When we talk Sustainable Development, many people solely think about building green buildings or anthropogenic development in a way that steps out of the orthodox to be “sustainable.” What is really meant by Sustainable Development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
In 1987, the concept Sustainable Development was published in a report by the Brundtland Commission—named after Gro Brundtland—the former Prime Minister of Norway. What was revolutionary about this concept was that it was inclusive of everything and everyone with a specific focus on those with a low standard of living. It’s a way to engage people to care about sustainability and as Joel Sartore once said, “We can all save the world or die trying, we just have to take care of our own corner of the world.”
So what does this all mean for you? The first step is understanding how sustainable development relates to your every day life and how you can play an incremental part in the overall effort. Action has three main components made up of: The Individual, The Activists, and The Governments. Every person can play a role within each of these groups, but for the novice to sustainable action, one should start with evaluating their life and habits. This doesn’t necessarily mean selling your car and taking to the woods, but it does mean understanding that every action has it’s own consequences.
The best way to understand the definition of Sustainable Development is to recognize that with the problem of overpopulation, resource deceits, and climate change there needs to be a change. We need to look at our “needs” and recognize our limitations as individuals, developed nations, and developing nations alike. As a global community, we currently use 1.6 Earths to sustain our global lifestyle per year, which in layman terms means that it will take 1 year and 6 months to regenerate the resources that we consume per year. The United Nations also predicts that by 2030 it will take approximately 2 Earths to sustain our irresponsible consumption habits.
Graph by FootPrintNetwork.Org
With this growing problem however, the UN has devised a plan to address this daunting problem that could potentially lead to the demise of the species—the Sustainable Development Goals.
The SDGs are a set of 17 goals that contain 169 comprehensive targets to address this problem along with the rising concentration of carbon in the atmosphere and human inequality. The goals grew out of PM Brundtland’s vision for Sustainable Development and passed unanimously on September 25th, 2015.
With the passing of the SDGs comes a moment of redefining how people generally view Sustainability and it’s role in every conversation. It attempts to take the bad taste out of your mouth and bait you with an issue that you are already concerned about—whether it be inequality—or various aspects of nature.
The great thing about the goals is they’re all equally important with the exception of one. The 17th goal, Partnership, could potentially be the most important goal— that a failure to achieve could cripple the rest. Within the targets of the goal, it calls for the unification, mobilization and cooperation of developed and developing countries alike. It recognizes that without global teamwork, there will be no success towards addressing the pressing issues of the day.
Stated explicitly within the targets, it calls on developed nations to play a key role in helping developing nations accomplish their share of the work. It recognizes that without technological advances, capital investments, and universally fair and transparent laws there will be no success. Without Sustainable Development—we won’t progress to a better and safer world.
Climate change may hit small island and developing nations first, but it will take everyone to bring us back to a healthy climate. Just in the US alone, a 2008 climate change study estimated that it is set to cost approximately $270 billion per year by 2025 and gradually increase every few years. The 2012 climate disruption budget was $100 billion and this year the Department of Defense issued a report saying: “Global climate change will aggravate problems such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions that threaten stability in a number of countries….”
Climate change is a serious threat that is affecting and costing developed nations a great deal, but the real cost is that in a few years island nations will start to become submerged and millions of people will die—each year.
With Sustainable Development, we are able to ensure that we are naturally and creatively finding ways to sequester carbon, we can rebuild ecosystems, and actively take steps to protect humanity; there is hope for a future without increasing temperatures and severely rising sea levels. With each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, we are entering a new era of sustainability and global cooperation. As Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon once said, “We are the first generation that can end poverty, the last that can end climate change.”