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

12 minute read

Updated on: 13 Oct 2020

Problem 1: We are not on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals

What the world needs to solve this problem:

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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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Who is working on this:

arrow_forward The European Union

Problem 2: Governments need to step up their ACTION to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals

What the world needs to solve this problem:

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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 3: Let’s talk about the money...

What the world needs to solve this problem:

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

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

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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 6: No more overconsumption!

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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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Who is working on this:

arrow_forward Oxfam

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