Shifting Power to Protect People and Planet

Last year, the world agreed an important to-do list for humanity. The Sustainable Development Goals set out a vision to end poverty by 2030, to turn the tide on soaring levels of inequality and to accelerate the transition to a world run on safe, renewable energy. However, these goals - like too many agreed by government summits before - will not be met unless the next 15 years sees a fundamental shift in the distribution of power. Nothing less will be required to deliver prosperity for all while staying within the ecological limits nature sets us. A redistribution of political and economic power is a precondition for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.


Dalberg, a global development platform, asked thought leaders from around the world to make 17 Big Bets about our world in 2030. Our big bet is that we can shift power to protect people and planet effectively by 2030.

We are optimistic because the work to get us there has already started. Across the world, citizens are joining together and raising their voices for a fair and sustainable future. Over the last year, the Keystone XL pipeline was cancelled following pressure from a diverse coalition of citizens, farmers, Indigenous communities and others; Shell had to withdraw from the Alaskan Arctic in the face of people - from grannies, to investors to kayakers - opposing drilling for more oil than our climate can handle; China´s use of coal, meanwhile, has gone into decline.

This encourages us. But to enable a just development path, we need more fundamental changes than just switching from fossil fuels to renewable sources. Governments must agree rules that secure the public good. They must empower public institutions to deliver and enforce these rules. That means changing some fundamentals in the way we govern our planet, including how our global institutions and regulations work.

As a start, we need to give real power to global bodies dealing with social welfare and environmental protection, we need to end corporate trade deals and we need to regulate the global financial industry.

Governments, to put us on the right track, must end the global impunity of the corporate sector. Corporate accountability and liability should extend to all impacts on people and the environment around the world. If corporations cause harm, they need to incur a real cost. A binding global instrument that ensures full liability for any social or environmental damage must be a high priority if we are to achieve human-centred development by 2030.

Sustainability and justice can simply not become a reality in a world in which short-term bets by financial markets prevail. Strong controls of financial markets are an essential first step. New fiscal instruments such as a financial transaction tax need to be agreed to slow harmful speculation and deliver much needed finance for development and environmental protection.

At the national level, we need to reawaken democracy and ensure that politics sets the rules for business, not vice versa. In the United States, for example, this implies immediate measures to reduce the influence of corporate money in elections and protecting voter's rights.

We realize our bet that governments will govern for people and planet will seem impossible and idealistic to many. But just as (formal) civil rights were delivered and Apartheid ended, we believe that governance for people and planet will be achieved if enough people around the world stand up and demand it. Robert Hunter, one of the founders of Greenpeace, once observed that "big change looks impossible when you start, and inevitable when you finish". So let´s get to work!

You can read our full bet in the 17 Big Bets for a Better Future book. Other contributors include Noble Peace prize winner Kailash Satyarthi, the Head of the UN General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft, former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and one the architects of the Sustainable Development Goals, the current Environment Minister of Nigeria, Amina J. Mohammed.

Annie Leonard is the Executive Director of Greenpeace USA and the author of The Story of Stuff, an online film that has been watched over 40 million times around the world.

Daniel Mittler is the Political Director of Greenpeace International.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post to mark the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, or, officially, "Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development"). The SDGs represent an historic agreement -- a wide-ranging roadmap to sustainability covering 17 goals and 169 targets -- but stakeholders must also be held accountable for their commitments. To see all the posts in the series, visit here.