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Post-Rio and the challenges facing international development and Labour

16 July 2012

 By Alex Farrow (@alexjamesfarrow and @youthpolicy)

As policy makers, activists and governments move on from the failed negotiations at Rio+20, Labour must now find a way to ensure sustainability remains at the heart of the international community’s development agenda.

At Rio+20 negotiators agreed the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals to replace the Millennium Development Goals that expire at the end of 2015. These are meant to be a framework for future policy and be a platform for the protection, preservation and adaption of our world in response to the unmitigated environmental, economic and social challenges we face.

In response to the dismal negotiations at Rio+20 and lack of inter-governmental debate on a post-2015 framework, Labour’s shadow ministerial team must be radical in filling the global policy void ahead of 2015. Three things are becoming clear priorities for change.

Firstly, sustainable development is the recognition that only by seeing the world’s problems as intrinsically linked will we find a mechanism for solving any of them. Labour was historic in legislating on climate change and the UK remains one of a handful of countries legally committed to reducing carbon emissions, but we can’t embed the cutting of carbon emissions without considering inter-connected environmental and ecological aspects such as energy, transport, oceans, forests and equally relevant and inter-connected social and societal questions including production and consumption, education, equity between generations and gender equality.

In achieving the Millennium Development Goals, the world collectively failed not only because our financial markets took priority, spending was slashed and aid became (both positively and negatively) an increasingly political carrot, but principally because the solving of one, direct problem, did little to change the overall development of the world’s most vulnerable and poorest countries.

Secondly, we are a risk of creating a follow on set of development goals that only reference sustainability and in doing so gloss over the need for us to redefine our definition of ‘growth’ and ‘development.’ Instead of changing our need for constant, economic, unrelenting growth regardless of the environmental and social cost, we are in danger of focusing on immediate development goals that lightly touch on climate change, the environment and planetary protection.

Labour’s development policy needs to champion sustainable development rather than development with sustainability added in. Ed Miliband has set out his vision for the future of Britain and the world and we now have to pursue that vision with ambitious and proactive policies that challenge the status quo, just like we have on banking and the media.

Thirdly, we must learn the lessons of domestic policy and apply them to the international development sector. Through our time in Government, we improved the lives and futures of millions of people but when we look back, we must note that high government spending hasn’t solved all the UK’s problems. Challenges that are deep rooted, both culturally and socially, need more than just a big cheque.

For our development policies, we need to adopt a similar understanding and not see money as the end of our involvement. We need to establish the concept of Aid+ that combines technical aspects such as technology transfer, knowledge sharing and capacity building as well as supporting democratic cultural and social changes and facilitating the aspirations and frustrations that the youth bulge, high unemployment, low technology infrastructure and small available capital create.

Labour must reject the laughable ambitions of world leaders at Rio+20 and commit to higher aspirations for the world than the current acceptance and unwillingness to act in order to change the lives of many and protect the planet for future generations. Labour has proven its ability to radically reshape a country for the better and we must be prepared to do it again – again in the UK post-Coalition and as a strong, proud and able member of the international community.

Check out other films & blogs from Alex at youthpolicy.org/environment.

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