New Balkans Sustainability and the Post-2015 Development Agenda

Submitted by Arthur Dahl on 30. October 2013 - 21:24
Dahl, Arthur Lyon

European Center for Peace and Development
Ninth ECPD International Conference
Belgrade, 11-12 October 2013

New Balkans Sustainability and the Post-2015 Development Agenda

Arthur Lyon Dahl
International Environment Forum
Geneva, Switzerland

Two themes particularly preoccupying the world today are development and sustainability. For those countries with high levels of poverty and youth unemployment, unable to provide much of their population with even a moderate level of economic security and well-being, economic development is an urgent priority. Yet, as human population growth, resource consumption and pollution hit planetary boundaries and climate change accelerates, our present material civilization seems increasingly unsustainable, threatening to slow or even reverse the progress made in development. Following the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), or Rio+20, in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012, and with the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015, the international community has launched a vast debate on the priorities and directions for a Post-2015 Agenda. This paper will describe this process and explore the implications of this on-going debate for the New Balkans and its sustainability.


Already in the lead up to Rio+20, new levels of participation were added to the traditional intergovernmental negotiations by diplomats. The bureau of the UNCSD invited inputs to the zero draft of the negotiating text over the Internet from both governments and civil society. The Brazilian government also hosted Sustainable Development Dialogues on different conference themes, first on the Internet, and then at the conference itself, with voting to determine the most popular contributions. Since Rio+20, the levels of participation in preparing the post-2015 agenda have been unprecedented.

A number of high level reports have been prepared through different processes, including: “Powerful Synergies: Gender Equality, Economic Development and Environmental Sustainability” (UNDP 2012); “The Global Conversation Begins: Emerging Views for a New Development Agenda” (UN Development Group. 2013a); “A Million Voices: The World We Want: A Sustainable Future with Dignity for All” (UN Development Group 2013b); "Realizing the Future We Want for All: Report to the UN Secretary-General" (UN System Task Team, 2012); “A life of dignity for all: accelerating progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and advancing the United Nations development agenda beyond 2015" (UN Secretary-General 2013); “A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development” (High-Level Panel on Post-2015 Development Agenda, 2013); “Corporate Sustainability and the United Nations Post-2015 Development Agenda: Perspectives from UN Global Compact Participants on Global Priorities and How to Engage Business Towards Sustainable Development Goals” (UN Global Compact, 2013); “An Action Agenda for Sustainable Development: Report for the UN Secretary-General” (Sustainable Development Solutions Network, 2013); “Breaking Down the Silos: Integrating Environmental Sustainability in the Post-2015 Agenda” (UNDP/UNEP, 2013); and “Post-2015: Global action for an Inclusive and Sustainable Future” (European Report on Development. 2013).

There have been numerous opportunities for consultations on the internet with civil society, both on different themes coordinated by parts of the UN system, and to comment on the high level reports mentioned above. The various organizations of the UN System organized thematic consultations on post-2015 development agenda, including: Conflict, Violence and Disaster; Education; Energy; Environmental Sustainability; Food Security and Nutrition; Governance; Growth and Employment; Health; Inequality; Population; and Water ( The UN Regional Economic Commissions have all held regional meetings and produced reports. These efforts culminated in the UN General Assembly Special Event in September 2013, and the first meeting of the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (replacing the Commission on Sustainable Development). However the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (co-chaired by the UN Ambassadors from Hungary and Kenya) will continue its work into 2014. The process of building consensus among governments in the UN system is never easy.


The success of the Millennium Development Goals in mobilizing and focusing international efforts to reduce poverty (UN, 2013) has encouraged governments not only to extend the goals with new targets beyond 2015, but also to expand the scope to include Sustainable Development Goals that will apply to all countries, with similar time-bound targets and indicators, as agreed at Rio+20.

There is also an increasing recognition that the human and natural systems of the planet are interconnected in complex ways, and that the new tools of systems science and complexity make it possible to consider the behaviour of the whole planetary system in a new more integrated perspective (Dahl 1996). The traditional approach to consider each component of society as a separate specialty or domain, or the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainability as separate “pillars”, has not led to effective management. The “silos” of our present society need to be broken down with more coherent and integrated approaches. Even traditional economics, which has failed to provide adequate guidance during the recent financial and economic crises, must rethink its paradigms in the context of complex systems (Beinhocker 2006).

One particularly notable evolution in thinking is the recognition that development is not just about the economy, measured with economic statistics, but more about human well-being and happiness. This started with the government of Bhutan, which more than 20 years ago began defining Gross National Happiness as a better reflection of their cultural and spiritual values, leading today to robust indicators of the many dimensions of their society that they want to preserve and develop (Ura et al. 2012). In contrast, the consumer society supporting the global economy is not only unsustainable, but is not increasing human prosperity (Bahá'í International Community 2010). Today, the UN Statistical Commission is considering indicators of well-being and happiness, OECD has produced guidelines, and a number of countries are preparing their own national indicators. The second edition of the World Happiness Report 2013 has recently been released, including an expanded discussion of what happiness is to include the satisfaction that comes from leading a virtuous life (Helliwell et al. 2013). This emergence of the ethical or spiritual dimension of human society shows that it is the principles and values underlying each nation and culture that provide the ground rules for the construction of communities and institutions. Societies with a strong set of values do not need the same heavy mechanisms in systems of justice and police. Including values like justice and sustainability in education and reflecting and measuring them with indicators will help all countries to implement their goals for sustainability (Burford et al. 2013; Dahl 2013a, 2013b, 2013c).


The evolving consensus among all the reports and processes described above has been summarized by a senior UN official as follows:

- achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015;
- a universal agenda with global goals, yet adaptable targets for different contexts;
- the eradication of poverty;
- sustainable development at the core, with a planet-sensitive agenda;
- ambition, taking on the tough challenges in goals and targets;
- these challenges go beyond the MDGs and include inequality and exclusion, poor governance, conflict and violence, and climate change;
- the agenda must be built on foundations of human rights, sustainability, equality, and universality as core values;
- inclusive economic growth and job creation;
- an expanded and re-energized global partnership with the private sector and civil society;
- the continued crucial role of development aid, but a need to mobilize broader public and private, international and domestic financing;
- shared responsibilities and means of implementation for all countries, based on levels of development;
- a robust accountability framework, including a disaggregated target and indicator system to address inequality and introduce social accountability approaches;
- the proposed “illustrative” goals and targets in the different reports go broadly in the same direction (Kjorven 2013).


The international discussion around Rio+20 and the replacement of the Millennium Development Goals which expire in 2015 is leading to a broadened definition of sustainable development. Sustainability is no longer seen as largely confined to environmental sustainability, and development must include much more than simply material development or the development of the economy as measured by GDP and other economic indicators. Even environmental sustainability is taking on new dimensions as science defines the planetary boundaries more clearly (Rockstrom et al. 2009) and the severe social and economic impacts of climate change are recognized as serious threats to the economy and human well-being (Whiteman et al. 2013).

The new Balkans are thus taking form in a global context that is itself changing very rapidly and re-defining the responsibilities that governments, businesses and civil society must face as they work for the good of their countries and their citizens. The Sustainable Development Goals now being negotiated will become the new international standard by which the performance of all countries will be judged. There will be global goals set by the world community, even if the targets will be adapted to different country contexts. The Balkan states will presumably set their own targets, but there will be obvious comparisons between the states of the region which all share a common context, and thus a healthy competition between countries on their performance.

While the final content of the Sustainable Development Goals has still to be agreed, the following are some of the potential implications for the New Balkans.

There is a strong call for the elimination of poverty around the world. This will require both policies to empower all people to find a constructive place in society, and mechanisms for better distribution of wealth, reversing the present trend to the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. It should be a responsibility of society to ensure universal employment, and to overcome present challenges of inequality and exclusion.

Sustainability, with its dimensions of respecting planetary boundaries, efficient use of limited resources, closed materials cycles, reduction of waste and pollution, and the transition to renewable energy sources, should be at the core of every national development policy. This means considering the long-term perspective, and not only immediate economic or political benefits.

The recognition of the fundamental importance of good governance to development and social well-being highlights the challenges in the Balkans to reduce corruption and to establish democratic and effective mechanisms of government.

Conflict and violence are the reverse of development, undoing progress and setting nations back while producing enormous human suffering. This is only too clear in the recent history of the Balkans, requiring even stronger efforts at political and ethnic reconciliation, religious tolerance and the strengthening of human security in the region.

Climate change is becoming an immediate threat to agriculture and food security, water supplies, energy, and trade, and will generate increasing numbers of displaced persons and losses from natural disasters. Increased efforts both to mitigate global warming by a reduction in fossil fuel use, and to adapt to the inevitable changes already set in motion, can no longer be ignored. Disaster risk reduction needs to be addressed in this context.

Increased attention is also needed to the ethical dimension and the core values of sustainability: human rights, equality, universality, justice.

All of this needs to be supported by mechanisms for accountability, including indicators for each of the dimensions mentioned above, disaggregated to address inequality and social disparities.


As the world community moves towards consensus on Sustainable Development Goals in support of the post-2015 global agenda, the New Balkans can use this process to address their own weaknesses, adopt measures for accountability, and orient their development towards increasing economic, social and environmental sustainability.


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Last updated 26 October 2013