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SDGs for a Small Planet

Mon, 2013-12-23 21:45
Simon Hoiberg Olsen

Senior Policy Researcher/Task Manager, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies

Connecting the local with the global agenda on sustainable development goals is a perennial challenge, but a major report by a consortium of agencies* to be published early in 2014 has studied 14 Asian and European countries, and come up with a complete set of illustrative goals, subgoals, targets and indicators.

Figure 1: W ApproachTo get there, the study started off by taking what’s known as 'the W approach'. The 'W' symbolises a combined focus on global and national sustainable development priorities, and the report uses this focus to identify possible sustainable development (SDG) goals for the reviewed countries. The authors recommend this as one way in which future SDGs can be made relevant for countries' existing development targets.

Integrating social, environmental and economic dimensions of development

To propose consistent goals for the three dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental), the authoring team decided to adopt and adapt Herman Daly's (1973) 'end-means' framework. This framework can be thought of as a pyramid. At its base, the ultimate means to sustainable development refer to the underlying natural resource base and the life-support system of the planet. At its pinnacle, the ultimate ends of development are human and planetary well-being. Wedged in the middle of the pyramid are the intermediate means (which involve the material economy) and the intermediate ends (individuals' capacities and the condition and functioning of institutions).

Figure 2For example, take the thematic area of food, agriculture and fisheries, illustrated in figure 2 (which is drawn from the report). The base of the pyramid – the ultimate means – represents integrity of the environment, and is necessary for all other development to take place. A goal here could be to 'reduce agricultural pressure on natural ecosystems'. Moving up the pyramid we reach the intermediate means, which focus on efficient use the natural capital/resources. A goal here could be 'accelerated conversion to sustainable agriculture.' Here we also find intermediate ends, where social dimensions can be reflected by articulating a goal on 'secure access to nutrition, affordable and adequate quantity of food for all.' Finally, we reach the ultimate ends where the goal is closely related to wellbeing, articulated in this example as 'food is not a constraint for societal wellbeing and a good life'.

Figure 3But the authors of the forthcoming report have gone further, developing the original hierarchy into a circular diagram (Figure 3) so as to emphasise the direct connection between human aspirations and fulfilment (as ultimate ends) and resources of the biosphere (as ultimate means). The one depends on the other, but they also form an organic and inseparable whole.

The means-ends framework can be instructive in helping to select and structure goals, sub-goals and sub-goal statements because it can help create goals and matching targets that integrate all levels on the spectrum from ultimate means to ultimate ends. For instance, education is primarily an intermediate end, but has important but indirect linkages to how we approach the ultimate means, our environment. The framework can be useful in emphasising that the goals, sub-goals, targets and indicators must be closely related and in essence form a system, not only at the level of the entire goal set but also at the level of individual goals. You can read more about the 'W Approach' and the adapted means-ends framework in the report.

* Sustainable Development Goals for a Small Planet: Connecting the Global to the National Level in 14 Countries of Asia-Pacific and Europe, will be published by the Asia-Europe Environment Forum (ASEF), IISD-Europe, Earth Council Asia-Pacific, Public Strategy for Sustainable Development, and the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES).

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