Featured Author: Felix Dodds

Felix Dodds, co-author of Negotiating the Sustainable Development Goals is Routledge Environment & Sustainability's latest Featured Author. Read our interview to discover more about about his important new book.

"The 1990s were a lost decade. At times, it was as if we were at a party and now the next morning we have the hangover – and what a hangover!"

As someone who has been involved in intergovernmental negotiations from 1990 I felt that there were no books written by those who were actively engaged in the negotiations.

Most books are written by academies and so often miss a lot of why decisions were taken and the role that personalities take. The second reason was there being no set of books that told the global story of sustainable development. I decided to try and address both of these issues through a series of books.

This book is the final one in a trilogy of books that tell the global sustainable development story going back to the 1960s. Perhaps it will not be as popular as The Lord of the Rings Trilogy but I hope they give some great insights.

The first book was Only One Earth: The Long Road via Rio to Sustainable Development. It was written with Michael Strauss, one of the pioneering UN media experts for NGOs, and was contributed to by Maurice Strong, justifiably known as the father of sustainable development. I was very proud of the association with Maurice, who inspired a generation of policy makers and activists, myself included.

This book took the reader from the birth of the international environmental movement in the 1960s and the first UN Conference on Environment in Stockholm in 1972, through the ups and downs of sustainable development progress over 40 years. It included the ten-year review of Stockholm, the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, and the strange coincidence of key sustainable development negotiations occurring at the same time as the world's financial crises. It then identified the primary themes that the Rio+20 summit in 2012 needed to address.

The second book From Rio+20 to the New Development Agenda: Building a Bridge to a Sustainable Future written with Liz Thompson, the UN Assistant Secretary General for Rio+20 and Jorge Laguna Celis the chief Mexican negotiator for Rio+20 took the reader through the critical agendas that framed Rio+20 and what happened in the negotiations. It ended looking at the outcome and made predictions for what needed to be achieved through the development of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The final book the one just out is Negotiating the Sustainable Development Goals: A Transformation Agenda for an Insecure World written with the Irish Ambassador David Donoghue, who co-chaired the UN negotiations with the Kenyan Ambassador Macharia Kamau (who wrote one of the forewords to the book, the other one was by Mary Robinson the former Irish Presient), and Jimena Leiva Roesch who was the lead negotiator for the government of Guatemala (one of the original countries promoting the SDGs with Colombia). It covers the period from Rio+20 to the agreement of the SDGs and looks to the future and what might be the challenges the SDGs may face in implementation in the next 15 years.

Together these books off a great insight to the ups and downs of the past 40 years.

As I had worked on the two previous books I have an approach that seems to work when working with other co-authors. I would add that I really enjoy the chance to write with others, it enables a creative space where you can exchange ideas and perspectives. I believe the books are stronger for that.

I put together the draft structure for the book and then the three of us amended that and decided who would write different parts of the book. By the time we finished it was basically each of us writing a third of the book.

We had three very unique perspectives one of us had chaired the negotiations, another had been a negotiator for one of the two countries that developed the original idea of the SDGs, and the final one was me who had played a leading role in the non-governmental and other stakeholders engagement. In particular, I had chaired the UN Conference Sustainable Societies – Responsive Citizens which had been the first conference/event to come up with a set of SDGs and this was in September 2011.

Finally, when the three of us had finished our individual sections we spent a weekend in the Irish Mission to the UN rewriting each other’s sections and deciding which bits would stay in and which bits we needed to add. This was a similar approach to what I had done with Liz and Jorge for the previous book that time we holed up in the Mexican Mission for a weekend. 

I guess I would like the reader to realize how many people engaged in the development of the SDGs and what a huge achievement that was from a position in 2007 when sustainable development at the global level was dead. Perhaps also to realize that the leadership for this came from developing countries not developed countries.

Perhaps the major outcome from negotiating the Sustainable Development Goals is that the approach was the most open and transparent in the history of the UN. Stakeholder voices and views had ample space at the national, regional and global level to input to the development of the SDGs. This is in part why no stakeholder group criticized the final outcome and as such that was unique. The 17 Goals and 169 targets are for ALL countries and they address the root causes of the problems facing the world and that only together will we stand a chance of delivering them. The SDGs are also critical to delivering the Paris Climate Agreement and so the two global agreements need to be seen together as marching orders for all us. Perhaps the last point to make is that unlike the MDGs which were a silo approach at the center of the SDGs is the recognition that these goals and targets are interlinked you need to address them as an integrated package.

I would say the main misconception is that we have a lot of time to address these problems. If governments and stakeholders had addressed Agenda 21 the outcome from the 1992 Earth Summit, then we would not be having to address so many issues at the same time. The 1990s were a lost decade. At times, it was as if we were at a party and now the next morning we have the hangover – and what a hangover!

The next 15 years will see an additional billion people on the planet and a changing of the way of life in some key countries as they develop more and an increase of those living in cities to 60-70% of the world’s population. This will create huge problems.

By 2030 it is expected we will need an additional 40% more food than today and similar amounts of additional energy at the same time as we try to reduce fossil fuel use and very critically a shortfall of water of around 30%. Much of this could have been dealt with in the ‘lost decade’, now it puts the pressure on this generation and the solutions will need to be more dramatic. 

I have had two books out this year the other one The Water, Food, Energy and Climate Nexus. I edited the book with Jamie Bartram from the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina. It has a great foreword by Prince Charles. The book was based on the outcomes from the Chapel Hill Conference on the same subject which Jamie and I were co-directors of (2014). I hope we can organize a second conference on the subject. Ow we address this food-water-energy-climate nexus at the local level will be critical.

Also, coming out in November (21st) I have a comic, my first one, “Santa’s Green Christmas: Father Christmas Battles Climate Change”. I wrote it with Michael Strauss and the excellent art and coloring is by John Charles who has worked for Marvel and 2000AD. The comic is part of Comics Uniting Nations launched in 2015 at the New York Comic Convention by the UN Secretary General the comics cover different Sustainable Development Goals and we hope get to a different audience. The project as a whole is organized by UNICEF, PCI Media Impact and Reading through Pictures.

In 2010 I started a blog on sustainable development. The blog looks at sustainable development at the global level and has grown to over 25,000 hits a month. It has become very popular in the intergovernmental arena and I’m hoping it will continue to grow in readership.

To deliver the Sustainable Development Goals we need to work out how to finance them. It has been estimate that the costs are something between $3-5 trillion a year. This last year I also wrote a paper on “Sustainable Development Private Finance to Support the 2030 Agenda” with Steve Waygood and Stephanie Maier of AVIVA. Building on that I was also part of the informal expert group the President of the UN General Assembly set up for a report that the Brookings Institute produced for the 2016 High Level Segment of the UN General Assembly called “Links in the Chain of Sustainable Finance: Accelerating Private Investments for the SDGs, including Climate Action.” I hope in the next couple of years to do more work in this area.

Negotiating the Sustainable Development Goals: A transformational agenda for an insecure world

More books by Felix Dodds

  • The Water, Food, Energy and Climate Nexus

    Challenges and an agenda for action, 1st Edition

    Edited by Felix Dodds, Jamie Bartram

    Global trends of population growth, rising living standards and the rapidly increasing urbanized world are increasing the demand on water, food and energy. Added to this is the growing threat of climate change which will have huge impacts on water and food availability. It is increasingly…

    Paperback – 2016-04-13
    Earthscan Studies in Natural Resource Management

  • From Rio+20 to a New Development Agenda

    Building a Bridge to a Sustainable Future, 1st Edition

    By Felix Dodds, Jorge Laguna-Celis, Liz Thompson

    Twenty years after the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, "The Earth Summit", the Rio+20 conference in 2012 brought life back to sustainable development by putting it at the centre of a new global development partnership, one in which sustainable development is the basis for…

    Paperback – 2014-01-20

  • Only One Earth

    The Long Road via Rio to Sustainable Development, 1st Edition

    By Felix Dodds, Michael Strauss, with Maurice F. Strong

    Forty years after the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, the goal of sustainable development continues via the Rio+20 conference in 2012. This book will enable a broad readership to understand what has been achieved in the past forty years and what hasn’t. It shows the…

    Hardback – 2012-05-24

  • Biodiversity and Ecosystem Insecurity

    A Planet in Peril, 1st Edition

    Edited by Ahmed Djoghlaf, Felix Dodds

    Biodiversity and Ecosystem Insecurity provides an authoritative and comprehensive assessment of the threats presented to human security and well-being by the loss of ecosystems and biodiversity recently confirmed as one of the critical 'planetary boundaries' that has already been exceeded.…

    Paperback – 2011-04-22

  • Climate Change and Energy Insecurity

    The Challenge for Peace, Security and Development, 1st Edition

    Edited by Felix Dodds, Andrew Higham, Richard Sherman

    Climate change is now recognised as one of the greatest challenges facing the international community and when coupled with energy production and use - the most significant contributor to climate change - and the related security problems the double threat to international security and human…

    Paperback – 2009-10-23

  • Human and Environmental Security

    An Agenda for Change, 1st Edition

    Edited by Felix Dodds, Tim Pippard

    Security has tended to be seen as based on military force, yet this illusion is crumbling, literally and figuratively, before our eyes in the conflict zones of Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa. It is now clear that real human security, defined by the Commission on Human Security as 'protecting vital…

    Paperback – 2005-07-01

  • How to Lobby at Intergovernmental Meetings

    1st Edition

    By Michael Strauss

    Edited by Felix Dodds

    'Felix Dodds is the Milo Minderbinder of the stakeholder world!' Alex Kirby, BBC 'An invaluable tool for anyone wishing to understand and contribute effectively to the competition of good ideas that intergovernmental meetings should be' Paul Hohnen, former Strategic Director, Greenpeace…

    Paperback – 2004-03-01

  • Multi-stakeholder Processes for Governance and Sustainability

    Beyond Deadlock and Conflict, 1st Edition

    By Minu Hemmati, Jasmin Enayati, Jan McHarry

    Edited by Felix Dodds

    Governments, business, international bodies and local groups are turning to multi-stakeholder processes to find practical ways forward. This book explains how MSPs can be organized to deliver their potential for successful resolution of complex issues and for sustainable development. It includes…

    Paperback – 2002-01-01

About the Author

Felix Dodds is a Senior Fellow at the Global Research Institute and a Senior Affiliate at the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina, USA, and also an Associate Fellow at the Tellus Institute, Boston, USA. Felix has edited or written fourteen books on sustainable development and UN-related issues and was Chair of the 2011 UN DPI NGO Conference 'Sustainable Societies Responsive Citizens'. From 1992 to 2012 he was Executive Director of the Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future.

More from Felix Dodds online

"The blog looks at sustainable development at the global level and has grown to over 25,000 hits a month. It has become very popular in the intergovernmental arena and I’m hoping it will continue to grow in readership."

Click here to view Felix Dodds' blog