Historical insights, sustainable and inclusive development: What they might mean for us now and for the future
18 April 2022
Op-Ed by UN Timor-Leste Resident Coordinator Roy Trivedy
An essential first step is perhaps to help people clearly define what type of national development people of Timor-Leste would like to see in their country
The United Nations is here to support the government and the people of Timor-Leste. The SDGs and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development offer evidenced-based and solution-based directions for an inclusive, prosperous and sustainable future for all.
With the second round of the Presidential Elections imminent, it has been an interesting and exciting past week, thinking about now as well as the future of the country. Irrespective of the people’s decision for either of the candidates, the President’s ‘father-of-the-nation’ role entails a key guiding role that contributes to strengthening the economy, political systems, collaborations, and reconciliation in the wake of the COVID-19 fallout and critical development challenges facing the country.
The interview –skillfully moderated by my friend and colleague UN Resident Coordinator for Malaysia and Singapore, Ms Karima El Korri – was organised by the Sunway University and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), part of a global network of universities and institutions promoting sustainable development practices. Incidentally, we (the UN) are assisting the University of Timor-Leste to join this Network soon.
As always, Professor Sachs covers a lot of historical ground and makes fascinating connections between social and economic progress and many global challenges that the world faces today. He starts by drawing attention to the combination of events that contributed to global economic growth in the period after 1776 (imperialism, the industrial revolution, the role of fossil fuels, self-interest, the dominance of market economies and many other factors).
Professor Sachs points out that “…one of the reasons the world is struggling to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels is that we have had 200+ years of economic growth based on a reliance on fossil fuels and market economies. The powerful forces behind fossil fuels are pervasive and shape almost every aspect of our lives. So, breaking that dependence and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and shifting towards carbon-neutral growth may take years, possibly decades.” This is why governments and development institutions need to prepare long-term plans now and to ensure that these are practically progressed annually for this critical global transition.
He notes that sadly even after the past decade of rising global temperatures and changing global weather patterns contributing to more frequent and devastating environmental disasters, as well as the loss of biodiversity and the COVID-19 pandemic, we have yet to see many governments, industries and international institutions develop and implement robust long-term (20-year plus) plans for zero carbon growth. As the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) has said on many occasions (see: https://www.nature.org/en-us/what-we-do/our-insights/perspectives/ipcc-…) ‘time is running out’!
“…one of the reasons the world is struggling to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels is that we have had 200+ years of economic growth based on a reliance on fossil fuels and market economies. The powerful forces behind fossil fuels are pervasive and shape almost every aspect of our lives. So, breaking that dependence and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and shifting towards carbon-neutral growth may take years, possibly decades.”
By making a powerful case for the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) as the guiding principles for a better, more sustainable world for all, he advocates for “six big transformations” that he believes are essential for nations in the Asia-Pacific region (all of whom, according to data from ESCAP, are ‘off-track in terms of progress against the SDGs’ (see: https://data.unescap.org/data-analysis/sdg-progress.) The Asia-Pacific region is home to 60% of the global population, so if the world is to achieve the SDGs by 2030, it is vital that this region achieves the progress that is needed. The six transformations that Professor Sachs’ identifies are: (i) Quality Education for all; (ii) Health for all; (iii) Energy and industrial transformation; (iv) Sustainable land use (and one might add, especially for small island states and many others sustainable use of oceans); (v) sustainable cities; (vi) Digital transformation. While also emphasising the vital importance of gender equality and inclusion, Professor Sachs’ makes a personal plea for increased women’s leadership globally and in all spheres to accompany and accelerate the transformations needed to create a better world for all.
This presentation made me reflect on the work that the UN is supporting in Timor-Leste and elsewhere. How can we better support political leaders, governments and key institutions in the countries we serve to develop serious, long-term, inclusive, and sustainable plans for climate action and carbon-neutral growth? And more importantly, how can we more effectively support the development and implementation of long-term plans for such transformations?
An essential first step is perhaps helping people clearly define what type of national development they would like to see in their country. In my conversations with some Timorese citizens, I have heard friends and colleagues say that they would like Timor-Leste to be more like Singapore. I wonder, however, which aspects of Singapore’s development people in Timor really value. If that is a ‘model’ that Timorese citizens want to emulate, how can we start to chart a path to move from where we are now to foster a model of development that benefits and creates a better, more sustainable future for all? And critically, how can we ensure that progress is measured year-on-year to safeguard a better future for all?