The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are up for review and, by 2015, a new MDG framework has to be put in place, and sustainability issues are gaining prominence. MDG 7 focuses on the environment, and various experts are arguing for its redesign.
The future of MDG 7 lies in interlacing environmental concerns with economic transformation in order to address existing developmental challenges in Africa. This may be possible through a green economy approach that can bridge the divide between the environment and development.
The linking of green growth or green economy activities with short-term and long-term targets pertaining to MDG 7 would accelerate progress towards MDG 7 by giving this MDG the same priority as socioeconomic challenges. Though the term ‘green economy’ has no single definition, it is often characterised by substantially increased investments in the economic sectors that build on and enhance the earth’s natural capital or reduce ecological scarcities and environmental risks.
Its end-goal should lead to improved human wellbeing and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks. With appropriate planning, assessment and strategic policy frameworks, green economies can be designed in ways that help limit any potential harm for certain groups or sectors over time, while also increasing access to new economic investments in ways that reduce inequalities and promote social wellbeing. Similarly, compensatory and redistributive mechanisms underpinning a fair and equitable green economy transition can fight vulnerability, inequality and poverty.
This idea has already been mooted in an issue paper for a United Nations High Panel of Eminent Persons with an explicit focus on redirecting the focus and role of the MDGs. The key principles for shaping this reorientation are:
• focusing the shift from protection to the productive value of environmental assets;
• treating the environment as being central to the economy and making it a part of economic planning and development;
• using environmental activities and resources to stimulate new enterprises, that is, either income complementary or income substituting;
• creating new types of assets that encourage different patterns of investment and financial flows;
• ensuring new green economy sectors are job absorbing and have exportpotential; and
• enabling structural shifts in the economy through using conventional sectors as a leg to build new economic sectors.
There have been many criticisms of the manner in which green growth is currently conceptualised and projected. Addressing these criticisms or debating the merits and demerits of green growth is beyond the scope of this article. However, some issues merit mention with regard to achieving better alignment between MDG 7 and economic issues. So what are we likely to see in the new-look MDG 7?
Firstly, the MDGs will see a closer and stronger link between climate change and human and economic development. When MDGs were formulated, climate change was a spectre on the horizon and not an integral part of socioeconomic challenges, which is the case today. Green growth measures should be designed to address both climate change and poverty reduction and, in the process, increase the adaptation ability of the poor and the vulnerable to climate-induced shocks. This means that the achievements against MDG 7 development will be sustained in the face of climate change, as opposed to being under threat.
Secondly, environmental sustainability will become part of all sector policies. Consequently, environment-damaging subsidies in these sectors will be removed. The need to address environmental concerns in a holistic manner will provide the incentive for increased investments in science and technology for the environment.
Thirdly, the green economy should gain a firmer footing and assist in addressing inequalities and taking a closer look at redistributive mechanisms.
Fourthly, the green economy approach can help improve overseas development assistance (ODA) effectiveness, as there can be greater coherence across all development cooperation. The strong links of the MDGs with economic transformation goals would address the existing dependence on aid by turning it on its head and forcing a stronger culture within State and indigenous economic agency towards performance measures that build in greater transparency and accountability. Importantly, the channelling of limited ODA towards economic transformation goals will help move countries out of aid dependency towards self-sustenance and income protection.
This is critical because of the real possibility that the future availability of aid from conventional donor countries will increasingly become limited, following the financial crisis and high levels of domestic debt in the donor countries.
But a green growth development strategy that also helps deliver MDG 7 will have to be aligned with the capabilities and endowments that countries have. Integrating green growth objectives with MDG 7 will come with its own set of challenges – primarily equity and inequality issues. This may also mean that MDG 7, as well as the other MDGs, will have to take a form that ensures that different countries are treated differently and the different MDGs that seek to integrate socioeconomic goals talk to each other.
Several African countries have already put in place or have started to unpack green growth strategies. These include Rwanda, Ethiopia, South Africa, Uganda and Mozambique. The MDG 7 review is an opportunity for realignment.