Climate Change and the UN Sustainable Development Goals

In the 1980’s, a three pillared environmental sustainability model was developed. The three pillars were:

  1. The earth with the atmosphere, oceans, mountains, flora, fauna, etc.
  2. People, the society and cultures.
  3. Economic, energy, resources and capital.

The theory was that all three pillars would overlap but remain consistently equally balanced. In the 1980’s, we were a small population living on a big planet – the world population appeared sustainable to the resources.

Hindsight is always 20/20. We now live on a small planet with a large population. The model above no longer holds true. This imbalance is sending the planet to an unsustainable tipping point.

In the 1990’s, individuals and disparate scientists began to notice cracks in the theory of sustainability:

  • Carbon emissions exceeded 350 ppm and was rapidly increasing
  • Atlantic cod fisheries collapsed
  • Wetland disappeared at an alarming rate
  • Coral reefs were bleaching and dying
  • The Southwest U.S. water table was halving with each passing decade
  • Native bird populations were crashing

BUT… it took another 25 years for scientists to realize all these cracks in the ecosystem were related. The planet would not remain sustainable if climate change wasn’t addressed and addressed quickly, thus the 2015 Paris Accords and a treaty for a temperature rise cap of 1.5°C.

During the past 50 years, we began moving toward the Anthropocene era and away from 10,000 years of the Holocene era. What we do in the next 50 years will determine whether we remain in the Holocene or push the planetary boundaries moving us toward the Anthropocene era.

The goal is to remain in the Holocene era, as we have for the past 10,000 years. However, many scientists fear we are entering the Anthropocene era, which is an epoch dating from the commencement of significant human impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems. The UN and many scientists and individuals are pushing toward removing dangerous tipping points.

It is now indisputable that the planet and people’s needs are interconnected and need to be addressed as such. The United Nations has created 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG):

  1. No Poverty
  2. Zero Hunger
  3. Good Health & Well-being
  4. Quality Education
  5. Gender Equality
  6. Clean Water & Sanitation
  7. Affordable & Clean Energy
  8. Decent Work & Economic Growth
  9. Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure
  10. Reduced Inequalities
  11. Sustainable Cities & Communities
  12. Responsible Consumption & Production
  13. Climate Action
  14. Life Below Water
  15. Life on Land
  16. Peace, Justice & Strong Institutions
  17. Partnerships for the Goals

What is the importance of all these UN goals, when COP23 is focused on goal number 13, Climate Action?

It is now clear that without addressing goal number 13, many of the other goals will not be achievable. Climate change is negatively impacting farmers and the food supply, resulting in difficulty in reaching goal number two, Zero Hunger. Climate change is directly responsible for poor air quality, resulting in more asthma and other lung diseases which results in compromising goal number three, Good Health & Well Being. Removing more oil and gas from the ground is not moving toward goal number seven, Affordable and Clean Energy. Removing oil also impacts life below the water by decimating coral reefs and their marine ecosystems, threatening goal number 14. Life on Land, number 15, is also harmed when clean energy is not utilized, as animal migration routes are destroyed with roads and man-made structures, uprooting indigenous populations residing in the Arctic and Amazon. The list goes on, but by tackling climate change, many of the other 16 goals will be realized.

I encourage everyone to Google the Sarayaku. They are a very interesting people who have been fighting to keep their land in the Amazon rainforest. These photographs feature Mirian Cisneros, President of Sarayaku Peoples of Ecuador, and Yaku Viteri, International Relations for the Sarayaku Peoples Area in Ecuador where the Sarayaku people reside.

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