UN Scientists Push Environmental Agenda in Sustainable Development Goals Despite Fears of Leaving Poor Behind

By | March 2, 2017

NEW YORK, March 3 (C-Fam) Last week UN scientists responded to complaints that environmental protection overtakes global efforts to help the poor by promising an even greater environmental focus.

“You can’t have one without the other,” said Danish oceanographer, Katherine Richardson, referring to poverty eradication and environmental protection at a briefing from fifteen scientists tasked with preparing a quadrennial report on the Sustainable Development Goals.

The scientists promised a new Brundtland report. Prepared by UN experts in 1987, the report defined sustainable development for a generation.  It became the foundation of the environmentalist manifesto adopted by the General Assembly at the 1992 Earth Summit.

While the “independent group of scientists” promised to “shoot for the stars” they opened with an apologetic tone. The briefing followed the first planning meeting at UN headquarters and Swiss sustainability professor, Peter Messerli, admitted the scientists spent considerable time discussing the fact that whole regions of the world, and entire branches of the hard sciences and social sciences, are “underrepresented” in the group.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed these scientists before his term expired at the end of 2016 as one of his last acts, .

European scientists make up seven of the fifteen members of the group. In contrast, a maximum of two scientists come from any other region. The group did not include any scientist from China or India. Moreover, eight of the scientists are experts in environmental policy. The group also includes two demographers, one global health expert, a sociologist, an economist, and a development aid specialist.

Stefano Gennarini, Director of Legal Studies at C-Fam and publisher of the Friday Fax, cautioned the experts against jumping on “shiny new development goals” about the environment. He warned against a failure to adequately focus on longstanding UN goals concerning “health, nutrition, sanitation, poverty eradication, and education.”

Gennarini referred to the Sustainable Development Goals, now known as the 2030 Agenda, which commits governments to “help those farthest behind first.” Delegates from India, China, Egypt and Morocco echoed these concerns. Messerli responded that the group would reach out to different scientific communities.

Additionally, Gennarini asked the scientists about their independence.

Several of the experts leading government-funded development projects are not academics. Gennarini questioned the conflict of government-funded policies that do not have the backing of the General Assembly with the scientists’ mandate tethered to the UN backed 2030 Agenda.

This question received a mixed response. Several reiterated their mandate’s ties to the 2030 Agenda, while others appeared to contradict this. “We have to be very clear when we say we are independent. We are independent from the UN system. . .from the 2030 Agenda negotiations,” said French health expert, Jean-Paul Moatti.

On the question of independence from foreign aid policies that do not share international consensus, Moatti denied that it was a problem, “We need funding, we are paid.” Moatti seemed to mock the Trump administration saying that, “No scientist believes there are alternative facts.”

Austrian demographer, Wolfgang Lutz said, “The real problem (of independence) is we don’t have a budget.”

USAID agent, Amanda Glassman, the only group member who acknowledged a potential conflict of interest, proposed that the report might include a “formal statement of conflict of interest.”