Tag Archives: sustainable development

Goals for Rio: A Path to Sustainability

First published on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on June 8, 2012

World leaders and thousands of citizens representing public and private sectors will convene in Rio de Janeiro next week for Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development. The goal: to exchange ideas for solving some of the world’s most pressing problems; and, to create a roadmap for the future.

India, drinking water

Pupils in India drinking rainwater from an underground store. Photo: Dieter Telemans/Panos Pictures

The agenda is broad: economic development, environmental sustainability, social inclusion. The participants in the formal talks June 20-22 are hoping to produce a document outlining how the world should move ahead to achieve these things. That could include a set of “sustainable development” goals and commitments – ways to help people climb out of extreme poverty, and to keep our growing population from consuming the planet’s natural resources at an unsustainable rate.

Perhaps even more important will be all the interactions going on around the formal talks – meetings of business and civil society groups, non-governmental organizations, local government representatives and others. They will exchange ideas and policies, make their own commitments to move ahead, and forge new and productive partnerships.

In an article published today in The Lancet, Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs outlined his own ideas for sustainable development goals – the SDGs. He writes about how these goals can build on the Millennium Development Goals, the UN’s set of targets that aim to reduce extreme poverty and boost social well-being in many other ways by 2015.

“The SDGs are an important idea, and could help finally to move the world to a sustainable trajectory. The detailed content of the SDGs, if indeed they do emerge in upcoming diplomatic processes, is very much up for discussion and debate,” Sachs writes. “Their content, I believe, should focus on two considerations: global priorities that need active worldwide public participation, political focus, and quantitative measurement; and lessons from the MDGs, especially the reasons for their successes, and corrections of some of their most important shortcomings.”

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For Rio+20, a Call to Preserve Biodiversity

First posted on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on June 6, 2012.

Deforestation, biodiversity


An estimated 9 million species of living things inhabit the Earth — plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms such as algae and bacteria. But those species are disappearing at an alarming rate, and this loss of biodiversity appears to be a major driver of environmental changes that can affect the biological and chemical processes that humans rely on, according to a new paper in the journal Nature.

“No one can agree on what exactly will happen when an ecosystem loses a species, but most of us agree that it’s not going to be good. And we agree that if ecosystems lose most of their species, it will be a disaster,” said Shahid Naeem of Columbia University, who was one of 17 scientists from around the world who worked on the paper, a review of 20 years of ecological research published this week.

The 7 billion people living on the planet now depend on those ecosystems, and the diverse array of life that comprise them, for our own existence: for food, water, fertile soil, fuel, clean air and protection from pests and disease. The ways that those organisms absorb, utilize and recycle nutrients also play a key role in our climate.

“There is now unequivocal evidence that biodiversity loss reduces the efficiency by which ecological communities capture biologically essential resources, produce biomass, decompose and recycle biologically essential nutrients,” the authors write in the paper, “Biodiversity loss and its impact on humanity.”

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Population, Consumption and the Future

life exp male

life exp 2

First posted on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on April 27, 2012.

As the world population grows toward 10 billion, consumption of water, food and energy is expanding at a rate that cannot be maintained without depleting the planet’s resources. If we fail to address these two issues together, we face a grim future of economic, social and environmental ills, warns a new report prepared by a group of scientists and other experts for the Royal Society.

The report “People and the Planet,” published this week by the London-based society, examines trends in population and consumption and points to some stark realities:

  • While population increase has been declining since the mid-1960s, experts project we will still add 2.3 billion people by 2050, much of it in increasingly crowded cities.
  • Along with an increasing demand for basic needs, the gap between the haves and the have-nots is striking. For instance, the report says, “a child from the developed world consumes 30-50 times as much water as one from the developing world.” By 2025, the report says, 1.8 billion people could be living in areas where water is a scarce commodity.
  • A similar gap holds for food and energy: While average consumption of calories has increased, in 2010 “close to one billion people did not receive enough calories to reach their minimum dietary energy requirements.” Per capita emissions of CO2 “are up to 50 times higher in high income than low income countries, with energy insufficiency a major component of poverty.”

“The world now has a very clear choice,” concluded Sir John Sulston, a fellow of the Royal Society and chairman of the report’s working group. “We can choose to address the twin issues of population and consumption. We can choose to rebalance the use of resources to a more egalitarian pattern of consumption, to reframe our economic values to truly reflect what our consumption means for our planet and to help individuals around the world to make informed and free reproductive choices.  Or we can choose to do nothing and to drift into a downward vortex of economic, socio-political and environmental ills, leading to a more unequal and inhospitable future.”

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From Sendai to Rio: A Call for Action

First posted on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on April 13, 2012

Sendai, Japan 2011 tsunami

A house swept to sea by the 2011 tsunami that struck northern Japan. Photo: U.S. Navy

The people living on the northeast coast of Japan had learned to expect large earthquakes. But despite being one of the best-prepared nations, they were caught off-guard by the force of the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami that devastated their coastline and led to the meltdown of reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Many areas of the world are far less prepared, and the effects of major earthquakes, hurricanes and floods can be even more far-reaching than they have been in Japan. But there are measures we can take to lessen the impacts of such events. A worldwide effort is underway to improve resilience against the forces of nature, and to link that effort to sustainable economic development.

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