Since the beginning of August, we have been giving you reports about SDGs (the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals) from around the world. At Invite Japan we are blessed with an international staff, so each of the reports was written by a different member of our team. In this blog post, we will wrap up our series on SDGs with a summary of those reposts and some thoughts about what to think about going forward.
So let’s start off by reviewing the countries we went through on our SDGs journey: the U.S., the Philippines, France, and Germany. We have provided links to the original blog posts, so feel free to take a look at the longer versions if you’re interested!
The U.S. (SDGs in the U.S.–What’s Going On)
The U.S. is a highly developed and rich country with an abundance of institutions and resources that would seem to put it on a good path towards fulfilling the SDGs. Surprisingly however, the U.S. comes in 35th out of all countries in terms of progress on SDGs, which is last place out of developed countries.
There are a couple of reasons for this relatively low position. First and foremost is the lack of national leadership, despite the work that has been done by environmental movements, activists and local leaders. It has been difficult to achieve a consensus on global climate change and what to do about it due to polarization, and there has been no consistency between presidential administrations for many years now.
Moreover, a lot of the responsibility for implementing sustainability policies resides with state governments and local municipalities. So while some states and localities have been active at trying to implement many of the SDGs, others have not. This has created a hodge-podge of practices, and there are significant gaps in progress.
However, things are beginning to change. More states and cities are realizing that the only way of moving forward into the future is by becoming more sustainable. Numerous floods, fires, droughts and hurricanes of increasing severity are affecting every part of the country. And older cities that have lost industrial jobs during the past couple of decades are beginning to see sustainability as a way to revitalize their decaying urban infrastructure and attract new residents.
At the same time, change is happening at the top as well. A $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill is set to pass in Congress, which would give money to states and localities to fix bridges, roads, transportation networks and update electricity grids. Another bill, for $3.5 trillion, is also on the horizon. This bill would give money for green energy projects, as well as “human infrastructure” like health care, child care, and care for the elderly.
With these two bills as a start, it is possible that the U.S. will be able to jumpstart it’s lagging progress, and to use it’s creativity and resources to meet its sustainability goals.
The Philippines (SDGs in the Philippines – The Progress and the Unique Goals)
As Kazu notes in his blog post, The Philippines is trying to align its sustainability goals with its long-term aim at developing and advancing its economy and society under the plan called AmBisyon Natin 2040. This is a vision for the Philippines’ long term future, to be completed by 2040, as articulated by its citizens. It includes how people want to live, what kind of a country they want to be, and the aspirations of the country and its people.
The Philippines is also working to combine governmental and non-governmental agencies in cooperation to achieve its goals as part of the Philippine Development Plan (PDP). At least four administrative agency-backed plans are set to be approved.
The Philippines’ long term development vision is rooted in a firm cultural tradition of intergenerational equity. That is, Filippinos believe that future growth should not come at the expense of current generations, and that all citizens are deserving of a life that is matatag (firmly rooted), maginhawa (comfortable), and panatag (safe).
Paris might already seem like the perfect city to many, but as Guillaume relates in his blog, there are plans to make it even better. “The Great Paris Project” (Le Grand Paris) hopes to make Paris and its surroundings easier to move around in, and to update its transportation network to align with lower-carbon standards.
It also aims to improve access to jobs, culture, education, and sports not only in the city center, but also in the larger metropolitan area. This will build a new “Greater Paris” in the process, geared towards making the area as a whole more inclusive and equal.
Germany (SDGs and Me)
In her blog post, Anna brings the SDGs discussion down to a much more personal level, by thinking about what she personally can do to promote SDGs in her own life. What are the small behaviors that we can change, what are the ways of thinking we change, in order to make a better world?
First, Anna decides to check her carbon footprint. She finds a website that can calculate this for you based on your living situation, consumption choices and daily habits. Her carbon footprint turns out to be 12.58 tons per year, which is equal to about 180 trees. Now that she has some idea of just how much she is contributing to climate change, she can go about changing some of her habits like:
•Switching her web browser to one that promises to use its profits to help plant trees.
•Researching which coffee is the most environmentally friendly.
•Trying out plant-based milks as a replacement for cow milk.
Here is how Anna sums up her post:
“I am just an individual in a first world country, so the impact I have to help with the achievement of the SDG goals by 2030 is minimal. I can make minimal, more ecological and ethical choices in my everyday life, I can write blog posts like this, and most importantly, I can vote with my wallet. In the end, it is down to big corporations and even social structures to make the big changes in the world, so if we all buy a little more from the good people and a little less from the bad, we can communicate what we want–a good life on planet earth for everybody.”
Do we leave everything to future generations, or do we move forward ourselves?
Looking back on the blog posts from this past month, it’s clear that each country has its own goals and difficulties, and paths that it needs to walk down.
SDGs were set up in 2015 and adopted in 2016. The goals are meant to be completed by 2030. Which means there are only around 10 years left. On top of that, the ongoing pandemic has made it difficult, if not impossible, for any country to really focus on these goals right now, even though this is technically the most critical phase of the SDGs’ action plan.
This is when we should be hunkering down and getting the job done. And if you think about it, making progress on SDGs and fighting the global pandemic are not that radically separate. Both require thinking about the world as a whole and adopting a longer-term vision than maybe we are used to.
Part of the problem is that many people want to focus on what is in front of them now. The distant future is hard to conceptualize, and so therefore the sorts of problems that will emerge in full force at a later time can be kicked down to later generations to solve.
This type of thinking poses a major hurdle to solving the sustainability issues of our time, which require more than just individual changes in behavior. Anna’s blog post highlights some of the absurdity of having to think about all of these choices individually. And yet, it’s a start.
Maybe we do all need to start thinking about how difficult it will be for us individually, and start taking responsibility. Maybe then we will be able to reach out to others and listen to our children, who will be the ones that are responsible for cleaning up everything we do now. And maybe then we will realize that we have the power to change things now, through our actions and our behavior and our wallets and our votes.
It’s time to start paying attention to the future.
At Invite Japan, we have a number of popular programs that are based around learning about SDGs, including events for schools, workshops for companies and local organizations, and puzzle activities for individuals and small groups.