Disobeying International Order: United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals
Those passionate about sustainable energy and the environment were shocked on May 3, 2018 when Insideclimate News, a Pulitzer-prize winning publication, released the article “World Is Not on Track to Meet UN’s 2030 Sustainable Energy Goals.” The United Nations (UN) is the international council that has been guiding the global decisions on how to reduce carbon emissions and halt the effects of global climate change, most notably with the drafting of the Paris Climate Agreement. This climate agreement was ratified and adopted by almost every country in the world, including countries with severe pollution problems, and little to no access to clean water, food, and electricity, and excluding the United States of America – one of the largest consumers of resources in the world. The European Union has gone above and beyond in clean energy implementation and is achieving their sustainability goals while countries that do not have access to adequate research labs, let alone proper technology, have been left in the dust by wealthier countries.
Out of the one billion people who do not have access to electricity, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, only one-third of them will have access to electricity by 2030. This is not meeting the goals outlined by the United Nations, especially since two billion people will still be using harmful fossil fuels. Many of these countries have some of the worst air quality ratings in the world – India and China ranked some of the worst as far as air quality as put forth my the World Health Organization. Poor air quality is estimated to be linked to over seven million premature deaths per year. These deaths, and many others, are ones that the United Nations was determined to reduce with their clean energy initiatives and sustainable development.
Many of the world’s smaller and less economically prominent countries had an initial problem with the Paris Agreements, since many of these countries do not contribute to pollution, or have been pressured into development by larger countries (See here).. Many countries in Asia, Africa, and South America have very high poverty levels and are at very high risk of ecological disaster. The United States, among other wealthy countries, pledged $3 million in aid by 2020 for smaller countries to abide to the Paris Agreements under the Obama Administration. It’s safe to say with the new administration pulling out of the Agreements that the funding has stopped.
The way that the Paris Climate Agreements were designed was fundamentally flawed. The United Nations has no authoritative power, rather, the power lies with each individual country and how they choose to govern. The Paris Climate Agreement expressed that each country would develop a plan that reduces their emissions, which would set them on track for a more sustainable future. The overall goal was to prevent the global temperature increase of two degrees Celcius. The individual country would tailor their plans to the changing needs of their nation and people, and there would be no penalty for states that fell short of their goals. The United Nations hoped that as a body, they could promote diplomacy and engage in a little peer pressure to insure that countries were meeting their goals. Despite the lack of implementation rules and regulations, this monumental agreement showed the unity of 195 nations all working towards a common goal: preserving the Earth.
So it is no surprise to many that there are countries that are not on track to meet their goals, since there is no way to enforce them, and not every country has equal access to resources. Each country wants to protect their sovereignty, or their freedom to govern themselves as they choose; so forcing a country to make changes is not a possibility unless we’re starting a war. However, we are reaching a very crucial point in time, were everything we do now will shape the future of our planet. Mayer Hillman, a social scientist and prominent writer in the realm of climate change, criticizes the way we talk about climate change. Everything, including the studies set forth by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has a certain date. For example, the Panel on Climate Change put out research that said the world is still on course to warm by three degrees Celsius by 2100. But why do we never look past 2050, or 2100? So what if it is not in our lifetime, but what about future generations? Hillman says that this is the primary problem with the human population today: our inability to consider our consequences on the future of humanity.
The United States, the second highest polluting country after China, does not currently have a national plan to reduce carbon emissions or contribute any aid to foreign countries that are attempting to sustainably develop. Many companies in the United States have taken it amongst themselves to lower their carbon footprint and comply with the United Nations and the Paris Climate Accords (I have written about quite a few of them here). This really begs the question: is it too late to halt the effects of climate change? I wrote my senior capping paper on climate change and some economic alternatives that would put sustainability at the central focus of the economy. I ended my paper with the question “What would need to happen in order to convince humanity that we need to change?” Right now, the droughts, the rising oil prices, and the pending wars are not enough to convince people that we need to make fundamental changes in how we live on this planet. And that is what the sustainable development goals intended to do: change the world. The only problem is...we’re falling behind.
Despite the doom and gloom that comes with the topic of global climate change, the United Nations has still made progress that is making people’s lives better every day. Forty countries have reached universal access to electricity since 2010, and reliance on renewable energy resources is increasing globally as well. Global investment in renewable energy is estimated to be $280 billion for 2017. The United Nations and it’s most prominent climate leaders are continuing talks in Germany, as they reassess the commitments that they have made during the Paris Climate Conference. I have faith that their scientists will come up with accurate numbers with further research, but I am wary of further implementation in many countries, including the lack of implementation in the United States. As we continue to reach the tipping point, I once again ask, what will it take to make people realize that the way we are living is completely unsustainable?
Barkham, Patrick. “'We're Doomed': Mayer Hillman on the Climate Reality No One Else Will
Dare Mention.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 26 Apr. 2018, www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/26/were-doomed-mayer-hillman-on-the-climate-reality-no-one-else-will-dare-mention.
Gustin, Georgina. “World Is Not on Track to Meet UN's 2030 Sustainable Energy
Goals.”InsideClimate News, 4 May 2018, insideclimatenews.org/news/03052018/un-sdgs-renewable-energy-sustainable-development-goals-solar-climate-clean-cooking-transportation-fuels.
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