Sustainable development goals offer us a path to prosperity

Sustainable development means different things to different people.

David Suzuki

Sustainable development means different things to different people. The concept was popularized in 1987 by the groundbreaking Brundtland Commission report to the United Nations, “Our Common Future”. Over the past three decades it has entered conversations around global poverty, health, environmental quality and social justice. It’s even been used to rationalize the ongoing extraction of globally significant natural resources, and some people think it means sustainable growth. (Some cynics said environmentalists got the sustainable part while corporations got the development.)

It’s possible to extract resources with attention to environmental consequences, but unless it’s done in ways that ensure the planet remains healthy enough to support human life, where all people enjoy peace, health and food security, can it really be called sustainable?

In 2000, world leaders convened under the UN umbrella to establish a set of objectives and strategies that became known as the Millennium Development Goals. Although they weren’t perfect, they offered new ways of looking at and targets for addressing issues like poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter, gender equality, education and environmental sustainability.

Fifteen years later, on its 70th anniversary, the UN has established new objectives called Sustainable Development Goals. Building on the previous strategy, these include 17 goals and 169 specific targets. Developed through years of consultation among people from around the world, including social and environmental science and policy experts, the program aims to secure global peace and prosperity.

A UN statement offers a compelling vision: “A world in which consumption and production patterns and use of all natural resources — from air to land, from rivers, lakes and aquifers to oceans and seas — are sustainable. One in which democracy, good governance and the rule of law, as well as an enabling environment at national and international levels, are essential for sustainable development, including sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development, environmental protection and the eradication of poverty and hunger. One in which development and the application of technology are climate-sensitive, respect biodiversity and are resilient. One in which humanity lives in harmony with nature and in which wildlife and other living species are protected.”

Although I take issue with some elements, such as the reference to “economic growth” (an outdated concept in an overpopulated world with increasingly scarce resources), I’m encouraged that the new plan builds on the Millennium Goals to offer more specific and stronger targets for protecting the air, land, water and natural environments on which we depend for health, well-being and survival. There’s also a specific goal for protecting oceans, recognizing that ocean health is essential for peace, food security and resiliency in the face of global warming.

The Sustainable Development Goals take effect in January 2016, when UN member states are expected to enact policies and legislation to realize them and their associated targets. Canada is part of the UN, and up until 2010 we held a coveted seat on the UN Security Council. We’re one of the world’s wealthiest countries with the eighth-highest standard of living, according to the Human Development Index. Are we contributing in ways that will help the world meet the goals, or are we hindering their chances for success?

It’s something for our new government to consider. Our newly elected leaders have a lot on their plates, domestically and internationally — including the December UN climate summit in Paris. As with the climate negotiations, a privileged country like Canada is in an ideal position to show leadership on these development goals, especially if we expect poorer UN member countries to do their part. Canada must work with other nations to create transformative change that protects what we have and leaves the world in better shape for our children and grandchildren.

The UN goals may be lofty, but without them, and without real action to achieve them, the state of our economies, environment and social conditions will inevitably continue to degrade. And peace will elude us. That’s not the future I want.

The fate of the world is up to all of us. We need to encourage all levels of government, along with relevant organizations, to understand and contribute to the plan’s success. Let’s ensure Canada is a proud partner in realizing the progressive change the UN Sustainable Development Goals promote.

Dr. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Western Region Science Projects Manager Bill Wareham.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Just Posted

Tim Schewe
Drivesmart column: Not securing your load could cost you big

An object of any sort falling off of the vehicle in front of you is definitely a surprise

Jared Popma recently streamed a live concert from the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre. (Ashley Daniel Foot photo)
21-year-old jazz artist talks favourite tunes and joys of music theory

Jared Popma recently streamed a concert from the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre

Vetch cover crop beginning to flower. (Mary Lowther photo)
Mary Lowther column: Vetch and crimson clover to the rescue of soil fertility

I add dry organic fertilizer as plants use up what is in the soil.

Sarah Simpson
Sarah Simpson column: A shift in perspective can sometimes change everything

Have you even been forced to wake up at 5:30 on a Saturday

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

Most Read