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“Equity, sustainability, dignity”: a proposal for a tripartite post-2015 motto

By Kristof Decoster
on April 11, 2015

I’ve been thinking a bit lately on how the post-2015 sustainable development (SDG) agenda could be promoted so that all people in the world would recognize it as their common agenda. I’ve come to the conclusion that, on top of a number of clear and hopefully measurable goals, targets and indicators, for an agenda as broad as this one, we also need three words that capture the spirit.

As you remember, the French revolution in 1789 had  ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’ as a motto for the crowds in the streets, or at least as the motto that survived the ages. There’s no question that the current global challenges and the transition to a low-carbon economy and a juster  society will require changes at least as huge as what occurred in Europe in the decades after the French revolution. We need again a motto that unifies people, rather than opposes them – even if there’s a lot of truth in the 99 % vs the (0.0)1 %.

Personally, I’m in favour of ‘equity, sustainability, dignity’ as overriding post-2015 rallying call. There might be other good (and perhaps better) suggestions. Anyhow,  I think it’s worth exploring which three values would make a great post-2015 mantra.

In global health, ‘health equity’ is what drives us all,  and it is obvious that equity is key in many other SDG areas as well. So not much explanation needed here. As the world is increasingly interconnected, it’s clear that it’s become an imperative as well, if we care about social cohesion on this planet.

As for ‘sustainability’, if there’s one thing the world needs to change, as compared to 20th century thinking and economic discourse, it’s that our societies, economies and citizens have to find a way to flourish without further jeopardizing planetary boundaries.  Our ‘freedom’ is never going to be boundless anymore – if it ever was. We only have one home, as astronauts realized when they came back from the moon.

Jonathan Glennie already explained very eloquently why ‘dignity’ needs to be at the heart of the SDG agenda.  I fully agree with him. All of us, in the South and in the North, men and women, of all ages, want to live a life in dignity. When such a life is not possible, or no longer possible, for whichever reason, the world should try everything to restore dignity. If we fail, as a global community,  you shouldn’t be surprised that people get furious and take action, the action taken by desperate people. At least if they still have the strength for it.

There might be other values to include in a tripartite motto for the post-2015 era – like solidarity, rights, security… – but these three already seem to capture the essence of an ambitious SDG agenda, going beyond the lowest common denominator.

Finally, let’s not forget, ‘identity’  will remain key as well, post-2015 – both in a good and bad way (as we can see in the headlines on a near daily basis). People care about their identity, all around the world, and will always do so. They don’t want to see it trampled or jeopardized, whether by globalization, invasion by a foreign army, in civil war, or in more personal experiences.

As for the latter, it’s only human to be attached to all sorts of things, whether it’s beauty, power, youth, physical strength, a sharp intellect, …. These then become part of one’s identity, whether one likes it or not. It’s extremely difficult to let go of these parts of identity, even if one has to, whether it’s old people feeling that their intellectual  and cognitive abilities fade, slowly but mercilessly, somebody suddenly becoming disabled in a car accident, a woman losing some of her beauty and youth (and hating it), a man losing physical strength and vitality, …  (allow me a few stereotypes). For many of us, these experiences cut deep. In a way, as we are all social beings, to some extent these identity elements are part of a life in dignity, rightly or wrongly. Often, people have to find a new balance and reconstruct their identity. Many of us fail.

It would be good, in a post-2015 era with ‘equity, sustainability, dignity’ as inspiring and overarching values, to keep in mind how important identity will always be for human beings, at all levels – personal, and beyond. And that nothing lasts forever.

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