“It’s time to change the world” was the new motto embraced by the leaders of 193 countries during the 70th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations in September 2015. They signed off on a set of 17 ambitious goals, along with 169 associated targets, to together end extreme poverty, sustain prosperity, combat climate change and fight inequality and injustice.
“We resolve, between now and 2030, to end poverty and hunger everywhere; to combat inequalities within and among countries; to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies; to protect human rights and promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls; and to ensure the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources. We resolve also to create conditions for sustainable, inclusive and sustained economic growth, shared prosperity and decent work for all, taking into account different levels of national development and capacities.” (UN General Assembly Resolution 70/1).
After almost a year, our own leadership has also been driven by the appetite for change, electing a new president, taking the country out of its comatose condition and delivering promises of economic revival, administrative and electoral reforms, and social resilience.
In this era of global and national transformations, these Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out by the UN offer the solutions to Lebanon’s fundamental development challenges. These range from inadequate infrastructure, transportation and telecommunication networks, provision of commodities, high levels of corruption, mismanagement of environmental catastrophes, brain drain and lack of economic opportunities, to increasing levels of extreme poverty largely resulting from the Syrian conflict, so far the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century.
Toward a sustainable growth
As such, SDGs are a unique opportunity for the Lebanese leadership to rise above the phantoms of the past. Lebanon had only partially committed to the Millennium Development Goals – the predecessor of SDGs set to be achieved by 2015 – successfully addressing universal education, reducing child mortality, and improving maternal health. But given the national and regional turmoil, Lebanon lagged behind in terms of gender equality, environmental sustainability and curbing extreme poverty.
It is time for action. It can be as easy as saving electricity, recycling, composting and conserving water.
Today, if our leaders choose again not to meet the commitments made towards SDGs, the country will be threatened by socio-economic risks, which will compound Lebanon’s current vulnerability and fragility.
The scale of the SDGs’ ambitions might raise concerns; yet, if properly adopted, they provide a realistic roadmap that addresses all areas necessary for our country’s recovery. This is based on three dimensions of development: economic, social and environmental sustainability. They will entail commitments from present and future leadership. If SDGs are adapted to priorities and limitations, they will work for Lebanon. From the plethora of goals and targets, Lebanon can choose a few in the first years, deliver them per primacy sector, and gradually implement them to witness early successes.
SDGs are a holistic package that will guide policy and funding for the next 15 years. It is therefore time for our leaders to invest in institutional and policy reforms, to bring forward resources, enhance and monitor performance, and most importantly, have the will to do so. The political discourse should also be aligned with the SDGs in order to engage every citizen in the development process.
As such, if development is a right, participation is a duty. As citizens we should have expectations, but we also have the responsibility to partake and observe. A struggling government alone will not be able to reach the objectives. This requires multi-stakeholder concessions for us to all participate in the improvement of our country.
We are all equally responsible. Goal 17 of the SDGs calls for a global partnership for sustainable development. We can undeniably learn from other countries, but we need to ask ourselves what we can internally do to coherently coordinate our efforts for SDGs. How can we, as individuals, companies, NGOs, public officials and university students mobilize all resources, reach our full potential and transform Lebanon?
It is time for action. It can be as easy as saving electricity, recycling, composting and conserving water. It can be steps to boost consumers’ confidence. We can shop local and shop smart. We can help local producers improve the livelihood of their families, which would provide their children with access to quality education and enough food on the table for their next meal. We can establish support chains by donating what we don’t use: clothes, books, furniture and toys that can be given a new life in a family who needs them. We are not alone. We can improve the bottom line through partnerships. We should speak up, lobby, let our leaders know what we care about and, most importantly, support them to achieve results.
Speaking at the Habitat III conference in Ecuador in October 2016, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “Elected officials, mayors, governors and councilors are at the forefront of the battle for sustainable development.” Fortunately, the current Lebanese (caretaker) government has embarked on the process by developing the National Sustainable Development Strategy, a comprehensive plan of concrete actions, based on the SDGs, that will set the framework for development until 2030.
To avoid wasting effort, this can be used as the basic framework, institutionalized and further integrated and aligned with national priorities and the SDGs by succeeding governments. A parliamentary toolkit will be deployed in February 2017 – with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – to assess conformity with SDGs, resulting in the establishment of a working group to identify good practices, gaps and opportunities, and determine what can be done to better engage Parliament in the national development agenda.
Another initiative taken by the government was becoming a signatory to the Paris Agreement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in December 2015. Lebanon publically committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 15 percent, and up to 30 percent conditional to the provision of international support, by 2030. The shift to sustainable energy is not only the responsibility of prominent businesses, but is also a social responsibility for all citizens who want to improve livelihoods and the wellbeing of their community.
Our country today needs social innovators, individuals with an unconventional vision to change the future. It is clear that business as usual will not cut it anymore. The boundaries between government, civil society and the private sector are fading, giving way to more blended enterprises to solve the greatest challenges. Reducing poverty requires financial innovation. One example is the emerging trend of impact investment funds, where investors achieve both impact objectives and commercial returns. The SDGs provide context for investors to fit their strategies and objectives into broader sustainable development efforts. Increasingly, firms are using the SDGs to develop and communicate their Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives and as a framework to measure the social impact of each company. Our aim is that such innovative solutions will see the light in Lebanon and not be blocked by corruption.
Over the next twelve months, we will introduce the different themes under the SDG spectrum and suggest areas of intervention for different stakeholders. We will leave no one behind. The agenda will be based on concrete information and statistics for informed decision-making. This will be a wish list to address our frustrations as Lebanese citizens. It will make us reconsider actions and consider whether this is the country we want to leave to future generations. It is indeed a time for change.