With growing concerns regarding sustainability throughout the world, the United Nation member states came together in 2015 to build a framework that encompasses strategies to promote economic prosperity, emotional well-being and overall development while protecting the environment. The goals are to take in to consideration countries from all levels of economy and development – poor, middle income and rich. The goal, as cited by the United Nations is, ‘to build a better world for people and our planet by 2030’.
The SDG’s cover thematic issues covering aspects like water, energy, climate, oceans, urbanization, transport, science and technology. In addition, they also include aspects that focus on general well-being of the individual in terms of socio economic and mental aspects.
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However, while some of these goals are pretty easy to follow and report at the corporate and national level, not all are simple, but require considerable strategic and management decision making, not to mention a lot of deliberation and collaboration between companies and the government. This has led to a probable misconception that each of the 17 goals as laid down by the UN are to be separately tackled with measures and solutions that are exclusive of one another. However, the truth is that a lot of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by all nations are all connected. The goals together form a highly integrated web of challenges and success can be achieved by achieving all of them together.
There are many different type of linkages ranging from two goals which may be indivisible and utterly dependent on one another to a pair of goals that may be interlinked in a manner such that making progress in one can cancel progress in the other — and perhaps cause things to get worse.
As an example, SDG 14, the “oceans goal,” has its strongest linkages to issues of poverty, food, economic growth, cities, production and consumption and climate (SDGs 1, 2, 8, 11, 12 and 13). Similar studies have shown instances of 97 relevant systemic interactions among the SDG Targets have been observed, 61 positive and 35 negative.
However, negative does not translate in to impossible. Two goals may be negatively correlated by virtue of having some constraints and conditional ties regarding the way of achieving one so as to not destroy the prospects of achieving another. Achieving them require extra effort to manage the interactions so that they become synergies instead of zero-sum games. A related example might be that of Meeting the resilience targets for climate action in SDG 13 in the wrong way could make it very hard to reach some of the marine conservation targets under SDG 14. Building sea walls instead of protecting and restoring salt marshes, changing urban land use patterns and doing ecosystem-based management in off-shore areas, might help in tackling sea level rise — but at the cost of degrading life in the sea. Such instances demand a more integrated approach.
Sometimes, two sustainable goals, like 16 and 17, both of which, in part deal with creating awareness and educating as well as ensure better implementation of the existing norms, may be borne out of similar basic requirement, that is an able and strong leadership capable of influencing people to act to make a difference.
Thus we see that the UN SDG’s form a very well defined network of target achievable which can provide some much needed direction towards the sustainable development and progress that is much needed considering the current times.