Agenda 2030 – The Challenges and the Opportunities

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My fear is we are tinkering at the edges. The 2030 Agenda is extremely ambitious, indeed revolutionary. To achieve it, we will need a paradigm shift in the business of development. As I see it the challenge can be constructed as a simultaneous equation.

How do you foster economic growth while ensuring it is more equitable and decoupled from environmental destruction?

The economic growth part of this equation is complex enough. There is so much uncertainty regarding the prospects for future growth, driven for example by uncertainty over the impacts of new technology on traditional economic sectors.

But ensuring growth is equitable and environmentally sustainable compounds the challenge.

So, this can’t be achieved by marginal investments in a few boutique projects. What we need to do is reconfigure how the total investible wealth of the planet --estimated at some US $256 trillion --is deployed to achieve the goals.

We are not even beginning to deal with the gargantuan challenge inherent in the agenda and that is what we need to tackle.  

However, we need to start from somewhere and these regional knowledge exchanges help share experiences, confront established wisdom and start a discourse on the need for more transformative approaches.  

Agenda 2030 is a complex agenda and there are no easy fixes. There are significant trade-offs. One elephant in the room for instance is the perceived trade-off between the generation of jobs and protection of the environment.

In the Regional Knowledge Exchange workshop one participant posited that proposals to ban plastic threatened jobs.

That is all very well, but it is untenable to keep indefinitely dumping plastics into the environment. By 2050, some reports estimate that there will be more plastic measured by weight than fish biomass in the ocean. The problem is that this is being ingested by marine organisms and is accumulating up the food chain, including in the fish we consume. That’s not a good thing.  

We need to find a solution. And there are solutions.

Kenya banned plastics recently, and a whole new cottage industry has developed overnight producing environmentally friendly carrier bags. This offers the promise of new job creation.

Some of the trade-offs are thus false tradeoffs. However it is certainly true that there are beneficiaries and losers, in the latter case for instance, the producers of plastics.

Understanding the distributional impacts of policy is critical to addressing the ‘leave no one behind’ principle.  This is where a regional knowledge exchange can provide valuable insights and ideas. 

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