It's Time To Get Real On The Sustainable Development Goals

Co-authored by Jonas Freist-Held, UN-Habitat Youth Advisor for Europe

In Munich, important stakeholders of German and international development gathered to discuss the Agenda 2030. In a nutshell: Germany wants to play a leading role in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - and the youth will play a central role in Germany's Agenda 2030.

Thursday morning, Munich, in the plenary of the German Museum. Bono's grinning face appears on the screen. "Guten Morgen!", the front singer of U2 greets, "I am sending you a message from the future. It's 2030. I am happy to tell you: There's no more AIDS; Tuberculosis - kaputt, Malaria kaputt." "Our world in 2030" is the slogan of the Conference on the Future organized by the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). And so it is Bono, also activist and founder of ONE, that entertains the audience with the world he wants. "Germany plays a major role in making my wishes become true" he concludes.

Plenary session of the Conference on the Future.

Germany: An Extreme Developing Country
Prior to the conference, German Minister for International Cooperation and Development Gerd Müller, made a remarkable statement: "Germany", he said, "is an extreme developing country." What did he mean? In contrast to the prior eight Millennium Development Goals, the 17 SDGs don't only apply to the so-called developing countries but to all members of the United Nations. Germany is far from perfect. Just last week, for instance, a study by the Bertelsmann Foundation revealed that the number of children growing up in poverty has increased to 2.5 million in the last years. In terms of gender-equal economic participation and opportunities, Germany is only ranked 38th out of 142 countries worldwide. Burundi is 3rd, Malawi 12th and Ghana 13th. 32.2 percent of Germany's energy production comes from renewable sources - not bad in comparison to other OECD countries, but way too little to achieve the goals of the COP21 and SDG 13 on Climate Change. Brazil currently produces 73.5 percent of its energy consumption from renewables, Colombia 67.9 and Portugal 49.3.

Nevertheless, being one the world's biggest economies and richest countries, Germany has the power and money to play an important role in achieving the Agenda 2030. And one of the most important stakeholder groups is pushing the German government to pursue an ambitious agenda: the youth.

Youth Takeover
Prior to the conference and on invitation of the German government, 38 youth activists came together for a youth lab to discuss and negotiate about Germany's Agenda 2030. The activists represented a wide range of international, national and local organizations: Amnesty International, Commit e.V., German Association to the United Nations, NAJU, ONE, Plan International Germany, Plant for the Planet, UN Habitat Youth Advisory Board, UNICEF, German Red Cross and many more. The result: four policy claims in the categories poverty, prosperity, planet and peace.

Poverty is sexist!
We produce enough food to feed the world population of 7.4 billion. But still 795 million people suffer from hunger and mal-nourishment. In Germany, 18 million tons of food are thrown away every year - that are 313 kilograms per second! We have to rethink how food production is managed and how farmland is distributed. In this context: poverty is sexist. 90% of land is owned by men. If women would have equal access to resources as men, the number of undernourished people in the world could be reduced by 100-150 million. Thus, the German government should support women with microcredits and vocational training to found farms.

The IMF admitted it, Thomas Piketty wrote a bestseller about it and the Club of Rome emphasizes it in its new report: unregulated markets and economic inequality is poison for our societies. And it's increasing. "Our economic system has failed", Graeme Maxton, Secretary General of the Club of Rome, argues during his speech at the "Conference on the Future". As the wealth gap widens and widens - in 2010, 388 people possessed 50 percent of global wealth, today only 62 people come up for the same share - policy makers struggle to impose a tax on high-frequency trading of stocks and securities - a risky, but often profitable business for the super-rich. As trickle-down economics have failed, a financial transaction fee of 0.2 percent could help create a global development fund that tackles socio-economic inequality through distribution. Germany should be its loudest advocate.

Act Local, Think Global
We are chronically consuming too much. And the way we consume in our globalized world has become unsustainable and a threat to our planet's future. Minister Müller warns: "We are the first generation that is capable of wiping out the life on our planet because of our lifestyle. But we are also the first generation that has the instruments to prevent that." If we act. South American economies such as Brazil, Argentina or Paraguay have become highly dependent on growing and exporting soy - for example to feed cattle in Europe. This has severe consequences for our planet and the local economy: food production for local markets has decreased. The destruction of the rain forests proceeds in a frightening speed, at the expense of the world's biodiversity. On top, large companies make small farmers disappear, destroying their livelihood. Instead of importing fodder from Latin America, European countries should use its fertile soil to produce it themselves. To achieve challenging objectives, you need disruptive policies: The European Union should forbid fodder imports.

In a video message German chancellor Angela Merkel announced that Germany will focus on making progress on the SDGs during its upcoming presidency of the G20. "Development politics have never been as modern and important as today," Peter Altmaier, Merkel's chief of staff and right hand ascertained looking into the faces of a diverse and equally interested audience in the German Museum in Munich. The political and societal climate in Germany allows the government to play a proactive role in preserving peace, fostering development and tackling humanitarian crises worldwide. The country is one of the biggest net contributors to the UN-budget. This is remarkable, but we should not take it for granted in times when nationalism, protectionism and isolationism are on the rise worldwide. To invest in the tolerance and empathy of future generations, the German school curriculum should entail mandatory projects on humanity.

Think Big
Realistic claims? Some more, some less. But if we want to be serious about achieving the SDGs, the goals of the COP21 and the objectives of the New Urban Agenda business as usual won't work. We need creative ideas. We need disruptive policies. And we need a (global) youth movement that pushes the policy makers of today to make visionary decisions.