Open Problems: An incomplete TODO list for Achieving Global Climate Equity

2 minute read

Updated on Mon Dec 14 2020

Problem: We are not on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals

What the world needs to solve this problem:

brain

money

awareness

Description:

With things as they are now, we are not going to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Many people are still trapped in extreme poverty; inequalities of income, employment and social status (e.g. gender) are still high, and we are on the brink of a climate crisis.

When they were created in 2015, their success was based on two major requirements: steady economic growth to fund progress; and international cooperation to allow countries to support each other. In 2020, neither of these requirements are likely to be met.

We’re facing the worst economic crisis in a century and international climate talks (COP26) have been postponed. Just as greater cooperation is needed globally, tensions are actually increasing and rich countries struggling with COVID-19 (‘coronavirus’) may choose to withdraw their funding for development in other countries.

To meet the SDGs, gradual change is not an option. We need to transform our world, and quickly!

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Problem: Governments need to step up their ACTION to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals

What the world needs to solve this problem:

brain

money

awareness

Description:

There is widespread commitment to the SDGs, but these words aren’t always translating into actions. Countries need to take steps to help deliver the SDGs, which can include: collaborating to plan action, funding action, and tracking progress.

But countries are not always taking all of these steps. What’s more, where countries have taken action, most of these policies are not actually strong enough to achieve the SDGs! For example, only four countries - (Bhutan, Ethiopia, India, and the Philippines) - have taken action that would be strong enough to keep climate warming to less than 2°C, and only one country - (Morocco) - is on track for 1.5°C.

The efforts of the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the USA, are ‘critically insufficient’. Although no country is on track to meet all the SDGs, it seems like many countries just aren’t taking them seriously enough. This has to change, fast.

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Problem: Let’s talk about the money...

What the world needs to solve this problem:

brain

money

awareness

Description:

To achieve the SDGs, we need to pay for them. Annually, US$5-7 trillion is needed across the world. That sounds like a lot of money! But is it? There’s more than enough money around: the total yearly income of all countries is over US$80 trillion (that’s public money, which is controlled by governments) and a further US$200 trillion of private money is made by companies, too.

Despite this, the SDGs are underfunded. In the developing world, for every $1 currently invested every year, a further $1.79 is needed to meet the SDGs! So how can we close this funding gap? The first source is public money. UN member countries are committed to donate 0.7% of their Gross National Income as development aid every year. But, in 2019, only 5 countries met this target.

The second source is private money from companies. Because there is so much private money, this will be essential to meeting the SDGs, especially in areas like renewable energy. Using private money can cause problems, though, when what is profitable is not what is best for the SDGs.

But here is the really good news: achieving the SDGs makes economic sense! It could create 380 million new jobs, open business opportunities worth US$12 trillion, and prevent US$26 trillion in climate damages.

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Problem: COVID-19 (‘Coronavirus’) has caused a human development crisis.

What the world needs to solve this problem:

brain

money

awareness

Description:

The COVID-19 pandemic (2019 – ongoing) is more than just an immediate health crisis: it’s a human development crisis that isn’t going away. As well as the deaths caused by the disease itself, by 2021 the pandemic may lead to a further 6000 preventable child deaths every day in low and middle-income countries. This is on top of the huge impacts of the virus on the economy and education.

All the direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19 haven’t been identified yet, but it is already worsening existing inequalities by disproportionately affecting countries and groups of people that are already vulnerable. For example, its impacts are particularly severe on the elderly, the homeless, and those with existing health problems (which are more common in low-income groups).

Also, with schools and childcare closed, women are often taking up the extra unpaid care duties, at a cost to their social and economic status. There is also evidence that COVID-19 isolation in homes has led to women suffering increased domestic violence. This is only a snapshot of the impacts that are already being felt and there are, undoubtedly, more to come.

Already, COVID-19 has made achieving the SDGs by 2030 even harder. By some estimates, all of the progress in human development of the last 6 years could be reversed.

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Problem: We are at a crossroads: the recovery from COVID-19 must be based on the SDGs

What the world needs to solve this problem:

brain

money

awareness

Description:

Some people say that the COVID-19 crisis could kick start climate action! Because of the economic crisis, global greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 will fall by the largest amount ever recorded. However, to stop a climate crisis, emissions must continue to decline, year on year.

This means that governments must take action now to set us on a path to zero emissions while kick-starting the economic recovery after COVID-19. The SDGs must inform and guide our recovery, restoring society without bringing back our old habits of environmental damage.

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Problem: No more overconsumption!

What the world needs to solve this problem:

brain

money

awareness

Description:

As countries develop and get richer, individuals consume more and emissions rise. We’ve said it often in this course and it's a big problem for the SDGs. Currently, almost all countries and people are aiming for the kind of lifestyle that is led by the wealthiest in society.

But this lifestyle is often very unsustainable. We need to make sure that the high quality of life that everyone deserves isn't achieved at a cost to the planet. We need to focus on sufficient consumption rather than over consumption, especially in the developed world.

The more we consume, the smaller the increase in wellbeing we get out of it. If you don’t have anywhere to live, getting a house makes you very much happier than you were before. But if you already have a house, buying a second house doesn’t increase your wellbeing as much, but it still uses a lot of resources.

Preventing overconsumption isn’t easy, and may even require fundamental changes to our economic systems and how we measure progress.

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