Pope Francis Development Goals: A Counter-Narrative to the SDGs

The past week I have been reflecting on the key recent messages of Pope Francis and the power of Laudato Sí to present a counter-narrative to the Sustainable Development Goals. We need a counter-narrative or a different story because the SDGs are seductive. They draw you into a strange complacency about the really knotty issues the world is facing. I believe the SDGs fail to address those and risk becoming a big distraction, particularly for civil society. Uncontaminated by the inevitable horse trading of international negotiations, these ‘pathways for action’ priorities, or ‘goals’ in Laudato Sí represent what really needs to change to build a more just and sustainable future. Here’s my stab at what Pope Francis says we need to prioritise laid out as a set of alternative goals:

  1. Prioritise energy transition: phase out fossil fuels and make the transition to renewables: we need to decarbonise our economics. Rich countries have a duty to support clean energy in the South.
  2.  Internationalise environmental costs: Accept burden sharing, and the need to pay our ecological debt based on the concept of universal destination of goods.
  3. Make international agreements enforceable. Ensure legally enforceable frameworks with clear boundaries, starting with the COP21.Whilst transitional measures are needed, these must be with a view to binding commitments which recognise the need for system change.
  4. Reform global governance institutions to protect the global commons: Introduce measures to curtail the power of transnational economic and financial sectors, over the political and national. Build a new world political authority with real sanction power.
  5. Promote local participatory accountability: Local and national policies need to be coherent with international agreements.  There is no point signing on to goals when national policies are at odds with those aspirations. Participatory local policy processes are key. Local communities need to be engaged in transition. 
  6. Focus on long-term, generational political perspective: Need to move beyond the myopia of power politics to a far sighted agenda. We must step beyond the reluctance to take public measures which would affect consumption or create risks for FDI. Engage in true state craft and leadership, which always prioritises the importance of continuity over short-term politics.
  7. Do not base policy choices on how markets might react. Base collective action on the precautionary principle rather than a ‘magical conception of the market’ (186) Profit cannot be the sole criterion as it does not tend to measure what has real value. Environment cannot be safeguarded by market forces.
  8. Promote diversified forms of community-based production and consumption: Build co-operatives for renewables and self-sufficiency, harness the power of local groups, indigenous peoples. Promote alternative approaches base on community values and ownership. Support and harness the creativity of diversified, innovative forms of environmentally sustainable production and consumption.
  9. Support development of community-based circular economy: Start with energy conservation and minimising waste, the phase out of less efficient products, improving transport and buildings; modify consumption patterns, including recycling, revamping, reusing.
  10. Support diversified local agriculture – prioritise investment in local markets rather than globalised, centralised agro-industry.
  11.  Ensure ex ante environmental impact assessments are implemented. These need to be interdisciplinary, transparent and free from pressure. Affected groups in local  local population have a special role to play.
  12. Regulate global finance: Promote the regulation of speculative financial practices and virtual wealth.
  13.  Set limits to growth and consumption: Need to contain growth by setting reasonable limits. Limit and reduce excessive, harmful consumption as one way to pay our ecological debt, reducing harmful consumption.
  14. Develop a new concept of progress: Recognise that economic growth has diverged from real progress as it has no planetary limits. Another form of progress is needed which in many cases involves “decrease in the pace of production and consumption”, a possible decrease in growth. We need to de-link progress from ever increasing consumption. Life quality and consumption not always linked.
  15. Account for the real costs of business: Address the mis-conception of modern economics, which fails to truly account for the capital involved in production, particulalry in terms of natural capital. “Businesses profit by calculating and paying only a fraction of the costs involved.” The key issue is how is how to account for the real costs, particularly the carbon costs.

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