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In trying to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals will we see drastic changes in the way we do business, in the way we use our natural resources, in the way we share the common goods? Or will we continue to focus on economic growth and short-term profit at the expense of the environment? With the world population continuing to grow the way it does, we need to be able to feed billions and create jobs for millions. What strategies and technologies are we going to use to make sure we end poverty in a sustainable way?
Hand in hand with factors like population growth, land fragmentation, deforestation, erosion and unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, climate change causes natural disasters as we are experiencing more severe weather extremes like droughts and flooding.
Globally, as the mean temperatures are expected to rise, people will migrate to cooler areas in the future, increasing the pressure on land and its resources. Poor people will suffer more as their options to deal with the changing environment are limited. When visiting the rural areas of Ethiopia, one cannot help but notice that surrounding hills and mountains are now almost barren, where there were forests before. Forest and soil degradation can be observed everywhere, while more and more people settle on and cultivate steeper hill slopes as well as river banks. Narrowing of floodplains due to investment and settlement is partly responsible for a faster water flow resulting in so called flash floods. In other words, while there is no vegetation anymore to hold back the water upstream, rivers turn into narrow channels through which the water rages to lower levels, taking and damaging everything in its course of destruction. With the increase of extreme weather events and the mounting demographic pressure on fragile ecosystems, we are witnessing more frequent and serious floods resulting in more loss of lives, assets and livelihoods.
In fact, ecosystems, the biodiversity that comprises them and the benefits they provide to people are the fundamental units for life support on earth. They are the foundation for the natural processes of climate regulation and are a vital support for water quality, food security, and flood protection, amongst many others. Currently there are severe pressures on the health of our ecosystems. The drivers of these pressures include climate change, biodiversity loss and resource demands by people. Natural ecosystems are being converted to other uses rapidly, for example over 40% of today’s terrestrial surface is now in agriculture. At the same time climate change is posing a further substantial risk to the health of ecosystems and therefore their ability to provide ecosystem services, whilst human population growth and resource use per capita is increasing. Developing policies and economic strategies that place ecosystems and the services they provide at the center of future economic development and climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts will result in multiple positive benefits to all people globally. An ecosystems approach is an essential part of the ‘tool kit’ to tackle climate change and to progress towards long-term economic sustainability.
Now, the sustainable development goals go beyond the use of our natural resources and the environment. They are the following:
Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all Goal 7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts* Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development.
These are ambitious goals to achieve by 2030, only 12 years from now. Whether we will be on the right track to achieve them will all depend on the way we go about development and whether or not we indeed embrace sustainability as an outcome and a practice. If not, we will go about our business as usual and fail miserably.
Happy Ethiopian New Year!
NEP Policy brief : “The role of Ecosystems in Developing a Sustainable Green Economy”
Thomas L. Friedman: “Hot, Flat and Crowded”
UN Sustainable Development Goals