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

climate change, climate justice, ecology, environment, integral ecology, international development, sustainable development goals

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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40 Shades of #GlobalGreening

climate change, religion

I have to admit it – I LOVE St.Patrick’s Day! I love the parades, the eccentricity, the creativity and the sense of community spirit. Where else in the world would you get a whole country coming out in such a vibrant way to celebrate their national Saint? The essence of St. Patrick’s Day for me isn’t found in the big city parades in Dublin or New York – but in the hundreds of local parades up and down the country. Children are a big focus of activities, as are sports clubs and people with disabilities. Literally everyone who wants to has a chance to march!
A big feature of the national day is of course the colour green. It is everywhere – green hats, green hair, green pints… more cheap imported green paraphernalia than you could shake a stick at. Despite the fact that blue is the official national colour, green is the colour we associate most with St.Patrick and Irishness. The link dates back to the stories about the shamrock – the small native plant that Patrick used to explain the Holy Trinity. Of course, green also reflects the lush vegetation on his temperate island with rolling hills in the middle of the North Atlantic. An emerald green jewel. In the late 1700s when Ireland was struggling for independence, green was worn in sympathy for the Irish cause to such a degree that wearing it was outlawed around 1776. The colour has deep roots in Ireland’s history and its nature.
Sadly, there is little reflection nowadays on what the colour green signifies. For politicians, the colour green has taken on very pragmatic, global dimensions geared at marketing Ireland as a prime location for business investment and tourism. Evidence of this is the fact that back in February the government made a big announcement around 27 ministers travelling for St.Patrick’s Day – and the return on investment that this would bring. It is also seen in the buildings across the world which ‘turned green’ as part of a global strategy called #GlobalGreening.
Some may think this is harmless – and maybe it is on one level. But it strikes me that this kind of ‘green washing’ (or green lighting) risks becoming a parody of what the colour green stands for both in Irish history and in relation to its natural environment. At a time when concern for ecology is an absolute imperative, the disconnect between Ireland’s green image and green credentials is striking. In Trócaire’s recent policy report Feeling the Heat we highlighted the fact that Ireland’s climate emissions are currently among the highest per capita in the world, and that our emissions would be the equivalent of 400 million Africans. Ironically, it is our green fields – or rather the cattle that graze on them – that contribution to a large part of our emissions. Our national policies and are increasingly at odds with a truly green agenda, as I blogged about a few weeks ago.
But surely the Irish love affair with everything green – and the global love affair with everything Irish, at least for a day – is a massive opportunity to reclaim the #GlobalGreening for a more worthy green agenda – an ‘integral ecology‘?
I was very excited this week by the start of our Irish #climate conversations. The initiative brings together many sectors of Irish society to create a new narrative on climate change. It follows similar initiatives in Germany and Holland. The launch event took place in Liberty Hall and involved fantastic contributions from artists, musicians, faith -leaders, composers, politicians, business, campaigners, PR gurus… (If you missed it, you can watch the recording and find out about future events here). It is an opportunity to come together as a society – as concerned citizens of the small patch of ground called Ireland on planet earth – and to reflect together on the new conversation we need to have to respond to climate justice.
As Eamon Ryan put it so well on the night: ‘we need to slow down to speed up. We need to ‘put the kettle on’ and reflect together before rushing to save the world.’ There is something so true in that. It is a mammoth challenge which requires us to find new ways to come together and dialogue together. As I said at the recent Trócaire lecture, solving the problems of the future is all about collaboration rather than competition. It is about together discerning collective wisdom. Perhaps a new vision of Christianity rooted in St.Patrick’s Trinitarian God – a three-in-one God, ‘persons in community’ – could point us in the right direction.
What better country than the emerald isle to lead the way in going green for real. What’s stopping us!

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