Principal's Lecture: Sustainability

London A46

For our fourth Principal's Lecture of this academic year, Hugo Gorst-Williams visited MPW to deliver a lecture entitled “Negotiating the new Sustainable Development Goals: How the Goals were made – and what comes next?”

The MPW library rapidly filled to bursting with both A level and IFP Economics students as we all eagerly anticipated Hugo Gorst-Williams’s talk on the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These SDGs were agreed in September last year to take over from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and it is hoped as many as possible will be achieved by 2030.  There are 17 of these global goals and each has specific targets, making a bewildering ‘wish list’ of 169 targets in all for a sustainable future world. This topic is on the syllabus but is difficult to grasp as the targets often appear vague. For example, how does one get a handle on Goal 4: “Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning?” Or Goal 12: “Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”?

We were all hoping that Gorst-Williams would be able to give us a clearer understanding of, perhaps even some sympathy for, what they are attempting to achieve (other than well-paid careers for those in the development business, as some cynics might suggest).

We were certainly not disappointed by the evening: Gorst-Williams’s talk was outstanding. It explained how the SDGs had come about and how they were different because this time all countries actually participated in the process (which explains why the goals sometimes appear haphazard and un-thought-through). The MDGs, by contrast, had been ‘top-down’, with the rich countries dictating to the poor ones what they must do.

Hugo reduced everything to ‘4 Ps’ – people, planet, prosperity & peace. He told us that it was the Brits and the Department for International Development in particular who insisted in including peace as a specific aim: most other countries wanted the freedom to continue fighting their own battles rather than being forced to negotiate. He also told us lots of anecdotal stories about in-fighting within the UN and double standards. For example, I discovered that a poor country will only be considered for official aid if they guarantee that they will not subsidise their farmers – a case of ‘don’t do as we do, do as we say’.

Lots of students stayed behind to ask questions ‘off the record’ and that took much longer than the official talk itself. It made for a long evening for Hugo Gorst-Williams, but he did not seem to mind: he was as swept away by the students’ questions as we were by his enthusiasm and insider knowledge. I came away with the satisfaction that here was a topic I had previously rather dreaded but that I could now cross off my revision list.

Nikita Fedorov