In a way, all of the sustainable development goals interact with SDG 13 in some way or another, and in our opinion, it’s probably the most important of them all. If we can’t solve the climate issue and stop the global temperature increasing, we are going to see rising sea levels, extreme weather, and dirtier air, and that’s just getting started. If we aren’t safe, we won’t be worrying too much about building cities, increasing education, or achieving gender equality, we’ll have bigger fish to fry, focusing on food, shelter, and other basic needs.
What many people overlook about the climate is how deep the knock-on effects go. Allergens and pandemics, water contamination, extreme heat, and food supplies all create secondary environmental issues to deal with. When the resources start to run out, civil conflicts, forced migration, displacement, and disease will thrive.
The whole world needs to act now to stop us from reaching this grim eventuality. We must be ambitious, tough, and resolute, creating technologies, government policies, systems, and jobs that offer low-carbon solutions that are replicable for other nations, and other nations must do the same for us.
In the Covid-19 world, working on all of the above is made considerably more difficult. So, that begs the question…
What are the challenges and ambitions of SDG 13?
- Learning about extreme weather, monitoring the frequency and intensity, managing rising sea levels, and documenting ecosystems change
- Infectious disease distribution may become harder to monitor and control, so we must learn how to take better care
- Managing migration, calming or resolving natural resource conflicts and navigating political instability
- Considering economic, environmental, and social issues that arise through climate problems
- Managing all of the issues with an ageing average population
- Trying to slow down and even reverse global warming, which requires greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to be cut in half by 2030 to even stand a chance of saving the climate
- Driving behavioural, economic, technological, and institutional change to place greater importance on climate action
- Protecting human health globally from the adverse effects of climate change
Is there a case to say that COVID-19 has helped some of the SDGs?
From our perspective, it’s a little bit naive or short-sighted to say that Covid-19 has helped some of the SDGs. This opinion is completely negated by the fact that before the pandemic, we had huge amounts of momentum, funding, and support for the Sustainable Development Goals. As a result of the pandemic, we have seen that some of the SDGs have suffered inversely, whereas other ones have seen greater exposure and attention, which is mistaken for ‘help’.
The long-term effects of lockdowns, population control, economic management and more will be felt for years to come, with some countries faring better than others. There’s so much uncertainty and little trust in projections and forecasts that the future remains a mystery, especially in an economic sense.
So, what’s the case for saying that the pandemic has helped the SDGs? Well, those who argue that the active approach pre-Covid wasn’t doing enough can offer the perspective that the responsive approach post-Covid can offer more progress. Perhaps there’s something in this idea, that the collaborative efforts of businesses, governments, and people, who all admit we live in a new world, can be better. Behavioural change might be easier to come by now that we’ve all collectively lived through a pandemic, a sort of unity if you will.
Now, there’s a counter perspective that many people overlook when this topic comes up, and it’s something I want to ask you…
If the SDGs had been taken more seriously earlier, do you believe the negative effects of the pandemic would be greater or lesser?
If we had done the things the SDGs suggested much earlier, would this whole situation have been avoidable?
Regarding the loss of work, loss of life, economic damage, growth of poverty, damages to productivity, effects on education – why were they not taken as seriously before the pandemic?
The reality, how I look at it, is that the pandemic will push back the poorest and least developed nations even further, whereas it will cause the least amount of damage to the most robust and resilient (see: richest) nations. The countries who were already handling the SDGs the best, and who will invest the most going forward, are typically not those who need the most support.
A suspected 5% drop in carbon emissions…
It doesn’t really paper up the cracks, does it? Despite a slowed-down world, with factories closed, airlines halted, and work-from-home becoming the new way of working, the level of carbon emissions is down just 5%. We need to hit 50%. It seems unlikely. But, unlikely is the name of the game, and it’s down to the persistent determination of the sustainability industry and climate activists to ensure that we don’t give up.
The new world we enter can be better, but will it be? It’s hard to say.
A ‘Future-Proof Global Recovery’ Possible?
I don’t want to come off as pessimistic with my realism. The truth is, this industry I love has been warning that something like this would occur for decades and few cared to listen. Now that it’s here, and we’ve been validated, it’s really time to listen and act so that we can make a future-proof recovery. I’m worried though, are we going to be ignored again?
Climate action has been slow to address, far slower than the Covid-19 response. Isn’t it interesting that when livelihoods are under immediate threat, we find solutions, but when the challenge is long term, we overlook the concern? Well, the truth is that we don’t have the tools, science, or research funding to solve the climate issue, not yet at least. In order to future-proof, we need to treat the climate as if it’s already at its worst point, as if climate change is itself a pandemic. If we fail to do this, we can expect more pandemics, more extreme weather and damage, food instability, and economic ruin.
When we talk of a ‘global recovery’, many people will immediately think about the economic recovery, not realising that the climate completely underpins economic stability.
The solution lays here:
- Developing sustainable technologies
- Transitioning to renewable energy as fast as possible
- Declaring personal climate emergencies and transitioning to a low-carbon lifestyle
- Growing new sustainable sectors for decarbonisation
- Supporting sustainable policymakers and political movements
- Encouraging sustainable finance and investment
- Redesigning food systems
Which concerns fall under the remit of SDG 13?
Before I wrap up, I want you to think about all of these things which are a part of climate action:
- Climate refugees and displaced people
- Agriculture, food production and rural communities
- Coal supplies and other fossil fuel stores
- Large businesses and pollution
- The return of aviation
- Growing levels of plastic, electronics, and food waste
- Soil change
- Energy shortages
- Droughts and famines
That’s a lot, right? Climate action has to be given more respect if we are going to turn this ship around.