Regional Centre

4th IGES Evening Cafe

“Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the Context of the post-2015 Development Agenda”

Date 16 December 2013
Venue Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand, Bangkok
Organisers Asia Europe Foundation (ASEF) and Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES)
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The 4th IGES Evening Cafe was held on Monday, 16 December 2013. The event attracted about 40 participants from international development organisations, Thai government agencies, NGOs, research institutes and the general public.

One of the main objectives of the event was to soft-launch the report "Sustainable Development Goals for a Small Planet: Connecting the Global to the National Level in 14 Countries of Asia-Pacific and Europe"(e-version available here) jointly produced by the Asia Europe Environment Foundation, IISD-Europe, Earth Council Asia-Pacific, Public Strategy for Sustainable Development, and IGES. The report contributes a complete set of illustrative SDGs, as well as a method to anchor them in country realities and an approach to systematically embed sustainable development in the goals.

Mr. Thierry SCHWARTZ (Director for Political & Economic Department, Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF)) delivered Welcome Remarks. He began with a brief introduction to ASEF, highlighting its inter-governmental framework and its unique role of providing a discussion forum for European and Asian head of states via the biennial Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). In line with that, ASEF supports work that provides inputs to facilitate the development of joint policies among ASEF members, including on sustainable development. Asia’s development has a huge bearing on global sustainability. The joint research done by ASEF, IGES and partners is motivated by recognition of the importance of securing Asian governments’ agreement and commitment to the future Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will either replace or be merged with the existing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Achieving poverty reduction under MDGs has been reasonably successful, thanks to the fact that poverty alleviation is an automatic outcome of GDP growth, which is a priority in Asian countries. However, achieving SDGs will be more challenging since they are expected to address broader issues that may be perceived as barriers to economic growth. Moreover, areas related to SDGs are already covered by a sprawling number of international agreements, of which most have been ineffective. Nonetheless, ASEF still believes in the mobilising power of a globally agreed set of SDGs, if they are restricted to a limited number of ‘high-priority’ areas, easily monitored and are matched with adequate implementation resources. At the end of the day, the success of SDGs will be about governance and money.

Next, Ms. Grazyna PULAWSKA (Project Executive, ASEF) and Mr. Simon Hoiberg OLSEN
(Senior Researcher, IGES) presented key findings of the report. The research employed a distinctive bottom-up and pragmatic approach which tried to identify and match pre-existing national development plans and indicators in 14 sample countries with 26 priority areas of SDGs. Based on this, a package of 11 overall goals (with respective sub-goals embedded within each) have been proposed by the research team. The goals were then checked against national level realities in terms of existing policy priorities found in strategic development documents. Another outcome of the report is the ‘means-ends’ approach, which aims to address the three dimensions of SD coherently, deriving from Herman Daly’s (1973) ‘end-means’ triangle. Finding consistent terminology across countries has been challenging, especially for cross-cutting issues like water. However, a clear overall message that emerges demonstrates is that a set of global goals are achievable, but it is likely that targets and measurement approaches will differ among countries. Countries are also likely to ‘cut the cake’ in their own ways, depending on their priorities, natural resource endowments and available implementation resources.
At the end of the day, agreement on a common and global set of SDGs is just the starting point. Implementation is the key challenge, and may require revisiting current plans/goals as well as finding new institutions for more effective collaboration among stakeholders.

Dr. Chuthatip MANEEPONG (Thailand Environment Institute) and Dr. Eric Kemp BENEDICT
Centre Director, Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) provided comments to the research. They both congratulated the team for tackling a complex subject and commended the uniqueness of the grounded approach. Looking from the perspective of Thailand’s experience and position, Dr. Maneepong suggested the following areas for further consideration in future research work: multi-stakeholder as opposed to government-centric engagement; balanced, broad-based versus sector-specific employment growth strategy, land use efficiency, enforcement of land use planning, emphasis on food distribution systems along with supply generation, cross-border water resource management and quality of jobs for migrants. Dr. Kemp commended the encouraging and realistic outputs of the research, given budgetary and time constraints. He commented that areas for improvement may be in terms of the conceptual design of the proposed goals, the study being not sufficiently participatory and inclusive, as well as exclusion of transboundary issues. Securing buy-in will require efforts that go beyond capacity building  

A lively discussion followed. The participants raised questions and debated the research findings and SDGs including in terms of practical application, politics and the balancing act between aspiration and realism. In summary, the discussion resulted in stimulating and relevant discussion to help inform research work going forward. Ultimately it is hoped that the research will be a meaningful contribution towards the post-2015 global development agenda, not only in terms of the findings and the proposed goals, but with the methodology setting a precedence and reference for other countries and future related studies.


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