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July 2019

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Climate and Consumption Crisis, How did we get here?

It takes the earth over a year and a half to regenerate the resources we use and absorb the waste we produce each year.

This is mostly down to:
Higher levels of consumption and production – We have consumed more resources in the last 50 years than the whole of humanity before us. That’s right… We use more water, burn more fossil fuels and demand more food than ever before. And levels keep growing.

More people on the planet – means more demand for the planet’s resources. The earth’s population has grown exponentially. This means the 20th century saw the biggest increase in the world’s population in human history.

“But isn’t the population in my country decreasing?” I hear you say.

That may be the case but it’s not quite as simple as that. Patterns of consumption are very high in some parts of the world, and very low in others – often countries with higher population growth. The basic needs of huge numbers of people are not being met. Research suggests that some of the countries with the fastest population growth also had the slowest increases in carbon emissions. However, in these low income countries, despite a small carbon footprint per person population has been more than tripled in the last 100 years. The reverse was also true—for example the population of North America grew only 4% between 1980 and 2005, while its carbon emissions grew by 14%. In general terms richer countries, even though they have lower population growth, tend to have higher ecological footprints – they have higher levels of industrial activity to meet consumption demands. In fact, in 

“So how can we achieve economic growth for everyone if this is likely to lead to more resource demand? Surely this is unsustainable?” I hear you say 

And again, it’s not quite that simple (is it ever?). As countries grow in wealth, they tend to improve technology to make more efficient ways of producing, or outsource production to other countries, leading to a reduction in growth of ecological footprint. Yay! 

However, they are outsourcing to countries that are industrialising at a rapid rate due to internal consumption demands as well as production demands from those richer countries. This is where we need to watch out and keep a check on our demand for resources globally. We live in a world where no actions are isolated. Richer countries can rely on resource and/or waste-intensive imports being produced in poorer countries and enjoy the products without having to deal with the immediate impacts of the factories or pollution that went into creating them. But we know that global increases carbon emissions result in environmental effects that affect us all. 

In short

  • Population growth tends to decrease with increased access to economic opportunity, healthcare and education – the kind of things the SDGs try to achieve. A decrease in population will help to balance out those weighing scales above. 
  • Reducing consumption and demand for resources, especially from the most resource guzzling parts of the globe, will also balance out those scales.  

Empowering women and girls is consistent with the SDGs and not only leads to greater equality but, according to World Bank statistics, stabilises growth population. If every second family has on average one child less, there will be one billion fewer of us in the world than the 9.7 billion that the UN expects by 2050 – and four billion fewer by the end of the century. Reducing family size at this rate has long term benefits that include halving our impact on the planet by 2100. 

The carbon Footprint makes up 60% of humanity’s Ecological Footprint. Reducing the carbon component of humanity’s Ecological Footprint by 50% would get us from consuming the resources of 1.7 Earths down to 1.2 Earths. 

Both goals are reachable.

Blog, Sustainability

A (short) history lesson on the UN Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) build upon decades of work from the United Nations (UN).

In the 1980’s the UN established the Commission on Environment and Development (UNCED), to address major worldwide social & environmental challenges.
This led to a paper called Our Common Future, more commonly known as the Brundtland report.

The report outlined three fundamental components to sustainable development: environmental protection, economic growth and social equity, recognising that these were intrinsically linked. This report is still considered the backbone of the UN’s work on sustainable development and has influenced subsequent UN reports & recommendations.

Rio 1992
1992 United Nation Conference in Rio

The UNCED Rio Earth summit in 1992 was the largest environmental conference ever held and is where the Rio Declaration was masterminded. Building on the Brundtland Report, the Rio Declaration established principles to guide future development around the world. Its aim was to establish new and fair global partnerships amongst states, organisations and groups of people to drive forward global sustainable development. 

In 2000, came the adaptation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This notably set out the responsibilities of developed nations to help developing nations and included specific and quantifiable goals to be completed by 2015.

During the following years the MDGs seemed to galvanise momentum. The Final MDG Report found that the 15-year effort had produced the most successful anti-poverty movement in history. Although this was notable progress, there was still significant work needed to end hunger, achieve full gender equality, improve health and get every child into school. In addition, there was criticism that the MDGs didn’t focus enough on environmental issues, affirming the need for a renewed set of global goals.

Enter…. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), aimed at further progressing sustainable development to end global poverty and protect the environment.

Source: Eurostat

Sustainability? What is it all about?

Sustainability is all about keeping people and the planet going, well into the future. Our favourite definition is….

“…conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.”

According to the U.S National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 

Sustainability allows people and planet to thrive in the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to thrive too.  

Environment used to be the main point of sustainability. As you can see this is no longer the case. We hear a lot about life changing environmental activities, climate change, deforestation, pollution and these are big deals that affect us all, but sustainability is even bigger than this. The broad concept incorporates people as well as the planet and a third pillar, economy, that brings the two together.

The 3 Pillars of Sustainability
Society focuses on health wellness, equality and education of people with quality of life as major priority. It is ensuring that people have equal opportunities to have their basic needs met and that no one is left behind.
Economy focuses on using resources sensibly and efficiently such that the value of those resources are not diminished in the future.
All of these aspects are interconnected, affect each other and affect us all. Sustainability is about getting the right balance for this sacred trio, ensuring we look after the environment such that society is able to thrive, keeping a check on society such that the environment is not destroyed past reclaim and where does economy fit in? Good strong economies mean not only mean that everyone has a slice of the pie but that the pie is bigger, without being so big that it falls off the table!

sustainability pillars
sustainability pillars - environment
sustainability pillars - society
sustainability pillars - economy

How the 3 pillars interact

The climate crisis, largely caused by environmental degradation caused by humans has led to an increase in severe drought, rising sea levels and extreme weather occurrences, which in turn has wide reaching implications for Society and Economy. 

It costs industry and governments millions of dollars to deal with the impacts of severe weather occurrences, money that must be redirected from other budgets at short notice. In some places, conflicts arise, and governance and economic stability are threatened (see Syria’s story of migrant crisis here). 

It affects society in many ways, causing environmental forced migration not just for citizens of places like Syria or Bangladesh but in the United States. There could be up to 13 million people displaced by climate change in the US alone by the end of the century. This affects families and children especially, potentially reducing access to the basic needs of housing, health and education.

The Sustainable Development Goals
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the world’s best plan to build a better world for people and our planet by 2030.
Adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, the SDGs are a call for action by all countries – poor, rich and middle-income – to promote prosperity while protecting the environment.
They recognize that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that build economic growth and address a range of social needs including education, health, equality and job opportunities, while tackling climate change and working to preserve our ocean and forests.

It may feel like sustainability and these Global Goals don’t affect you. But hopefully we have shown that they do. As active citizens and consumers living in an increasingly interconnected world, our daily actions can have important impacts on other people, communities and the environment. Everything you do, eat, wear is intrinsically linked to the SDGs even down to your underpants!

sustainability pillars
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