narrative underpinned by fundamental principles, as indicated earlier, centring around an orderly progress of humanity with everybody in every country included and nobody anywhere left behind. I would expect the way forward to uphold human rights and human dignity for everyone everywhere as the ultimate goal. To that end, solid progress is to be sought relating to various aspects of human life and living within a human-centred equitable socio-economic-political framework.

The post-2015 goals and targets to be formulated should, as agreed, be applicable to and, therefore, agreed by all countries of the world. The means of implementation will need to be made as clear as possible, involving responsibilities on the part of both the developing and developed countries, taking into account the circumstances and realities facing different groups of countries. In the management of global aspects of the process and development of global partnerships, the principle of common but differential responsibility and respective capabilities may guide the decisions relating to who does what, how, and when.

Bangladesh is a star performer in relation to the MDGs. According to the 'Millennium Development Goals: Bangladesh Progress Report 2012', Bangladesh has already met or is on track to meet by end 2015 a significant number of key targets under different MDGs, including poverty ratio, poverty gap ratio, gender equality at primary and secondary levels of education, under-five mortality rate, containing HIV/AIDS infection, children under-five sleeping under insecticide-treated bed-nets, detection and cure rate of TB under DOTS, increasing immunization coverage, primary education enrollment, and infant and maternal mortality rates. There are some other targets under different MDGs, which may be met through enhanced efforts. However, a few targets relating to, for example, reduction of hunger and environmental protection will not be met.

Encouraged by its notable achievements in relation to the implementation of the MDGs, Bangladesh is very active in the run up to the formulation of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda. Two major inputs forwarded to the UN from Bangladesh are: “Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda: Bangladesh Proposal to UN” submitted by the Government of Bangladesh and “Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda: Perspectives and Recommendations from Bangladesh Civil Society” submitted by the People's Forum on MDGs (PFM), Bangladesh. Each of these documents contains some background analyses, a proposed framework of fundamental principles on which to embed the post-2015 sustainable development agenda, and a set of goals and associated targets and indicators as inputs into the global post-2015 agenda to be formulated.

Both the documents include goals and associated targets and indicators which are very relevant for countries like Bangladesh (such as extreme poverty eradication, inequality reduction, unleashing of human potentials, food security and nutrition for all, universal access to health and family planning services, gender equality in all spheres of society, quality education and skill training, employment opportunities and decent work, transparency and accountability, climate change adaptation and environmental sustainability, and domestic resource mobilization) as well as others which are essentially the responsibility of developed countries such as changes in production and consumption patterns and related matters of climate change mitigation to bring them in tune with the demands of environmental and social sustainability considerations, and ensuring the means of implementation of the agenda formulated, and still others which relate to democratization of global governance and management of multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF with a view to giving voices to the voiceless developing countries in global policy and strategy development and reorienting the ways the multilateral institutions function.

Bangladesh may develop a set of its own post-2015 sustainable development goals with associated targets and indicators, keeping the relevant ones, modified if and as necessary, from the adopted Global Agenda but also including other country-specific issues in terms of additional goals and associated targets and indicators. The work may begin now to be finalized after the UN General Assembly adopts the Global Agenda in the 2015 UN General Assembly session.

Given the notable successes achieved in relation to the MDGs and also in the context of various other national issues (economic growth, environmental and climate change management, foodgrain production, education policy formulation, ICT, infrastructural development including electricity generation, rural development including both agriculture and non-agricultural sectors, rural employment generation, RMG exports, and so on) in recent times, Bangladesh is poised for take-off on to a sustainable development pathway encompassing economic, social, and environmental-climate change aspects in an integrated fashion, keeping in focus the vision of progress of every citizen of the country without exception towards the overarching goal of human dignity.


The author is a development economist and Chairman, PKSF                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Source: The dailystar.net