XV ECPD International Conference THE UN AGENDA 2030 TO TRANSFORM THE WORLD - Belgrade City Hall, 25 October 2019












The European Center for Peace and Development (ECPD), established by the United Nations University for Peace, has organized its recent annual international conferences in a new thematic framework on the Future of the World between Globalization and Regionalization, with a focus last year on human security. Building on its success in assembling many partners and friends both from the region and around the world, across many fields and the political, religious, academic and development domains, ECPD is projecting its efforts forward to achieve a deeper and wider understanding of the next essential directions that the region should take to build a more sustainable future. Fortunately, at the global level, the United Nations adopted a 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at a General Assembly summit in 2015, mapping out the fundamental transformations required by 2030 to address the many interrelated problems that the world is facing. At the heart of the agenda are 17 Sustainable Development Goals that integrate the economic, social and environmental challenges facing the world, and that put humans back at the centre, with the aim to leave no one behind. This is the theme to be explored in this conference, from various perspectives, in the search for ways forward to transform the region.

A new definition of sustainable development

Everyone wants development, first to rise out of poverty and then to achieve a better life. Our economic and political systems focus on the short term, aiming to achieve immediate profits or to satisfy voters and win the next election. In doing this, it is too easy to go into debt, borrowing to keep growing, or living off capital rather that relying only on the interest. But at some point, debts have to be repaid, and once the capital is gone, so is the potential for interest. The result is bankruptcy and poverty. What is true in finance, is equally true for natural resource capital and social capital. Sustainable development means to maintain the productivity and wealth of our society within the limits of our resources into the distant future. No past civilization has done this successfully; all reached environmental or social limits and collapsed.

The present economic system has generated great wealth, but concentrated it at the top, leaving half the world population behind. The resulting stress is fragmenting societies everywhere. Now, with the rapid evolution of science and technology, humanity has run up against planetary limits from which there is no escape, and we have little time left to change course before catastrophic events from climate change and famine to mass migrations and wanton corruption, and the resulting political instability, become unbearable.

The UN 2030 Agenda is a response to this, developed after wide consultation with stakeholders and agreed by all governments at the highest level. The UN Secretary-General, in his synthesis report on the process, called for a fundamental transformation in society and the economy. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the heart of this agenda define a paradigm shift for people and the planet that is inclusive and people-centred, leaving no one behind. The Agenda integrates the economic, social and environmental dimensions, calling for a spirit of solidarity, cooperation and mutual accountability with the participation of governments and all stakeholders. It requires that we establish transformative partnerships built upon principles and values, a shared vision and shared goals, mobilizing the power of culture, with the participation of all relevant stakeholders, and mutual accountability at the center.


There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals with 169 targets, and about 240 indicators to measure progress towards these targets. The 17 goals are:

1.                  End poverty in all its forms everywhere;

2.                  End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture;

3.                  Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages;

4.                  Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all;

5.                  Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls;

6.                  Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all;

7.                  Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all;

8.                  Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all;

9.                  Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation;

10.             Reduce inequality within and among countries;

11.             Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable;

12.             Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns;

13.             Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts;

14.             Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development;

15.             Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss;

16.             Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels; and


17.             Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development: Finance, Technology, Capacity-building, Trade, Systemic issues: Policy and institutional coherence, multi-stakeholder partnerships; data, monitoring and accountability.


As the outcome document of the UN Summit put it in adopting these goals: “This is an Agenda of unprecedented scope and significance. It is accepted by all countries and is applicable to all, taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities. These are universal goals and targets which involve the entire world, developed and developing countries alike. They are integrated and indivisible and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development.”

This is an ambitious agenda, but it really defines what a successful society should achieve in the 21st century. There is enough wealth in the world, and with modern technology all this is possible. What is lacking is the political will for change, linked to the powerful vested interests in the present economic and political systems that resist change. Despite the promise in this agenda, many countries seem to be sliding backwards if not disintegrating.

The UN has established a High Level Political Forum that meets annually to assess progress towards these goals, and all governments are expected to submit voluntary national reports on their progress. Countries should also be involving their populations and all stakeholders in discussions of these goals at the national level to create systems of public accountability.

Translation of the global goals to the regional and national levels

These, of course, are global goals, and it is the responsibility of each country to translate them down to the national level. Country situations are different, with distinct priorities. One may need to raise its rural population out of poverty, or create employment for the young, while another may have to reduce overconsumption of energy, deal with masses of wastes, and address the needs of an ageing population. Thinking through the SDG goals and the issues they raise, and setting national priorities, is itself a useful exercise, and one that should not be left only to political leaders. The SDGs can serve as a checklist for economic, social and environmental needs, and their targets as the basis for a shared vision of what a country wants for its future and a way of measuring progress towards that vision. The countries of the Balkans have started on this journey, with varying degrees of success. Too many trends are still in the direction of increasing unsustainability.

Because of similarities across the region, and elements of shared history, it might be useful to explore shared regional priorities for the SDGs. Are there similarities in transport systems, agriculture, population structure and emigration, nature conservation, rural poverty or soil management, for example, that would benefit from common approaches or regional collaboration?

The region also needs to ask itself what is the Balkans share of the global targets? Is the region sufficiently ambitious in the goals each country has set for itself? How big is the gap, and what would be needed to bridge it?

The 2030 Agenda also provides an opportunity to reflect on the future. What is needed to transform the region? Can the Balkans have its own 2030 agenda with a vision of what the region would be like in 2030 if the goals are achieved? Having a positive view of the future that is possible can inspire greater efforts to realize that vision, and encourage young people to stay at home rather than emigrate in the search for better opportunities.

The papers for the ECPD conference could consider the status and trends of each country in the western Balkans on some or all of the SDGs. Are there good examples of progress on particular goals? How do the different countries of the region compare on their progress towards the goals? Countries are particularly sensitive to peer pressure, so seeing that one country is ahead can inspire the others to try to catch up. How much have stakeholders been involved? Are there roles for business and civil society? Is the public informed about the SDGs and implicated in their achievement? Do SDGs make the news? Do country reports to the HLPF reflect the realities on the ground?

Raising the level of ambition

Nowhere in the world is on track to achieving all the SDGs by 2030. Many trends are still in the wrong direction, and for some such as eliminating hunger we are falling back after a period of improvement. If we want to transform the world, we must raise the level of ambition.

Climate change is a good example of what is now required, as the same changes will be necessary for many other sustainability targets. The climate is changing much faster that scientists had predicted, and we seem to be very close to tipping points where positive feedbacks could make it impossible to go backwards. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has now determined that we must limit global warming to 1.5°C to have a chance of avoiding irreversible and dangerous climate change. A lead author of the latest IPCC report on 1.5°C said we have to do everything, and we have to do it immediately. This is not impossible, since we have the necessary technologies, but it will require unprecedented rates of transformation as net greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to zero by mid-century. If everyone adopts a low-carbon lifestyle immediately, we can avoid overshooting the limit. Otherwise we shall need to use expensive carbon capture and storage and unproven carbon dioxide removal technologies to come back down to a safe level by 2100. All the following must be done together to succeed.

First is to stop using fossil fuels. The move to renewable energy is accelerating, generating a quarter of world electricity in 2016, more than 10% of the total energy consumption, but we need almost complete decarbonization of electricity generation by 2050, meaning investing in renewable sources and closing down all fossil fuel generating plants in the region. Any continuing use of fossil fuels must be accompanied by carbon capture and storage.

The Balkans much change how they travel. At present, most transport is powered by oil (petrol/gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel) and just a small fraction from renewables. A quarter of the energy-related CO2 emissions come from transport, and this is growing at 2.5% per year. Even a 30% reduction by 2030 means switching to electric vehicles (powered by renewables), improving fuel efficiency, replacing oil by biofuels including for aviation, and making personal sacrifices like using buses and trains over cars and planes, and traveling less. Investments in public transport are a priority.

All the buildings in the region must be transformed for high energy efficiency. Homes, shops, offices and buildings account for a quarter of energy-related emissions, mostly electricity for lighting, heating, cooling, elevators, office equipment and appliances, but also fossil fuels (gas) used for heating and cooking. These emissions need to be reduced by 80-90% by 2050, requiring energy-efficient lighting, insulation and double-glazed windows, and non-fossil-fuel heating and cooking systems. 5% of existing buildings should be refurbished every year, and all new buildings should be zero carbon by 2020, moving away from carbon-intensive concrete and steel to carbon-neutral wood-based materials or changing construction methods entirely.

Industry uses coal and other fossil fuels to produce heat and steam to produce metals, pulp and paper, chemicals, concrete and minerals, and this needs to be reduced by 80%. Phasing out coal, increasing energy efficiency and electrifying would only be a beginning. Research is needed to find new, carbon-free industrial processes for cement, iron and steel, plus carbon capture and storage for uses that cannot be replaced in time. Some new technologies exist, but they must become more affordable and scaled up.

Agriculture and forestry must be transformed and deforestation reduced. Land use produces one quarter of carbon emissions, raising issues of forests, farms and food. Growing food inevitably emits CO2, and pasture with cows on it is a gigantic source of CO2 and methane. Land can be a carbon sink with good soil management, and forests pull CO2 out of the air. Abandoned farmland should be reforested, and agriculture intensified. Consumption of foods with high greenhouse gas emissions, especially from cattle, should be reduced, swapping pasture for forests.

Reaching net emissions does not mean no emissions, since some cannot be eliminated, like nitrous oxide from agricultural fertilizers. Any remaining emissions need to be balanced by removing carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. All pathways to 1.5°C require carbon dioxide removal, for which we have no proven technologies. Planting forests is the simplest way.

Changing individual consumer behavior to reduce demand for energy is the biggest challenge. Using an electrical appliance, spending time inside a building, using hot water, traveling anywhere in a vehicle, or buying or eating anything, contributes to the problem. Everyone needs to start today to make sacrifices: drive less, fly less, consume less meat, have fewer children. A plant-based diet reduces a food carbon footprint by 90%. Avoid beef with a carbon footprint three times pork and six times chicken. Tropical fruits imported by air, and cheese are other offenders. Reduce short car journeys; car-pool, bike or walk instead. But one vacation flight would wipe out the benefits of going vegetarian for a year or driving 2500 km less. In your home, replace appliances with energy-efficient models, lower the temperature of hot water, use a low-flow showerhead, do not leave appliances on standby, and dry washing outside. Smart thermostats can reduce household emissions by up to 26%. Moving to a smaller home can cut emissions by 27%. At the office, turning off lights and the workstation when leaving, and unplugging the phone charger, can cut emissions by up to 28%. Working from home can mean driving much less.


Above all, there is a lack of political will for the biggest transformation ever. People have to demand these changes with mass movements. This may seem impossible, but we have to try. We need to convince everyone that green alternatives improve our quality of life as well as the environment.

Mobilizing all the stakeholders

If everyone must be involved in the effort that is required, then widespread public information about the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs is essential. The conference should reflect on educational programmes in the schools and places of worship, in the media and in political discourses. The effort should be like going on a war footing, with all efforts focussed on the objectives. The challenge is too important to become the subject of partisan political wrangling. Everyone should unite against the common enemy, our own unsustainability. We have waited too long, and ignored too many warnings, to delay action any longer.

March 2019












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