For years now, there has been a lot of buzz around the term ‘sustainable development.’ What is sustainable development, and how is it relevant now?
The simplest definition of the term sustainable development is given by the Brundtland Commission, set up in 1983 by the United Nations, in its report titled ‘Our Common Future,’ which also made the term sustainability famous. “Sustainable development is the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Why Do We Need Sustainable Development?
Let us look at a few natural disasters in the past year and their impact on our world.
A recent report on the damage caused by the Australian wildfires in 2019-2020 pegged the number of animals killed or displaced at 3 billion. The number is so staggering that it is not easy to wrap one’s head around it. The repercussions were not limited to animal deaths, an enormous spike in air pollution in the surrounding cities like Sydney, and the loss of at least 4 million hectares of cultivable and forest land. Thus, it was a disaster that did not just affect animals and forest life and human lives and activities. This example shows how lives on Earth are interconnected and reaffirms the need to live sustainably and in harmony.
The increase in the occurrence of zoonotic diseases like COVID-19 has also been attributed to the rise in human-animal interaction, a fallout of humans encroaching forest lands for reasons such as building industrial projects and setting up rail corridors and highways, hunting and poaching. The implications of the pandemic have been felt not only in human lives but have devastating effects on the economies of several countries– both organised and unorganised sectors.
Such ecological disasters more often have artificial roots. Sustainability, thus, plays a vital role in recognising how interconnected all living beings and the well-being of the planet is. It means collectively striving for goals and working towards a world that benefits all life on earth.
Watch our video on Sustainable Development here:
The Brundtland Commission and the MDGs
By 1960, people recognised economic progress as a justification for the reign of the free market, exploitation of people from non-western societies, misuse, and overuse of natural resources, thereby leading to massive environmental degradation.
In 1983, the United Nations formed the Brundtland Commission after disbanding the former World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). Headed by former Norway Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, the commission introduced the concept of sustainable development as a response to tackling social, economic, and environmental crises across the world.
In 2000, the commission developed a renewed collaborative plan for countries to embrace sustainable development and termed the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). The eight MDGs included eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving quality education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV, AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development.
However, the MDGs received more criticism than accolades, primarily because of their non-measurable nature, narrow focus, and how six MGDs focus on developing countries. Thus, MDGs paved the way for the framing of more elaborate and collaborative Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs.)
17 Sustainable Development Goals
In September 2015, the UN released the plan, targets, and goals of a blueprint to help achieve a better and sustainable future for all. These came to be known as the SDGs. 193 countries from the UN General Assembly committed to achieving the 17 goals and 169 targets by 2030. The SDGs expand on MDGs’ framework and link the three pillars of sustainability – social, economic, and environmental.
The 17 SDGs are:
SDG Goal 1: No Poverty
SDG Goal 2: Zero Hunger
SDG Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being
SDG Goal 4: Quality Education
SDG Goal 5: Gender Equality
SDG Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
SDG Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
SDG Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
SDG Goal 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
SDG Goal 10: Reduced Inequality
SDG Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
SDG Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
SDG Goal 13: Climate Action
SDG Goal 14: Life Below Water
SDG Goal 15: Life on Land
SDG Goal 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
SDG Goal 17: Partnerships to Achieve the Goal
Why Are The SDGs 2030 Important For The world?
The SDGs focus on a more significant and transformative agenda. It sets targets and goals to be achieved by 2030 for developed and developing countries.
These goals aim to eradicate poverty and inequalities, provide access to healthcare and education, improve the quality of life, spur economic growth, fight climate change, and preserve our natural resources like oceans and land.
However, to work towards these goals, collaboration is not only needed among countries but also governments, private organisations, academia, civil society groups, and the public. Each and everyone is accountable for building a happier and prosperous world.
The latest annual progress report by the UN on SDG 2030 doesn’t paint a pleasing image. Even before COVID-19, it was suggested that 6 per cent of the global population would be living in extreme poverty in 2030 (missing the target of SDG 1). However, given the impact of the pandemic, the poverty rate is projected to reach 8.8 per cent in 2020.
Key findings of the report:
- 71 mm face the risk of poverty: It is estimated that 71 million people will be pushed back into extreme poverty in 2020 – depicting the first rise in global poverty since the year 1998. This is accelerated due to the crisis unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Children vulnerable: Disasters affect least developed countries more adversely and worsen poverty. As more families get affected by poverty, there is a higher risk of children from such families getting pushed into child labour, child marriage, and trafficking.
- The unorganised sector blows: Unemployment and underemployment unleashed on 1.6 billion workers in the unorganised sectors across the world.
- School kids’ access to meals cut: Closed schools have kept 90 per cent of 1.57 billion students out of school, making them miss out on meals they get access to at school.
- Health and vaccination services affected: Progress has been made in maternal and child health with a sharp fall in maternal mortality ratio (MMR) and child mortality. However, COVID-19 could reverse the actions unless urgent action is taken. Vaccination of children affected in the wake of the pandemic makes them vulnerable to diseases.
- A decline in forest area: Globally, forest area declined from 31.9 per cent in 2000 to 31.2 per cent in 2020 – a net loss of 100 million hectares, primarily because of agricultural expansion. This loss translates to increased carbon emissions, reduced biodiversity, and land degradation and will affect livelihoods in rural communities.
There is good news like improved maternal and child health, increased access to electricity, and increased representation of women in the government; however, the bad news is often more overpowering than the good.
As a society, an organisation, a government, and individuals, we need to work together to achieve our goals.