FAITH leaders from around the world met last week at a conference to commit to the new United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which are due to be adopted by UN member states next week in New York.
Twenty-four different traditions were represented at the Faith and Future Conference in Bristol. The new goals, which replace the previous Millennium Development Goals, include commitments on gender inequality, ending hunger and poverty, and reducing inequality.
The UN sees the involvement of faith communities in the goals as critical to their success: the debate at the Sustainable Development Summit in New York will be opened by Pope Francis.
The director of the post-2015 UN Development Programme, Paul Ladd, told Radio 4’s Sunday programme: “What the new goals reflect is that the world faces challenges that may have been around 15 years ago but which weren’t so prominent, like climate change, environmental degradation, growing inequalities. The new set of goals tries to bring all those things together.”
The secretary general of the UK-based Alliance of Religions and Conservation, Martin Palmer, said that sustainable development was not a new idea to faith communities: “They have been working on many aspects of the SDGs for centuries, whether that’s feeding millions of people, caring for them through schools, managing the land, or simply seeking to be a compassionate presence. . .
“For the faiths, it is very important that our contribution has been recognised; we are being asked to help, and we are also being challenged to live up to our own words.”
Faith leaders agreed a set of action plans, including pledges to develop micro credit-schemes for the poor, increase access to education, plant trees, invest in clean energy, and green pilgrimage.
The Prime Minister will sign up the UK to the SDGs. The Fairtrade Foundation, however, has accused the Government of “policy incoherence” in backing an EU reform that will threaten the livelihoods of sugar-cane farmers in developing countries.
The reform will remove limits on EU beet-sugar production. In countries such as Swaziland, about 40 per cent of its sugar is exported to Europe for sale, and the Foundation has calculated that it, and neighbouring Mozambique, could lose more than £26 million from the trade reform.
The chief executive of Fairtrade, Michael Gidney, said: “Trade is a powerful way to lift poor countries out of poverty. . . The SDGs are a unique opportunity to initiate fairer, more sustainable trade.”