Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): What Should the Future look like?

11 minute read

Updated on Mon Dec 14 2020

We live in an unequal world.

In 2018, the 26 richest individuals in the world owned the same amount as the poorest 50% of the human population.

Global inequality: the richest 26 people own the same amount as the poorest 3.8 billion people!

But inequality is about more than money: it’s about opportunities and choices too. Let’s think about two young adults, Alex and Jesse, both born in the year 2000. Alex was lucky enough to be born in a rich, highly developed country but Jesse lives in one of the world’s poorest, least developed countries.

Meet Alex and Jesse

20 years later, where are they? Well, there’s a 50% chance that Alex is attending university now. But it’s not looking so good for Jesse: there’s only a 3% chance they’re attending university. Actually, it’s worse than that: there is a 17% chance that Jesse died before their 20th birthday.

Alex and Jesse now

Is it fair that things we can’t choose, like where we’re born, have such a huge impact on our lives?

Climate change and inequality

Climate change is set to make these sorts of global inequalities worse.

So far, the richest countries, such as the USA and European countries, have contributed the most to climate change due to their high reliance on fossil fuels.

In Niger, Africa, each person produces an average of 0.1 tonnes of CO₂ in a year. How long do you think it takes for the average North American to produce this much CO₂?

Despite this, the current impacts of climate change are being felt more severely in African countries, where climate variability and extreme weather events are contributing to rising hunger. This is extremely unfair!

This pattern is expected to continue in the future:

Mortality impacts from climate change in 2100 by region

We see this trend throughout the world. People who are already disadvantaged, such as those suffering from unequal access to wealth, education, and political influence, will be most impacted by climate change even though they are the least to blame for it.

This creates a vicious cycle between climate change and inequality.

Climate justice

The causes and consequences of climate change are defined by inequality and unfairness. The solutions to climate change don’t have to be!

The ‘climate justice’ movement pushes for the protection of these vulnerable people from climate impacts. It argues that the costs of coping with and solving climate change should be shared fairly between countries.

Currently, the international community is striving to limit global warming to 1.5℃. Doing this could provide an opportunity to build a fair and just society.

What could a fair and just society look like?

In 2015, the United Nations set out a vision for this fair and climate-just society. They adopted the seventeen “Sustainable Development Goals”.

The Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable development is most often defined as: providing for the needs of our current population without making it impossible to provide for the needs of future people.

In other words, it’s about looking after not only ourselves, but all people living on this planet in the future. So what do the Sustainable Development Goals aim to achieve?

The Sustainable Development Goals are based on four major objectives:

  • Economic prosperity - meeting everyone’s needs
  • Social inclusion - giving everyone the opportunities they deserve
  • Environmental sustainability - protecting the planet
  • Good governance - making fair policies and cooperating internationally

They cover all aspects of human life and the environment, and include a specific target calling for ‘climate action’.

The Sustainable Development Goals imagine a world where we don’t have to choose between human happiness and environmental health. They show us opportunities for “win-win”s that reduce inequality and improve people’s lives at the same time as protecting the environment and stopping a climate crisis.

This course covers just some of the actions that can be taken to achieve four of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, whilst combating climate change.

Our chapters and the Sustainable Development Goals

Where do we start? How about by preventing millions of deaths from cancers and other diseases, while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions? That's what the next chapter is about!

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