At every level we are responsibleIn 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to facilitate global development and prosperity, and came up with a number of targets and indicators to help meet the goals by 2030.
In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to facilitate global development and prosperity, and came up with a number of targets and indicators to help meet the goals by 2030. After consideration of the Millennium Development Goals and various international treaties and conventions, the General Assembly adopted 17 SDGs and 169 targets, along with several indicators under each target. Although the SDGs do not have goals and indicators specifically focusing on consumer rights, all the goals are in some way or the other related to protecting consumer rights. In fact, the SDGs cannot be achieved without ensuring consumer rights.
Foundation of life
Sustainable consumption and production are directly linked to fair markets and consumer welfare. Similarly, goals related to poverty alleviation, health and food security are closely connected to consumer rights.
All the people of our world are in one way or the other consumers of some goods and services. Any developmental process is closely connected with consumer concerns. Achieving the goal of sustainable consumption and production is impossible without establishing fair markets, raising consumers’ consciousness and protecting their interests in accordance with the principle of consumer rights. The United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection, which have set priorities and determined the kind of work necessary to address consumer concerns, will also help achieve the SDGs.
On the one hand, due to the lack of consumer awareness and absence of proper transport and storage facilities, more than 1.3 billion tons of foodstuffs are wasted every year. On the other hand, about 1 billion people lack adequate nutrition and another 1 billion suffer from starvation. At the same time, around 2 billion people worldwide suffer from obesity due to the consumption of excess calories. Consumer awareness and sustainable consumption and production have a major role to play in resolving such contradictions in food and nutrition security.
For example, proper consumption of electricity by using energy efficient bulbs can save as much as $120 billion every year. And while, on the one hand, less than 3 percent of the earth’s water is potable, on the other hand, water pollution is increasing every day. Ensuring access to clean drinking water for all requires sustainable use of water sources. If we consider our current way of life and the rate of population growth, by 2050 we will need two extra earth-like planets to sustain us. So, sustainable production and use of resources is the foundation of life for the upcoming generations.
SDG 12 aims at ensuring sustainable consumption and production by promoting natural resource management, building sustainable physical infrastructure and improving access to basic services. This goal cannot be met without incorporating various dimensions of consumer rights. The goal of ensuring sustainable consumption and production is guided by the principle of consumer rights that any activity in the name of economic development shouldn’t harm the environment or hurt the interests of consumers. To meet this goal, it is important to get rid of the unsustainable aspects of production and consumption and reduce the distance between producers and consumers by clamping down on black marketing and other forms of market irregularities. This requires the direct participation of consumers in policy-making, and programmes on consumer education to make them aware of product quality standards.
Without consumers’ awareness, consciousness and feelings of ownership, it is virtually impossible to meet the targets set by SDG 12 such as implementation of the 10-year plan on sustainable consumption and production, prudent consumption and sustainable management of natural resources, reduction by half in the wastage of foodstuffs during production, storage, transport and consumption by 2030, dissemination of right information about sustainable development, proper waste management, etc. As such, realising sustainable development goals requires effective initiatives towards consumer education and awareness, and a fair and consumer-friendly market system.
Citizen’s access to production and consumption is ensured in the fundamental rights and state’s policy in the Constitution of Nepal 2015. Although it is the government’s responsibility to implement the policies to ensure the rights enshrined in the constitution, it doesn’t look possible without the pressure and support from the private sector and the civil society.
The state needs to formulate clear policies and laws on sustainable production and consumption, and create a regulatory agency to ensure their implementation. It should have unambiguous indicators to monitor the work of the private sector and consumer bodies. But this work remains to be done.
Certain tasks like waste management have to be delegated to consumer bodies or civil organisations like mothers’ groups at the local level.
The local level has to be given the responsibility to manage the waste it generates.
Baniya is the chair of the Forum for Protection of Consumers’ Rights Nepal; this article is part of the weekly series on SDGs