Global Goals Even a Pope Can Love: Interview with Ambassador Kamau

Strong statements about poverty, climate change, and overconsumption as existential threats are emitting from both the United Nations and the Vatican as Pope Francis descends on the world body to speak ahead of the sustainable development high-level summit where the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be officially signed by all member states.

The three-year process of drafting and negotiating the new global goals ended in July with a marathon session lasting several days and nights. Shortly after, one of the leads of the process, Kenyan Ambassador Macharia Kamau, sat down for an interview with Jimena Leiva Roesch, policy analyst at the International Peace Institute, as part of IPI’s @SDGs4Peace project.

The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Can you explain to us what the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is and why it is important, and who will benefit from it?

We have been in the business of implementing the Millennium Development Goals as a global community through multilateral systems in the world, including the United Nations. Countries around the world, particularly developing countries, have been caught up in this development challenge of implementing the Millennium Development Goals.

The second challenge was that in the midst of the last 20 -30 odd years, it has become self-evident in the world, both in the developed and the developing world, that the consumption of production habits that we have now acquired have become detrimental to the planet on which we live and have begun to create real existential threats for us as human beings; they are creating existential threats for the animals, for plants, for forests, for fisheries, and something had to be done, and needs to be done, to try to contain this.

In the midst of all of this, we also recognized that there were effects to our climate, that were happening particularly as a consequence of our production habits – the greenhouse gases that were pumping up in the air, the destruction of the forests which sequestered the greenhouse gases – all those things have come together in the last 15-odd years to make people realize that we really need to do something differently, that business as usual simply could not continue to be the case. So we are now at the point where we have put together the Sustainable Development goals that deal with issues that are similar to the Millennium Development Goals, but significantly different in their level of ambition, but at the same time we have added all the other issues that need to be taken care of in the context of protecting the planet and in the context of ensuring prosperity for people; so issues of urbanization, industrialization, issues of biodiversity care, climate change, issues of peace—all these are things that are singularly important for us to have a planet that is at peace with itself, where people are living in peace, a planet that is enjoying prosperity, and a planet that is at the same time protecting its fundamental ecosystems and life systems that will keep us all alive and provide better future prospects for future generations.

You mentioned here that peace is one of those components that was not in the Millennium Development Goals, but is now centerpiece in the Sustainable Development Goals. Can you speak about that intersection between development and peace and why it is so relevant?

There is no peace truly without sustainable development, because a lot of the civil strife that we see out there, a lot of conflict that we see out there, is built around resources. Pastoralists, even at that level, trying to get pasture for their cattle and running into areas where other pastoralists are also trying to take care of their cattle and you have this conflict. It sounds very basic, but that in and of itself is a big problem in many parts of the world. Why? Because, first of all, population increase, second of all, there is the land and the pasture itself is becoming less and less because of the climatic conditions, droughts and so on; water scarcity as pastoralists end up competing for scarce water resources. That is a very minute example of how at the very local level peace can be undermined by the lack of a common approach to how we manage development in a sustainable way.

On a global level, we have seen examples of where climatic conditions are creating an upheaval in the way in which societies are able to live with each other. And that in itself creates stresses in societies and between nations that in itself can undermine peace. So we are seeing peace at the local level and within the domestic sphere being undermined by the lack of a proper approach to sustainable development, but we also see that between nations on the global and international level.

So at the end of the day, there is no peace without sustainable development, but we also recognized that there is no sustainable development without peace. And that in itself was what drove the impetus for putting together goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

It is truly a new era for the UN and for sustainable development now that we have a much more comprehensible agenda in our hands. How do you think that the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda can be implemented in Africa?

First of all, this is a universal agenda. It is an agenda for all of the world’s nations. That is a unique and special aspect of the new development agenda. So it is not a development agenda just for the continent of Africa or just for developing countries. Developed countries are going to have to engage and invest in special ways to ensure that they also attain all the 17 goals for sustainable development. And they are themselves seized of these issues. We have heard very prominent leaders in the last few days from President Obama, to Chancellor Merkel, to the Prime Minister of France – all of them have spoken and welcomed the new agenda and the SDGs in the last few days. But we have also heard a chorus of response from developing countries, who have recognized that this is a step up from where they were before with the MDGs.

So in the case of Africa, unquestionably, we are at a long trajectory of development that allows us to focus on certain things in ways in which we can avoid to making mistakes that have been made by much more developed countries. Our adaptation responses, for example, in the context of environment, is a huge opportunity for us. The way in which we exploit the resources, both energy and other kinds of resources that we have, can ensure that we do not end up on the same destructive path that has been warped by the more developed countries in earlier years. The way in which we manage peace and social order, the way in which we manage urbanization, the way in which we engage and develop new infrastructure, because Africa is on a rapid trajectory right now on putting in the infrastructure that it needs for sustainable development.

So it is these opportunities that are going to come up over the next few years that Africa has to seize and avoid making the mistakes that were made by developed countries.

How can people help implement this agenda? What would be your best suggestions or advice if someone wants to get involved in implementing the 2030 agenda?

If you look at the agenda, the preamble of the agenda speaks to five categories. People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnerships. And there is a reason why we have that. The first three are the fundamental deliverables for sustainable development – People, Planet and Prosperity. Without that, without embracing people, bringing people aboard, making sure no one is left behind, whether we are talking about communities, whether we are talking about ethnic groups, indigenous people – every category, all people of all statuses, have to be reached out to. This is a universal agenda, not just between countries, but within countries. So, people have to be a part of this.

But it is also about protecting the planet, as it is about prosperity, because you cannot expect people to be engaged in an agenda that does not give them better prospects for a better future. So prosperity is fundamental – we cannot have 2 billion people living on less than 1.5 dollars a day – it is just not sustainable, it is not a credible proposition for vast tracks of populations in the world. That has to be corrected.

But participation is the key to all of this, because if people themselves do not change their consumption habits—for example, the way in which they use vehicles, the way in which they use air conditioning, the way in which they build homes, the way in which they consume food, the choices of food that they pick to consume, the way in which they get rid of their waste, the chemicals that they use in their homes – if all these things do not change, particularly in the most sophisticated developed countries, then we will not attain our objectives. Individuals have to get engaged in this whole program in very special ways—making choices at home that will have consequences along the line of delivering sustainable development for the world.

So 2030 is a paradigm shift?

Absolutely, that is what it is. It represents a huge step change in the way in which we think development, the way in which we act development, and the way in which we realize development.

Thank you very much for your time and congratulations on this incredible gargantuan task, Kenya, and you particularly should be proud as all eyes are on this new plan for the UN.

Thank you indeed.

Other videos in this series:
Implementing UN Global Goals Requires New Mentality: Interview with David Donoghue
Thomas Gass: Heads of State Should Enact Common Vision in Sustainable Development Goals
How Can You Have Development Without Peace? Interview with Nikhil Seth