ODA and SDGs

The High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda today released “A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development,” a report which sets out a universal agenda to eradicate extreme poverty from the face of the earth by 2030, and deliver on the promise of sustainable development.

The Panel was established by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and is co-chaired by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

One paragraph in the summary struck me in particular, as it emphasises climate change as a key factor in development:   “Above all, there is one trend – climate change – which will determine whether or not we can deliver on our ambitions. Scientific evidence of the direct threat from climate change has mounted. The stresses of unsustainable production and consumption patterns have become clear, in areas like deforestation, water scarcity, food waste, and high carbon emissions. Losses from natural disasters–including drought, floods, and storms – have increased at an alarming rate. People living in poverty will suffer first and worst from climate change. The cost of taking action now will be much less than the cost of dealing with the consequences later

The panel decided that the post-2015 agenda will be driven by five big, transformative shifts:

1. Leave no one behind. We must keep faith with the original promise of the MDGs, and now finish the job. After 2015 we should move from reducing to ending extreme poverty, in all its forms.

2. Put sustainable development at the core. We must act now to halt the alarming pace of climate change and environmental degradation, which pose unprecedented threats to humanity. We must bring about more social inclusion.

3. Transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth. We call for a quantum leap forward in economic opportunities and a profound economic transformation to end extreme poverty and improve livelihoods.

4. Build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all. We are calling for a fundamental shift – to recognize peace and good governance as core elements of wellbeing, not optional extras.

5. Forge a new global partnership. Perhaps the most important transformative shift is towards a new spirit of solidarity, cooperation, and mutual accountability that must underpin the post-2015 agenda.

All this requires money, and this reminded me that a few days ago, I read in the Dutch news that former Minister for Development Cooperation, Jan Pronk resigned from the Dutch Labour Party (PVDA), in protest of the Dutch government decision to slash its development cooperation budget. As a result of his influence when he was minister in 1975, The Netherlands is only one of the five countries that have consistently exceeded the UN target of 0.7%GNP, together with Denmark, Luxemburg, Norway and Sweden. Since 2010, the development cooperation budget has been reduced significantly and the latest budget cuts may reduce it further to below 0.7% in 2013 and down to 0,55%GNP in 2017.

The Netherlands is not the only country that is reviewing its development cooperation. The OECD reports that overall development assistance fell by 4% in real terms in 2012, following a 2% fall in 2011. The projections for 2013 are not any better.

How are we going to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals if there is no money to pay for it?


Alien Bluebells

When I gave the Bristol University Convocation Lecture last week, my friends to took me for a walk in Leigh Woods Nature Reserve near Bristol. What a stunning sight it was to see the floor of the wood covered in bluebells.

Bluebells in Leigh Woods.  Photo from www.abbotsleigh.org.uk

Bluebells in Leigh Woods. Photo from http://www.abbotsleigh.org.uk

The common bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta ) is often associated with ancient woodland where it may produce carpets of violet–blue flowers in the month of May. The bluebell is particularly prevalent in the UK, where it is a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Landowners are prohibited from removing common bluebells on their land for sale and it is a criminal offence to remove the bulbs of wild common bluebell.

Bluebells in Leigh Woods.  Photo from avonbirding.blogspot.com

Bluebells in Leigh Woods. Photo from avonbirding.blogspot.com

A recent report in the Guardian talks about the risk to the native bluebell flower and its battle with an alien invasive species, Hyacinthoides hispanica, or the Spanish bluebell. The Spanish bluebell has cross-pollinated with the native flower to produce an extremely aggressive hybrid which is spreading rapidly and is taking over the native bluebell patches.

This story turned out to be very timely, as I talked about the increasing risk of Invasive Alien Species and the plans to introduce EU legislation during my lecture. I highlighted the problems we have with floating pennywort, Japanese knotweed and zebra mussels, but I had no idea that the bluebell is also threatened by an imposter!

Why are we worried about this threat? One reason is the cost! The Brussels-based Institute for European Environmental Policy estimates that management and control measures of Invasive Alien Species in Europe amounts to at least 12 billion Euro per year, but it could be a lot more. That is a significant amount of money which could have been used for better purposes if we had tackled the issue earlier.

Where have all the flowers gone

Did you know that the mountains above Montreux in Switzerland are one of the natural habitats of wild narcissus – the white variety of the daffodil ? In fact, from 1897 to 1957, there used to be an annual narcissus parade and festival in Montreux to celebrate the blooming of the spring flowers.


The “Association pour la sauvegarde et la promotion des narcisses de la Riviera“ (roughly translated as the association for the protection and promotion of the daffodils along the Swiss Riviera) is trying to maintain and restore fields of the flowers.

One of the areas where you can see the flowers is near Les Avants, north of Montreux, and as this is the time of the year, I went with my wife and friends to find the flowers. What surprise when we reached a field with a sign that says the farmer is supporting the protection of the daffodil, but which was cleared of grass and flowers. Why would he have done that? Answers on a postcard, please.


We did see fields of daffodils a little further down the road, and it is a truly magnificent sight. I hope the Association can maintain the practice of keeping the flowers in bloom, and convince the farmers not to mow the grass too early!


How to make international agreements more effective?

The world has created a number of international bio-diversity related Conventions, as a means to control degradation of the global natural environment.  During recent discussions, the question was asked how some of these so-called Multilateral Environmental Agreements could be made more effective. The challenge is how to make the obligations of the Conventions stick at national level, as all international agreements have to respect the sovereignty of individual nations.

When countries ratify a Convention, one of the commitments is to implement in their national laws the obligations that they have under the international agreement. In reality, proper enforcement under national laws is often lacking, and there are no real penalties for non-compliance.

For example, a country that has ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), but that does not protect its species will not be charged a large amount of money to compensate for the damage. Nor are there other real sanctions, apart from “name and shame”. All the Secretariat of the CBD can do is to write a letter of complaint to the Head of State of the affected country.

The situation is slightly different for those international agreements that encourage parties to the convention to nominate specific areas for protection. If countries endanger a global heritage site protected under the World Heritage Convention, the area may be listed as a “site in danger” and eventually be taken off the record as penalty for non-compliance. However, any compensation for the destruction of the site is up to the discretion of the country, and there are no penalties for not doing so.


The Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild fauna and Flora (CITES) can impose trade restrictions on parties that do not fulfil their international obligations. This is serious as CITES estimates that the regulated global wildlife trade is between USD350m and USD530m per year.  But critics argue that the multibillion-dollar illegal trade in wildlife is a growing problem, and a big reason is nations’ failure to enact stiff penalties for traffickers or enforce wildlife laws already on the books.

It is great to have a range of international nature conservation agreements, but if we want to get serious about biodiversity conservation, breaking the rules should be punished – one way or another. Don’t you think so?

What meaningful sanctions should nations agree on, to encourage compliance to the international conventions?