HUFFINGTON POST 09/12/16
By Michael Shank
As a general rule, global goals are good. They focus the international community’s short-term attention, lock in preferred long-term targets and trajectories, and prioritize national governments’ policies and plans.
This is a good strategy no matter how idealistic or optimistic any goal may appear to an outsider’s untrained eye. It’s critical for teamwork as we tackle the myriad, and always morphing, global crises.
Without it, individual nation-state approaches to transnational problems remain ad hoc and inefficient. Take any transboundary crisis – from climate change and mass migration to pandemics and weapons or human trafficking – and this is clearly the case. No country, or small coalition of countries, can tackle it alone.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to “leave no one behind” and celebrate their one-year anniversary this month after adoption in September 2015 by 193 member states of the United Nations, are no different.
They are essential now more than ever. If we are to “meet the needs of the present world without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” in the words of the Brundtland Commission, then we’ll have to do things very differently going forward.
That’s what the SDGs propose and it’s up to us to keep our respective countries accountable to this commitment. Why, because the world’s population is expected to grow to over 9.7 billion by 2050 and to an estimated 11 billion by the end of this century.
This growth will impact every imaginable resource: water for drinking, food for eating, energy for heat and electricity, minerals for building, land for farming and sanitation, air for breathing, rare earths for technology, and more.
In order to sustain the projected population growth, food production alone, as merely one example from above, will have to increase 70 percent by 2050.
Corresponding surges in energy and water demand will be equally intensive. Managing those increases, and ensuring that everyone has access to food, water, and energy, while also keeping the climate in balance, won’t be easy.
It’ll require a very different modus operandi. At current pace, we’re breaking too many records – from hottest year ever on record to highest greenhouse gas emissions on record.
The way we do things, and the way we’ve done things, will have to change. The issue of sustainability, then, should be a priority for any policymaker. A more sustainable path is a must if our society wants to sustain the kind of population growth and energy, water, and food consumption that is expected.
That’s where the SDG Index comes in, launched this summer by my colleagues at the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. If you want to know how your country is doing to develop more sustainably (or not), simply check the data.
A quick read of the index shows that every country is falling short in some way, shape or form. On income inequality, climate or consumption, rich countries are clearly not leading the way, especially when accounting for poor country production of rich country consumption.
The United States, for example, doesn’t even make it into the Top 20 on the SDG Index. This is a problem – especially when we’re poised to add another 100 million people to America’s census in the next few decades, yet witness our presidential candidates, policymakers and press continuing to avoid these pressing issues. Failure to face this fact is quickly putting our country on a far-from-sustainable crash course.
For those of us who want to fix this, the devil is in the details. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted during our SDG Index launch, “sound data must be at the core of our efforts”. He’s right, which is why anyone who is serious about keeping their country accountable to these goals should pick up the index, take it to their nation’s capital, and engage their elected officials in serious dialogue.
My country’s legislators need this pressure more than most. Since the White House isn’t prioritizing the Sustainable Development Goals agenda, we’ll need Congress to do it instead. A tough ask, I know. But I’m hoping a few good progressive members of Congress will take up the mantle and plot out a path that is more socially, economically and environmentally sustainable. We’re not remotely close to that agenda now. But we have to be.
This is about our survival as a human race. Preventing resource scarcity or resource insecurity – whether it’s over water, food, or fuel – is also about preventing wars, violence, and legal conflicts over natural resources, which are now occurring on every continent. This task, then, is not only about sustainability, it’s about stability, safety, and security. It’s that serious, and it’s that timely. Time to take our electeds to task.
Michael Shank teaches sustainable development at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs and is the Head of Communications at the Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post to mark the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, or, officially, “Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”). The SDGs represent an historic agreement — a wide-ranging roadmap to sustainability covering 17 goals and 169 targets — but stakeholders must also be held accountable for their commitments.