Empty Chairs and Empty Promises?

Empty Chairs and Empty Promises?

Publication info

Tonya Rawe

Tonya Rawe is the Senior Advisor for Policy and Research, Food & Nutrition Security, CARE 

The Year for Policymakers to Deliver

Earlier this week, I sat in an eerily empty hall at UN headquarters, ahead of the next session of negotiations on the Sustainable Development Goals. This year, 2015, is a big year.

Nations are negotiating the next round of development goals, to follow the Millennium Development Goals. This new set of goals – the Sustainable Development Goals – will define the poverty-fighting agenda for the next fifteen years. In December, members of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change are expected to complete a new climate change agreement to tackle the crisis with nations’ commitments to a safe future that support the populations who are most vulnerable to climate impacts. These global processes are happening at a time when awareness is growing of the challenge we face.

Globally, over 805 million people are chronically hungry, and over 161 million children are stunted. Yet one-third of food produced is wasted or lost. Two-thirds of ecosystems are used unsustainably. One-fifth of cropland is already degraded, and 90 percent of fisheries are fished at capacity or are over-fished. Food systems don’t work for people or the planet.

Hundreds of millions of smallscale food producers live in poverty, struggle to feed their families, and do not have adequate access to the resources they need for productive, dignified livelihoods. For women, these challenges are greater: they have less access than men to productive resources; when food is scarce they are the last to eat. Yet they are key contributors to agriculture and food and nutrition security, and research shows that when incomes are in their hands, they reinvest in their family’s well-being.

At the same time, climate change is already negatively impacting agricultural production and people living in poverty. It’s projected that agricultural production could drop by 2 percent per decade for the rest of the century as a result of global warming. And in the next forty years, the growing season could decrease by 5 percent for nearly 300 million people.

CARE firmly believes that we cannot eradicate poverty, hunger, and malnutrition, ensure everyone’s right to food, and protect the planet without comprehensively addressing the problem. The focus on sustainability in the next generation of development goals is key: the promise of tomorrow will be empty without a healthy environment, without economic growth, without equality to enable all to benefit. CARE also welcomes the comprehensive nature of the goals. The goals reflect the interdependent nature of efforts to address hunger, protect ecosystems, deliver on improved health, ensure access to clean water, and realize gender equality.

But we cannot achieve any development goal if we do not tackle the climate crisis. The impacts of climate change are happening now and the impacts are worst for the people least responsible for climate change – people living in poverty. The agreement to be concluded at COP21 in December must include the ambition necessary – before 2020 and after – to avoid dangerous global warming. Action must reflect what science tells us is necessary. CARE calls for the agreement to promote strong adaptation practice that puts people living in poverty at the center of our efforts. And the agreement must ensure that the most vulnerable populations can access adequate, predictable, and new finance to adapt, to protect their livelihoods, to thrive in the face of impacts, and to move out of poverty.

The SDGs and UNFCCC together can deliver on the policies we need for a sustainable, equitable future for all. But as I sat in that empty negotiation hall, I wondered – will the result of the SDG and UNFCCC processes be just as empty? Or will policymakers of the world step up to the challenges we face?

This year is an opportunity for the global community to reshape the way forward – to pave a path of sustainability and equity that enables all people to live dignified lives and to enjoy and protect the resources of our planet. It’s time to fill the seats and fulfill the promises.