The Sustainable Development Solution Network (SDSN) Germany invited Generation Why to Berlin for its fourth annual conference. SDSN Germany has as objective to pooling knowledge, experience and capacities from actors in science, business and civil society, in order to foster sustainable development in Germany and worldwide. Therefore, important actors from science, business, civil society but also politics came together to discuss current trends in the debate around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Imme Scholz, Member of the advisory Council for Sustainable Development for the German government, Hermann Lotze-Campen, Division Director at Potsdam-Institute for Climate Impact Research, and Claudia Schwegmann, Chairman at Open Knowledge Foundation, discussed on the first panel the measurability of the SDGs. In general, they addressed the problem that there are trade-offs between different SDGs, such as between SDG 13 (climate action) and SDG 8 (economic growth), which are not studied sufficiently yet. The tension between some SDGs might have occurred because it was set up as political agenda and therefore political reasoning might have collided with scientific evidences. However, despite the current confusion about the vast range of indicators (169) and how to implement as well as communicate them, everybody agreed on the point that the SDGs are driving the social and ecological agenda. For instance, for the first time the German government has set up targets for SDG 1 (no poverty), which is (which you may not know) an issue, since around 15% of the German citizens live in relative poverty (= less than 60% of average income).
Here, the monitoring tool for high income countries 2030-Watch from the Open Knowledge Foundation might help to create more transparency and awareness for countries’ SDG performances. Later it was also suggested that it could make sense to highlight some “lighthouse indicators” which have high social relevance, in order to facilitate agenda setting, monitoring and communication. In the light of this goal, the project “The world in 2050” is a welcomed research initiative since it seeks to provide fact-based knowledge to support policy processes and implementation of the SDGs. The project´s goal is to search for possibilities to achieve the SDGs while staying within the planetary boundaries. Hence, they have started studying relationships between the SDGs and try to develop scenario analysis how different paths might look like (e.g. climate in relation with migration or diseases paths). Finally, the speakers also agreed that research should aim to provide measurement tools, clarify trade-offs, communicate evidences in a comprehensive manner, create interlinked scenarios and suggest next steps for action. The role of science and action networks, such as Generation Why, are to raise questions and/or to answer them.
The next panel discussion was led by the two chairs of SDSN Germany Dirk Messner and Prof. Gesine Schwan. Speakers from the political and business environment debated the importance of the SDGs within the current German legislative period (last election was in September). Both speakers from the labour and green party with expertise in international politics emphasized the importance of climate stability and suggested to debate the SDGs against the backdrop of the Paris Agreement. The business representative explained that planning security for e.g. renewable infrastructure remains too low. Furthermore, it was claimed that billions of environmental unfriendly subsidies (e.g. for coal plants) or unfair international trade practices (e.g. tariff escalation) should be put into question. International agreements, like the SDGs, might go along with institutional liabilities, such as reporting obligations of the chancellor or extended financial resources. However, the speakers agreed that social compatibility is a necessary condition of sustainable policies; simply because politicians are living from their re-election and therefore they must consider the interests of domestic voters. Indeed, Dirk Messner, also Director of the German Development Institute, stressed the fact that current debates around the SDGs increasingly focus on social matters.
In my opinion, this is a very important step in the international debate about sustainability. The challenge we face is to find a way to bend the curves of the “great accelerators” (e.g. population grow, biodiversity loss, environmental degradation), while simultaneously safeguarding and even promoting social prosperity. Socio-economic prosperity was historically related for instance to having less children or using fertilizers and water more efficiently. Therefore, solutions for reducing poverty and developing inclusive and equitable social systems worldwide, seem to be also a necessary condition for solving other global sustainability challenges. However, since we have witnessed the negative impacts western countries have produced in the past on their way to social and economic prosperity, the question arises to which extent it will be possible for emerging countries to “leapfrog” these negative impacts? As Dirk Messner concludes, against the backdrop of the refugee situation, there is in Germany a one-time public attention and will to improve socio-economic conditions of more disadvantaged people, in particular on the African continent. Hence, the debate around green growth in Germany and elsewhere must now be extended by the social dimension (e.g. promotion of human rights, living wages and social services) – thus to sustainable growth (oxymoron?).
Nicola obtained in International Economics and Development B.A. and is currently writing his Master Thesis about „The Sustainable Development Goals as driver for Corporate Responsibility and Sustainable Investment?“ and will then finish his M.A. in Politics, Administration and International Relations at Zeppelin University. Nicola is Initiator and Managing Director of GW. He is passionated about ideas with positive impact and within GW his focus and interests lie in Sustainable Business Transition, Development Cooperation and Transculturality (SDG 1, 4, 8, 12, 13 and 17).