Attend a major climate or development event these days, and you can’t help but hear about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But what are the SDGs, and why is everybody talking about them?
What are the SDGs?
Taken by themselves, the SDGs are easy to dismiss as mere words, but they don’t exist by themselves: They’re woven into the Paris Agreement and into the lending guidelines of development banks around the world. They have the potential to become a sort of universal benchmark for sustainable investing around the world — Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) for the planet.
There are 17 of them, and they include things such as ending poverty, ensuring good education and building pipes, bridges, roads and flood-plains that will work in a changing climate.
More than 150 world leaders signed off on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals last year, and proponents hope they’ll become the guiding benchmarks for businesses around the world. Basically, it’s stuff you can’t argue with — but how do you get there?
First, by breaking the broad goals down into specific targets. The SDGs are broken down into 169 of those, and each has billions of dollars in financing attached to it. Second, by weaving them into existing frameworks to get buy-in across the planet. Third, by drawing in the private sector.
Goal 13, for example, is the one dealing with climate change, and it delineates five specific goals — from integrating climate change into national policies to helping people understand the science — but it also explicitly recognizes the UNFCCC as the primary vehicle for fixing this mess, and the UNFCCC has about a million financing mechanisms embedded in it.
The complexity conundrum
The Paris Agreement isn’t perfect, and it isn’t neat and tidy, as the Kyoto Protocol was — but that’s one reason the Kyoto Protocol failed.
The Paris Agreement is complex and often appears unnecessarily nebulous to people who are just now awakening to the climate challenge, and there is a dangerous trend among the mainstream media to dismiss it rather than try to understand it.
Some critics completely miss the point of the Paris Agreement and the SDGs, which aren’t “steps” at all but frameworks within which giant leaps can take place. The Paris Agreement, in particular, is more of a giant slide, decades in the making, that we can now glide down, and at speeds that are already sending shock waves through the fossil-fuel sector.
While the Kyoto Protocol provided sound-bite-sized objectives but no clear way of achieving them, the Paris Agreement provides a workable, upward-adjusting, all-encompassing bundle of thousands of individual agreements hammered out through decades of scientific research and political negotiation in conjunction with thousands of other agreements and national laws.
This post was originally published in Ecosystem Marketplace. Click here to read.