Despite National Geographic defining climate change a problem that “became news already 30 years ago”, media coverage of the topic seems have become stronger in recent times. Considering the growing alarmism, it is fair to start questioning if sustainable development is really achievable in the upcoming future.
The Sustainable Development Goals
In terms of the latest regulations, 2015 was a very important year. On one side, the United Nations General Assembly set the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a collection of 17 goals covering social and economic development issues including poverty, hunger, health, education, global warming, gender equality, water, sanitation, energy, urbanisation, environment and social justice. The same year, all nations approving the Paris Agreement joined forces to fight climate change, with the ultimate goal of keeping global warming under 2 degrees Celsius.
Despite the importance of such achievements, they seem today just milestones: universal goals set without taking into account the planetary boundaries and therefore not warrant of sustainable development in the future.
Planetary boundaries is a concept developed in 2009 by a group of environmental scientists led by Johan Rockström from the Stockholm Resilience Centre and Will Steffen from the Australian National University. They analysed nine Earth-system processes: stratospheric ozone depletion, biodiversity loss, chemical pollution, climate change, ocean acidification, freshwater consumption, land system change, atmospheric aerosols and nitrogen and phosphorus flows to the biosphere. From an extract of their work, we read that “transgressing one or more planetary boundaries may be deleterious or even catastrophic due to the risk of crossing thresholds that will trigger environmental change”.
A New Perspective
During his TED talk presented at the “We the Future” conference last September, Johan Rockström revealed that not only “we are not delivering on our promises”, but we are also putting the planet at danger, pushing it beyond its natural limits.
The only way to change this is promoting a new perspective: the sustainability expert seems firmly believing that a transition back to a safe space is still possible and we can build a strong future, without destroying the planet. In order to do so, we need to achieve those Sustainable Development Goals within the planetary boundaries.
The Earth-3 Model
Rockström proposes the Earth-3 model, a forward-looking alternative, that the best world thinkers and members of the scientific community drew up. The model envisages the following 5 key transformations to achieve global sustainable development, respecting the planet and its resources:
- Cut emissions and invest in renewable energy
- Re-think our approach to food systems with an eye on sustainability
- Build a model for country development considering environmental parameters
- Aim at redistribution of global wealth
- Invest in education, health, access to work and contraception
The model, tested by the scientific community, claims that moving along this trajectory, radical transformations are achievable in the next 12 years and beyond and therefore sustainable development will be possible.