The UN's sustainable development goals are a universal call to action to end poverty and social inequality while tackling climate change. We'll tell you what sustainable development is, and how it can be achieved in the US.
What Is Sustainable Development?
Sustainable development is an approach to development that looks to balance different needs against an awareness of the environmental, social and economic limitations we face as a society.
Examples of sustainable development include:
- investing in greener energy such as solar or wind energy,
- creating more green spaces including parks where plants and wildlife can thrive, and
- promoting sustainable farming methods such as crop farming.
An often-quoted definition comes from the Brundtland Report: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Unsustainable development occurs when current progress is at the expense of future generations. Unsustainable development includes unsystematic planning that causes environmental degradation, such as the use of fossil fuels, or farming methods that cause damage to animals and ecosystems, such as industrial slash-and-burn farming.
In 2015, all United Nations Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The agenda proposes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which focus on tackling climate change and ending poverty. They consist of:
- No Poverty
- Zero Hunger
- Good Health and Well-Being
- Quality Education
- Gender Equality
- Clean Water and Sanitation
- Affordable and Clean Energy
- Decent Work and Economic Growth
- Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
- Reduced Inequalities
- Sustainable Cities and Communities
- Responsible Consumption and Production
- Climate Action
- Life Below Water
- Life on Land
- Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
- Partnerships for the Goals
Overall, the development goals recognize strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, erase hunger, and spur economic growth to help end poverty.
Why is Sustainable Development Important?
The world is facing serious environmental challenges including climate change, freshwater depletion, ocean over-fishing, deforestation, water and air pollution, and hunger. Sustainable development is very important as it focuses on improving human-environment interaction by prioritizing the management and protection of the earth’s natural resources for future generations, as well as for the millions of other species who live on our planet. By promoting stable economic growth, conservation of natural resources, environmental protection and social progress and equality, we can conserve and enhance our natural resources so that all countries can meet basic needs of employment, food, energy, water, and sanitation.
How Can Sustainable Development Be Achieved in the US?
In 2019, the US is ranked 35th globally on sustainable development out of 162 countries. The ranking is based on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which were unanimously adopted in 2015 by the 193 member states of the United Nations. Issues such as poverty, income inequalities, and universal access to healthcare and other public services are areas that the US needs to improve with regard to sustainable development. Biden entered office in 2021 and he made promises to achieve sustainable development, with the promise of economic transformations including the promotion of opportunity and inclusive economic growth, while also addressing climate change and environmental sustainability.
In comparison to other developed countries, the US ranks low in terms of sustainable development with regard to social inclusion and environmental sustainability. Social inequality is very high in the US as there are huge gaps between the richest and the poorest in society. For example, the richest ten percent of people in the US own 70 percent of the country’s wealth. Today in the US, more than two million Americans live without running water and basic indoor plumbing, and many more without sanitation. These are primarily people from marginalized communities including low-income people in rural areas, people of color, and indigenous communities. Environmental sustainability is weak because powerful corporate lobbies for fossil fuels and heavy industry have precedence over sustainable environmental development.
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