Sustainable Development Goals in the Developed World

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) adopted by the United Nations (UN) in 2015 include clean water and sanitation, an end to poverty and hunger, gender equality and access to quality education, climate action, and good governance. The SDGs are the product of multilateral participatory process and are universal. As such, they are as critical for developed nations as well, and businesses and individuals in developed nations have a great capacity to make progress towards these goals. The UN website provides a list of actions citizens in developed nations can take. Although most people will not be able to implement every action, in countries with large populations and significant resource use, adopting even a handful of new practices can have a huge impact globally.

SDG #17 is “Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development”. Businesses have a key role to play in re-centering the well-being and the planet as a focus for action and as an action to ensure long-term success. Businesses can take direct action towards achieving SDGs # 1 & 2 “No Poverty” and “Zero Hunger” through fair pay and hiring practices. Individuals can support SDG #5 “Gender Equality” by recommending women for jobs, high-profile assignments, promotions, and job placements. These actions also make progress toward SDG #8 “Decent Work and Economic Growth” since data show that gender parity in the workplace increases profits (DezsÖ and Ross, 2012 and Herring, 2009). Additional actions can be taken by responsible businesses to increase innovation and reduce negative environmental impacts without reducing profits (Illic, Staake, & Fleisch, 2008 and Lash & Wellington, 2007).

Discussions related to some of these issues issue can be found at our website in articles such as Moral Agency & Purpose Driven Business, Water and Agriculture in Colorado and Watershed Health. The full list of SDGS and additional information about each SDG can be found at: http:www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals. You can learn more about the World Business Council for Sustainable Development at http://www.wbcsd.org.

 

Moral Agency & Purpose-Driven Business

The 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP 22) and the twelfth meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 12) recently concluded in Marrakech, Morocco. More information can be found at the COP 22 website, here.

As we discussed in our article on COP21, COP 21, Sustainable Development Goals & A Step towards Global Thinking, scientists estimate that a global temperature increase of greater than 2º C (3.6 º F) above pre-industrial levels would be catastrophic; however, if temperatures continue to increase at the current rate, an increase of approximately 5ºC (9 º F) is likely within the next two to three decades (Earth Science Data, 2014). At the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on September 25, 2015, world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This agenda included the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 17 measurable goals that range from ending world poverty to achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls by 2030. SDG 13, Climate Action, calls for urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. Our article discussing COP21 provides a summary of the SDGs. Details about individual SDGs can be found here: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/mdgoverview/post-2015-development-agenda.html.

The United Nations development Programme (UNDP) has provided support to governments working to achieve the SDGs in efforts to balance what it identifies as the three pillars of sustainable growth: social progress, economic growth, and environmental protection. However, businesses have a large part to play in how well the SDGs are achieved regardless of regulatory framework, government support, or directives. Technologies exist to support companies’ efforts to measure progress towards meeting the SDGs, and these technologies are available to most businesses whether they are based in countries that require such efforts or not.  With the unanticipated paradigm shift that may be happening in the governments of some Western nations, it may soon fall to business to provide the voice of environmental leadership and innovation in the West. This will include integrating the SDGs into the structure of company vision and operation. While these changes will no doubt prove challenging, they may also offer a new opportunity for the business sector to cast a wider net as innovative, integrated and purpose-driven.

Every business model tells a story. A good business model will tell a story that supports a long-range vision and goals for long-term success. Because long-range goals must value employees, clients, and consumers, sound business models cannot be built solely on the motivation for profit. Instead, there must be room for innovative thinking, technical advances, and ethical practice. Practicing business ethically should not be dependent upon regulatory restrictions, but rather be built upon support for approaches that are inclusive of caring about humans and the human condition, with an ability to embrace social and cultural development. All business requires support from humans, as workers, clients, and consumers. And humans are moral beings, with moral agency and responsibility. As such, purpose-driven firms have a mandate to support sustainable development, especially in the midst of moral ambiguity and contradiction. Sustainable development includes socially responsible practices and actions, and environmentally responsible actions are socially responsible actions.

Climate change is the most important environmental issue facing our species, and we must turn our attention to mitigating its effects. Relentless pursuit of profit for its own sake without attention to these issues, in the end, results in no profit, because there will soon be nothing left to profit from.

The strength of the correlation between human activity and climate change is clearly illustrated here: http://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-whats-warming-the-world. The data used for these graphs is from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The lack of a control planet against which to assess the data denies us of the final definitive data set; however, we simply do not have a control planet, and so no reasonable arguments can be made to continue down a path that appears to lead toward planet-wide catastrophe. We must become better stewards of our Earth, and we must incorporate actions to those ends into standard business practice. It’s important to remember that we have nowhere else to go.

 References & Resources

Bloomberg the Company, 2015. What’s Really Warming the World? June.

Earth System Science Data, 2014. Global Carbon Budget 2014, Abstract here: http://www.earth-syst-sci-data-discuss.net/7/521/2014/essdd-7-521-2014.html

Harvard Business Review, 2002. Why Business Models Matter. May.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration: http://www.nasa.gov

United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11) website: http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/

United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP22/CMP12) website: http://www.cop22-morocco.com/

United Nations Development Programme Website: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/presscenter/pressreleases/2015/09/24/undp-welcomes-adoption-of-sustainable-development-goals-by-world-leaders.html

 

COP 21, Sustainable Development Goals & A Step towards Global Thinking

Scientists estimate that a global temperature increase of greater than 2º C (3.6 º F) above pre-industrial levels would be catastrophic; however, if temperatures continue to increase at the current rate, an increase of approximately 5ºC (9 º F) is likely within the next two to three decades (Earth Science Data, 2014). The agreements on greenhouse gas emissions established in 1997 by the Kyoto Protocol are due to expire in 2020. Moreover, the effectiveness of the Kyoto Protocol was limited due to obstacles. The Protocol did not come into force until 2004 when Russia passed the treaty, it did not include goals for several developing countries, and it was never ratified by the US Congress.

The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) was the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference and the eleventh meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 11). More than 190 countries were represented at COP 21 with the goal of reaching a new, lasting, global agreement on climate change. COP 21 formally began in Paris on November 31, 2015 and was due to conclude on December 11, 2015. The conference was extended into December 12 in an effort to reach a draft final agreement. There were approximately 20,000 accredited people in attendance and 45,000 participants in total, including delegates, observers, and journalists. Officially accredited attendees had access to the Conference while others participated in debates and attended exhibitions, talks, and screenings.

On Friday, December 4, 2015, Laurent Fabius, The President of COP21 and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) emphasized the need to make progress. “Let me be clear: this is still not enough, “said Fabius. “The text remains too long and complex. Not enough compromises have been reached on unresolved issues.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping said the conference “is not a finish line, but a new starting point” and that any agreement must take into account the differences among nations, stating, “Countries should be allowed to seek their own solutions, according to their national interest.”

President of the United States, Barack Obama, stated in early remarks, “Now, all of this will be hard. Getting 200 nations to agree on anything is hard” before going on to say, “And I’m sure there will be moments over the next two weeks where progress seems stymied, and everyone rushes to write that we are doomed. But I’m convinced that we’re going to get big things done here. Keep in mind, nobody expected that 180 countries would show up in Paris with serious climate targets in hand.”

The efforts of the world leaders in attendance were laudable and COP 21 may mark an important turning point, signaling more effective national solutions to a global problem. However, there are many simple, almost child-like questions that are worth asking: What if, after a week of meetings, a clear, concise legally-binding agreement was in place? What if global interests were consistently a priority? What if it wasn’t hard? What if it was easy?

At the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on September 25, 2015, more than 150 world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This agenda included the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also knowns as the Global Goals. The SDGs are 17 measurable goals that range from ending world poverty to achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls by 2030. The goals are categorized as follows:

  • SDG1: No poverty
  • SDG 2: Zero hunger
  • SDG 3: Good health and well-being
  • SDG 4: Quality education
  • SDG 45: Gender equality
  • SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation
  • SDG 7: Affordable and clean energy
  • SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth
  • SDG 9: Industry, innovation, infrastructure
  • SDG 10: Reduce inequalities
  • SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities
  • SDG 12: Responsible consumption, production
  • SDG 13: Climate action
  • SDG 14: Life below water
  • SDG 15: Life on land
  • SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions
  • SDG 17: Partnership for the goals

Details about individual SDGs can be accessed here: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/mdgoverview/post-2015-development-agenda.html

The SDGs succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of eight measurable goals which were signed in September 2000. The United Nations development Programme (UNDP) has provided support to governments working to achieve the MDGs and will continue to do so with the SDGs. In supporting efforts to achieve the goals, the UNDP works to balance what it identifies as the three pillars of sustainable growth: social progress, economic growth, and environmental protection.

All of the SDGs are inter-related and many of them link back to the goals COP 21. Goal 4, Quality Education, seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities. This goal focuses primarily on literacy, vocational training, and eliminating gender and wealth disparities. SDG 13, Climate Action, calls for urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. SDG 4 and 13 are clearly intertwined in that education may lead to development of the technology that averts our planetary crises, but educators and world leaders could seek to further intertwine these goals

What if a basic science education included an introduction to climate science? Or perhaps, more simply, astronomy? While this may seem idealistic and ambitious, great progress has already been made towards achieving the MDGs. The inclusion of one subject into basic education is a small step in comparison to many of these successes. The study of Venus could provide insight into runaway greenhouse effect. The study of Earth’s atmosphere from a purely scientific view could lead to a generation of critical thinkers who prioritize planetary concerns. Planetary concerns are also national concerns; without our planet, nations cease to matter.

At COP 21 this week, Fiji pledged to accommodate the people of the low-lying Pacific Island state of Kiribati if rising sea levels renders their home uninhabitable. Without significant changes, this is likely in the next few decades. Kiribati is not a closed ecological or environmental system. In time, the plight of the people of Kiribati becomes the situation for us all. Given this reality, adding a subject to a basic education with the goal of creating a generation of planetary thinkers seems like an easy thing to achieve. This video made for COP 21 by astronauts from around the planet provides an illustration of the mind-sight we could hope to create for the general populations of the future: http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/message-de-la-station-spatiale-internationale-ne-laissez-pas-passer-cette-occasion/

Successes achieved in the past 15 years working toward the MDGs and work still to be done is discussed in more detail here: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/presscenter/pressreleases/2015/09/24/undp-welcomes-adoption-of-sustainable-development-goals-by-world-leaders.html

 

About the author: Ms. Drumheller is a certified Qualified Environmental Professional (QEP) with 18 years of experience in chemistry, environmental science, environmental project management, regulatory compliance and permitting, capacity development, International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14001 Environmental Management Systems (EMS) and 17025. Ms. Drumheller holds a BS in Environmental Science with a dual emphasis in Chemistry and a Masters of Theological Studies with an emphasis on Environmental Ethics.

References

Earth System Science Data, 2014, Global Carbon Budget 2014, Abstract here: http://www.earth-syst-sci-data-discuss.net/7/521/2014/essdd-7-521-2014.html

Environmental Science & Policy, Volume 12, Issue 7, 2009.

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration: http://www.nasa.gov

United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11) website: http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/

United Nations Development Programme Website: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/presscenter/pressreleases/2015/09/24/undp-welcomes-adoption-of-sustainable-development-goals-by-world-leaders.html