Aura Silva ’18 and economics professor Davis Taylor present their work on sustainable development at COA's Human Ecology Forum Jan. 19.Aura Silva ’18 and economics professor Davis Taylor present their work on sustainable development at COA's Human Ecology Forum Jan. 19.

The new year ushers in the official launch of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by world leaders last September at the United Nations. The new Agenda calls on countries to begin efforts to achieve 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) over the next 15 years.

“The SDGs represent a homogenizing, and arguably even hegemonic, version of sustainable development” - Aura Silva ’18

But while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has praised the SDGs as “a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success,” not all keeping a close eye on the issue are expressing such positive feedback.

At College of the Atlantic’s Human Ecology Forum on Tuesday, Jan. 19, student Aura Silva ’18 and economics professor Davis Taylor will present the results of their own study on the SDGs, which find that the UN’s goals leave much to be desired. The event begins at 4:10 p.m. in McCormick Lecture Hall and is free and open to the public.

An inadequate approach to development

“The SDGs represent a homogenizing, and arguably even hegemonic, version of sustainable development that inadequately reflects the complexity and multifaceted nature of humanity and the world,” Silva says. “Space must be created in the SDGs for differences in context, and that this can only achieved through the inclusion of less formulaic, more local, nuanced, and organic processes.”

Silva has followed the UN’s work on the SDGs since arriving at COA and has participated in some of the meetings during which they were developed. A paper which she wrote on the subject, in collaboration with Taylor, entitled “Global to Local: a participatory and inclusive approach to the Sustainable Development Goals,” was presented at the U.S. and Canadian Societies for Ecological Economics in October 2015. The paper takes a transdisciplinary approach, invoking political economy, anthropology, critical theory, and other perspectives to provide a detailed, practical critique of the SDGs.

A local approach produces better results

“Mainers too face large corporations, government agencies, and international organizations that want to ‘develop us,’ that are ‘here to help,’ and that have a singular vision of how best to do that. Our paper argues that a more local approach, based on local culture, local economic contours and diverse human needs, will produce better results for people,” Taylor says.

The Human Ecology Forum is a weekly speaker series based on the work of the academic community, which also draws on artists, poets, political and religious leaders from around the world. The forum is open to the public and meets Tuesdays at 4:10 during the school term in the McCormick Lecture Hall.