The Roaring 20's?

A useful blog from Felix Dodds outlining key global sustainability events for 2020

Key Dates for 2020 – As we start to embrace the new decade – is this the roaring 20’s?

The state of the world is not what we would have hoped for in 2015 when Heads of State agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement.  This seems to have been a consistent trend in global sustainable development affairs. Something that we pointed out in what is called the ‘Vienna Café Trilogy’. The first book of that Trilogy – ‘Only One Earth’ was written with the father of sustainable development Maurice Strong and Michael Strauss looked at the development of policy at the global level from the mid-1960s to 2012. What it showed was that after each advancement there was a negative reaction caused by a number of global events. After Stockholm 1972  (the first UN Conference on the environment)  we saw the impact of the Yom Kippur War – where oil prices rose significantly and focus moved away from environmental issues. Around the time of the UNEarth Summit in 1992, we saw the breakup of the former Soviet bloc with much of the peace dividend that we had hoped would be used to fund Agenda 21 going to help stabilize the newly independent countries in Eastern Europe. Coupled with the impacts of the first Iraqi war. In the runup to the World Summit on Sustainable Development, we had 9/11 and the possibilities for additions to the Millennium Development Goals in areas such as energy, consumption and production & oceans disappeared until the Sustainable Development Goals. The two other books in the trilogy ‘From Rio+20 to the New Development Agenda (written with Jorge Laguna-Celis, Liz Thompson) and Negotiating the Sustainable Development Goals (written with Ambassador David Donoghue, Jimena Leiva Roesch) both explored the challenges that we would face in the coming years as well as explaining how we had got there.   There is no doubt that we are in a better place as far as the agenda that needs to be addressed being much clearer and in many cases the roadmap to delivering it much better understood than we were in 1972, 1992 and 2002 but we have lost decades of opportunities to make the path to sustainable development easier. This is because of the lack of delivery of the previous agreements, there is little room for mistakes that will not result in more and more people having their lives impacted.   We seem to have the wrong politicians in power to address these challenges but then we should question how much we have contributed to that in not engaging enough with people to help them choose a better world. So, we now have ten years until the Sustainable Development Goals have to be delivered and the Paris Climate Agreement updated and a transition to a none fossil-fuel world in place. Every action we take should be put into the frame of is this helping us deliver this and where do we need to be in 2023 at the midterm review to be on course. So the main global meetings that will contribute to this year will be the following: February 2020

February 8-13th  – The World Urban Forum: The delivery of the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement will be won or lost in our cities and urban areas. The WUF should be the place where the work on helping to do this happens. As yet it is not fit for purpose and the local and state-level governments have too many diverging organizations not working together to help this happen. The UN body that leads in this are UN-Habitat is not tooled to deliver it…. perhaps the time has come to look and see if a merger of UN-Habitat back into UNDP or into UNEP might not be a better way forward. 
February24-28  UN Convention on Biological Diversity Second Working Group (Prepcom): It will consider the outcomes of regional and thematic consultations and other contributions received regarding the post-2020 process. It will look at potential elements of the structure and scope of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework; future work programme of the Working Group on Post-2020.March 2020March 3-6th – Statistical Commission: this will agree with any of the changes to the indicators for the SDGs. These will be again reviewed in 2023 and adopted changes in 2024 …so if you feel that there are better indicators than the ones adopted you have three years to work on developing them and then proposing them. April2020April 3rdUN Partnership Forum: The ECOSOC Partnership Forum provides the opportunity to listen to the world’s most influential thinkers and actors. The Forum engages high-profile representatives from governments and non-state actors for dynamic discussions on how to define and promote effective partnerships and how partnerships can best advance the sustainable development agenda and the 17 SDGs

April 20-23rd – Finance for Development Forum: Set up as the follow up to the Finance for Development Conferences after a shaky start is really a vital place for discussion on what types of financing can help deliver the SDGs and other commitments. Perhaps too much focused on the Aid/Debt/Trade discussions it is trying to move more into the private sector investment area with last year’s investment fair. There is no question there are serious issues in the Debt/Aid/Trade areas but to deliver the SDGs and the Paris Agreement will take trillions and a lot of this will be about reforming the private sector to help deliver the investments for sustainable development and not against it. It’s clear in four days the FFD Forum does not have enough time to address these issues and for that reason, it was great to see the UNGA in November adopt its first resolution on investment for sustainable development AND that this will be an annual resolution in the UNGA.  
April 22nd – Earth Day 50th anniversary theme for Earth Day 2020 is climate action. The enormous challenge — but also the vast opportunities — of action on climate change have distinguished the issue as the most pressing topic for the 50th anniversary. Climate change represents the biggest challenge to the future of humanity and the life-support systems that make our world habitable.May 2020May 5-7th – UN Second Sustainable Transport ConferenceThe second Global Sustainable Transport Conference will draw upon discussions and action on sustainable transport in intergovernmental and other fora. Advances in sustainable transport will contribute to the attainment of many, if not all, of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), outlined in the 2030 Agenda. Some SDGs are directly connected to sustainable transport through targets and indicators, such as SDG 3 on health, which includes a target addressing deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents (3.6), and SDG 11 on sustainable cities which includes a target on providing access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all and on expanding public transport (11.2). Many others are also connected through the enabling role of sustainable transport across the 2030 AgendaThere is no question that moving our transport system towards a non-fossil fuel one will be one of the critical developments that we need in the next ten years. Hopefully, this conference in Beijing will map out clearer stages for the transport community to make this happen. 
May 12-13th – UN Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology, and Innovation:  This as one of the outcomes from Rio+20 and the Finance for Development Conference has the chance to be the pace where new technologies can be peer-reviewed and their delivery accelerated.  June2020June 1-11th – UNFCCC Prepcom There is no question that 2020 is a critical year for ensuring we are on the path to only a 1.5-degree increase world and not a 3-4 degree world. The need for stronger commitments and more funding for the Glasgow UNFCCC COP  will be made possible through this being a successful preparatory meeting in Bonn…or not. 

June 2-6th – Oceans Conference The follow up to the one held in New York in 2017 this time hosted by Portugal and is part of a number of countries taking the lead for different SDGs or parts of them.The General Assembly through resolution 73/292 decided to convene the 2020 United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. The overarching theme of the Conference is “Scaling up ocean action based on science and innovation for the implementation of Goal 14: stocktaking, partnerships and solutions” A number of the targets for the SDGs Ocean Goal are due in 2020 and so far it is unclear what will happen with them. It is attended by trade ministers and other senior officials from the organization’s 164 members, is the highest decision-making body of the WTO. Under the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO, the Ministerial Conference is to meet at least once every two years.
June 2-4th UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development UNESCO is kicking off its new framework: ‘Education for Sustainable Development: Towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals’ – ESD for 2030 and its roadmap for implementation during the UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development in Berlin, Germany.
800 participants from around the world will gather for the occasion: policy-makers working in education and sustainable development, education practitioners, civil society, development community and private sector experts.
June 8-11 – Twelfth World Trade Organization Ministerial  It will be in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. It will be chaired by Bakhyt Sultanov, Kazakhstan’s Minister of Trade and Integration.July 2020July 7-16th – High-Level Political Forum: This will be the first HLPF after the 4-year review and will address the theme will be “Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development “.
July 27-31stUN Convention on Biological Diversity Third  Working Group. It will be preparing the development of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. The negotiating process will culminate in the adoption of a post-2020 global biodiversity framework 
August 2020August 23-28th World Water Week – Water and Climate Change: Accelerating Action Now is the time to engage and we invite you to be part of the most prestigious annual focal point for international water issues. The theme for 2020 is “Water and Climate Change – Accelerating Action” with a focus on innovation, science and actions needed to tackle one of the greatest threats to our planet and our very existence.September 2020

September 15-30th – UN General Assembly Heads of State annual session will be focusing on the 75th anniversary of the UN….is it fit for purpose? It will be important to recognize what has been achieved while at the same time looking at the world today and the next decade and how multilateralism can survive this difficult period in history. To mark its 75th anniversary in 2020, the United Nations will launch the biggest-ever global conversation on the role of global cooperation in building the future we want. There will be a Special UN Secretary General Day on Biodiversity

October 2020October 5-16th  UN Convention on Biological Diversity: There is no question that as much as we are in danger of missing the climate targets we are equally if not more likely to miss stabilizing the loss of biodiversity. This is a critical COP because it will deal with the replace or not of the CBD 2020 targets. The critical question here is can any targets replace the ones in the SDGs or are we in danger of setting up the second division for targets in the CBD which will have much less political support and therefore even less likely to be delivered.  
October 18 to 21th – the third UN World Data Forumwill be hosted by Swiss Confederation and Federal Statistical Office, of Switzerland with support from the Statistics Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, under the guidance of the United Nations Statistical Commission and the High-level Group for Partnership, Coordination and Capacity-Building for Statistics for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Thecall for session proposals for the UN World Data Forum 2020 is open Please submit your proposals from 2 December 2019 through 31 January 2020.

October 16-18Fifteenth session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD 15). This will be in Bridgetown Barbados. The quadrennial conference is the highest decision-making body of UNCTAD at which member states make assessments of current trade and development issues, discuss policy options and formulate global policy responses.November 2020

November 9-19th UNFCCC COPThis will be in Glasgow and will it be a success like Paris or a failure like Copenhagen? It will be happening at the same time as the US election. Which could either give it a big boost or a huge downer depending on the result?  Madrid COP last year sowed some distrust where we saw a small “selected set of delegations” consulted – and others not. This has echoes of the approach that had led to the collapse of the Danish talks in 2009. So the UK will need to do some rebuilding of trust. A LOT was left unresolved for the Glasgow COP including:

  • The critical issue of long-term climate finance – we are not going to meet the $20 billion a year by the next COP and the commitment to this was lukewarm;
  • The issue of common time frames for nationally determined contributions (NDCs), not resolved; 
  • The procedures for the Clean Development Mechanism again not resolved not the rules for the operation and use of a public registry relating to NDCs; nor,
  • The revision of the UNFCCC reporting guidelines on annual inventories for Parties.

The roaring 20’s

The last roaring 20’s saw the increase in inequality, the great depression and the roots of fascism growing. 
There are similarities with the world of 2020 with that of 1920. 
We are due for another financial crisis, while still recovering from the last one yet. Do we have robust institutions to be able to cope with a new financial crisis? 
As the world goes through major changes due to the fourth industrial revolution is society able to absorb these changes? Do people generally know they are coming and what kind of impacts they may have on their lives? 
The impacts of climate change are coming quicker than we thought they would. I write this as Australia is still burning. I was in the UK when we saw the floods in November due to changing weather patterns. In the Uk since the second world war over 40% of new houses were built in flood planes. I am sure this is the same in other countries. Was this inevitable? No politicians decided not to prioritize what needed to be done when they were given the evidence by science. 
Of course, it’s important to have very good science but alone that is not enough to win the arguments for action. We have massively underestimated the need to address these issues through culture, storytelling and creating positive visions of the future which people can relate to.

I am very grateful to Felix for this concise summary of those events which set the Sustainability Agenda for 2020. These events will either gain more traction for the implementation of the SDGs or be subsumed by short term issues mostly of a political nature. We seriously need to see more earth literate leadership of the kind Rolf Jucker and I advocated after the Earth Summit in Johannesburg 2002.

Educating Earth-literate Leaders

Journal of Geography in Higher Education, Vol. 29, No. 1, 19–29, March 2005

We are now citizens of the Earth joined in a common enterprise with many variations. We have every right to insist that those who purport to lead us be worthy of the task. Imagine such a time! (Orr, 2003)
STEPHEN MARTIN* & ROLF JUCKER** *University College Worcester and Centre for Complexity and Change, Faculty of Technology, Open University, UK, **Department of German, University of Wales, Swansea, UK
The World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg made it clear that political leadership the world over is incapable of rising to the challenges of sustainability. Yet, most of the hundred or so world leaders who attended have a higher education degree from some of the world’s most prestigious universities. As we look back on the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg and reflect on its impact, it seems apparent that political leadership the world over has so far failed to rise to the challenge of sustainability (UNED-UK, 2002). And yet in all likelihood most of the hundred or so leaders who attended will have a higher education degree from some of the world’s most prestigious universities. This raises some serious questions for our university administrators and the governance structures. Why, as David Orr once remarked, is it that the people who contribute most to exploiting poor communities and the Earth’s ecosystems are those with BAs, MScs and PhDs and not the ‘ignorant’ poor from the South (Orr, 1994)? Why is the illiteracy amongst the world’s politicians as to how the world works as a living system so widespread? Why is it so rare that we encounter in our leaders the qualities needed to enable sustainability: humility, respect for all forms of life and future generations, precaution and wisdom, the capacity to think systemically and challenge unethical actions? And more worryingly on the basis of current performance, what hope of improvement is there for future leaders?

Published by Steve Martin

I am a passionate advocate for learning for sustainability and have spent nearly 40 years exploring and researching ways of facilitating and supporting more sustainable ways in which organisations and governments can contribute towards a more sustainable future. For nearly a decade I was a member of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Further and Higher Education, with national responsibility for Environmental Education and served as a special advisor to the Secretary of State in the Department of the Environment in drafting the education and training sections of HM Government’s first white paper on the Environment-Our Common Inheritance. More recently I was the founding Chair of the Higher Education Academy’s Sustainable Development Advisory Group and a former member of the UK ‘s UNESCO Education for Sustainability Forum. I have held visiting professorships at the Open University, University of Hertfordshire, University of Gloucestershire and currently, at the University of the West of England .Over the past 15 years I have been a sustainability change consultant for some of the largest FTSE100 companies such as BP, Barclays, Tesco and Carillion as well as Government Agencies such as the UK National Commission for UNESCO, Environment Agency, OFSTED, the Higher Education Academy and the Learning and Skills Council. I was formerly Director of Learning at Forum for the Future, the leading Sustainability Charity in the UK and have served on the Council of the Institute for Environmental Sciences one of the UK’s foremost professional bodies in sustainable development. I am a former Trustee of the Worldwide Fund for Nature and an Honorary Fellow of the Society for the Environment and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology. I am an Honorary Professor at the University of Worcester.

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