28 February, 2017

Indigenous Peoples Major Group Statement on the role of SDGs

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Statement delivered at the high level segment of the HLPF 2015 on "changing approaches to policy making: the role of the SDGs"

Delivered by Galina Angarova, Tebtebba Foundation
30 June 2015, UN, New York


Dear excellencies, representatives of member states, UN agencies, major groups,


My name is Galina Angarova and I am here as the representative of Tebtebba Foundation, an indigenous rights and education center and a Global Organizing Partner for the Indigenous Peoples Major Group to respond on the issue of integration of SDGs on all levels. I consider this to be an extremely important topic and thank the office of the ECOSOC President as well as UN DESA who have given me the opportunity to provide my comments on this issue.

I would like to speak on several points regarding the SDGs integration:

First and foremost, I would like to send a message to everyone who has been and will be engaged in the formulation and the implementation of the SDGs, that it is necessary to check your ideas and aspirations about sustainable development against the reality. It's important to sometimes go from the abstract and conceptual levels to the levels of real people. Sitting in New York and philosophizing what the world should be without really experiencing the world, without knowing what lack of access to appropriate nutrition and clean water and air means, how it feels to be a second class citizen just because you have a different skin color or because you are a woman or because you are underaged.

Imagine that you are a young indigenous woman living in poverty in some rural area without access to education, basic health service and clean water and proper nutrition. The scariest fact is that this is not a hypothetical situation and people face multiple discrimination based on their gender, age, ethnic origin and what not and such situations can only be resolved in a holistic manner. Every action and every program undertaken in the name of sustainable development needs to be assessed and implemented with full integration of social, environmental and economic dimensions. The UN agencies and national governments need to set necessary benchmarks and requirements for their programs that provide full integration of all three dimensions. The projects have to go through some degree of scrutiny that analyzes if these projects are environmentally safe, socially just and economically feasible.

Secondly, I would like to highlight the role of traditional knowledge in the context of SDGs. The Global Sustainable Development Report presented here as a basis of discussion, although very important, presents a one -dimensional view, from the point of view of science. It was mentioned yesterday during one of panels that science should present an integrated voice, but I think we should go even further – create an integrated voice of science and traditional knowledge. Traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples is millennial experiential knowledge based on the intimate relationship with their environment. It can be found in agricultural practices, land management, sustainable water use, engineering, architecture, medicine, food, seed banking, and etc.

I believe that we need to not only support scientific research but promote effective sharing of information, knowledge, and research and combine local, traditional, and western science perspectives. We need to understand linkages b/n climate and land, water and people, biodiversity and traditional livelihoods. We have to use local knowledge and experience to identify strategies that would move us forward to the implementation of SDGs from local to regional, from regional to national, and from national to global levels.

As an indigenous person, I would also like to make one very important point that is true for all native people around the world. There is a lesson to be learned from indigenous peoples cosmovision. For Indigenous Peoples life is hard to dissect into silos, one has to embrace all aspects of life so that human rights becomes inseparable from food security, or climate change from education for example. These are all pieces that here in the Western world we are used to relate to and work on separately, however, in indigenous communities all issues are closely integrated and failure in one aspect of life leads to the collapse of the entire system.

My third point is a reflection on chapter 2 of the Global Sustainable Development Report:

The Indigenous Peoples Major Group supports some of the findings of them scientific community presented in the report which notes that although “the SDGs offered major improvements on the MDGs, it also pointed out the absence of scenario-based pathways towards the SDGs, and noted that “the level of integration is far lower than justified from a science perspective”.

The report recommends 3 solutions for integration within and across SDGs:

The first recommendation is the formulating an overarching goal can help communicating the SDGs to a wider public – to create “a prosperous, high quality life that is equitably shared and sustainable” which highlights the need for new integrated economic metrics of progress beyond GDP and beyond the Human Development Index and other established aggregate indices.

We agree with this approach. Furthermore, we would like to stress the importance of having a universal mission for our mutual endeavor and have a clear understanding why we are doing this. The Indigenous Peoples Major Groups have stressed on numerous occasions that we need to fully integrate the measure of well-being and align SDGs and targets in a way that support human well-being from all three dimensions of SD. This is why, for example, we have from the very beginning opposed a target under poverty eradication 1.1 by 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day.

Most indigenous peoples rely on non-monetary forms of income such as subsistence resources from hunting, gathering, pastoralism, and small scale agriculture and farming, which make up to 90% of IP livelihoods. Our concern is that the monetary measure of poverty can contribute to impoverishing Indigenous Peoples. For example, if a large agro business comes to indigenous territories, removing IP lands and resources, and IP communities are left with nothing but a choice to work for $3 a day for this business. On paper, they are meeting the SDG goal of eradicating poverty. In reality, they are taking away IPs' livelihoods and pushing people into poverty. Thus, the concept and measure of well-being should be the corner stone of SDG implementation.

The second recommendation of the report proposes a way to overcome the silo-ed approach by providing a composite framework to link interdependent targets that span different goals. While SDGs are presented as 17 separate elements, it is clear from the systems approach that goal areas overlap and it would be highly inefficient to pursue implementation on a goal by goal basis. Therefore, it's extremely important to identify trade offs and synergies among different targets as well as potential clashes and inconsistencies that might occur within targets when one target is achieved at the expense of the other. The report itself gives a great example of a potential clash of targets such as achieving economic growth which can lead to increasing pollution which would undermine some of the targets on health, water, and marine resources. We have to carefully examine each of the targets and their interlinkages and approach every decision on implementation having in mind all three dimensions of SD.

For example, we currently have 1.3 billion people around the world with no access to electricity. How are we going to achieve the goal of providing these people with energy without building large infrastructure, further contributing to climate change, displacing and impoverishing indigenous peoples and local communities, and violating human rights. How do we make this right? The only right way is to provide these people with safe, affordable, distributed and decentralized energy coming from renewable resources with all appropriate safeguards and mechanisms in place that check against stringent environmental, social and economic standards.

The third recommendation of the report proposes the development of scenario-based stories (or “narratives”) of alternative pathways toward the SDGs. The report proposes creation of a UN SDG modellers forum to be held in conjunction with the High-level Political Forum. Such a forum could promote exchange of experiences among all interested SDG modellers and with decision-makers, from national to global scale. The only suggestion I would like to add here is that a forum like this should be open not only modellers from the scientific community and policy makers but also other types of knowledge holders such as indigenous peoples who holders of traditional knowledge.

Finally, in relation to modalities, structure, and integrating SDGs and the three dimensions of sustainable development, at national, regional and international levels as well as the role of the HLPF in fostering policy coherence, I would like to point out that it's critical that the HLPF guarantees a meaningful and effective participation of Major Groups and other stakeholders in the implementation of SDGs on all levels. Additionally, Each UN-region should establish mechanisms for peer review, drawing on existing structures. These reviews should be comprehensive and transparent in their coverage of the Sustainable Development agenda - encompassing all SDGs, and their accompanying targets and means of implementation.

Finally, it would be fundamental to strengthen the mandate and the capacity of the HLPF by establishing an appropriate bureau consisting of Member States and representatives of major groups and other stakeholders for their guidance and political support, and a highly-skilled secretariat with enough resources and a clear structure to achieve all ambitions.

In conclusion, I would like to say that our planet is not only the stock pot of natural resources, it is a territory of human lives, cultures and peoples who managed to create and sustain their day-to-day life, own system of management, values which align with their natural environment. The world does not tolerate temporary solutions, people and approach. Investment into human dimension, development of human potential, education, health alongside with economic investment will guarantee long-term, innovative and sustainable development.