Before we explore why there is a global push towards integrating sustainability in everything we do, lets take a look at one of the most fundamental definitions of sustainability.
In 1987, the United Nations Brundtland Commission defined sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
In other words, it involves using resources in a way that ensures their availability for the long term while minimising negative environmental, social, and economic impacts.
Key aspects of sustainability include:
Environmental Sustainability: This focuses on minimising the impact of human activities on the environment, such as reducing pollution, conserving resources, and protecting biodiversity.
Social Sustainability: This involves promoting social well-being, equity, and justice. It considers factors such as community engagement, human rights, labor conditions, and social equality.
Economic Sustainability: This aspect aims to create economic systems that are viable in the long term. It involves promoting responsible business practices, efficient resource use, and economic stability.
The urgent need for sustainability stems from the interconnected and escalating challenges of climate change, resource depletion, and social inequality.
Global Warming and Extreme Weather Events: Climate change, primarily driven by human activities, is leading to rising global temperatures and an increase in extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, and wildfires.
The World Meteorological Organisation has tallied close to 12,000 extreme weather, climate and water – related events between 1970 and 2021. Developing countries were hit hardest, seeing nine in 10 deaths and 60 per cent of economic losses from climate shocks and extreme weather.
According to the Washington Post, the Earth briefly passed the feared global warming milestone of 2°C last Friday, November 18, 2023. Not surprising because the world has experienced record breaking temperatures this year but we are not targeted to hit this milestone until about 2050 if we remain on this emissions trajectory according to this AI study. Whilst it was a brief breach, it does bring to light the warnings that global temperatures are rising and that crossing the 1.5°C threshold is not that far-fetched and that sustained breaches would unleash far more severe climate change effects on people, wildlife and ecosystems. Under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, countries have pledged to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees – and preferably to 1.5 degrees – compared to pre-industrial levels.
Impact on Ecosystems and Biodiversity: Rising temperatures and changing weather patterns are disrupting ecosystems, leading to the loss of biodiversity, and disrupting delicate ecological balances. Biodiversity is our strongest natural defence against climate change and according to the flagship WWF’s 2020 Living Planet Report, we are seeing significant biodiversity losses since 1970 with North America at 33%, Latin America and the Caribbean coming in highest at 94%, Europe and Central Asia coming in lowest at 24%, Asia Pacific at 45% and Africa at 65%.
Threat to Human Health and Infrastructure: Climate change poses significant risks to human health, infrastructure, and agriculture. According to the World Health Organization, 3.6 billion people already live in areas highly susceptible to climate change.
Overexploitation of Natural Resources: Rapid industrialisation and population growth are causing the depletion of vital natural resources such as clean water, arable land, minerals, and fossil fuels. According to the UN Environment’s Global Resources Outlook 2019,
Resource extraction has more than tripled since 1970, including a fivefold increase in the use of non-metallic minerals and a 45 per cent increase in fossil fuel use.
By 2060, global material use could double to 190 billion tonnes (from 92 billion), while greenhouse gas emissions could increase by 43 per cent.
Irreversible Damage to Ecosystems: Overuse and improper management of resources are causing irreversible damage to ecosystems, disrupting habitats, and threatening the survival of many species.
Increased Vulnerability to Climate Impacts: Socially disadvantaged communities are bearing the brunt of climate change impacts due to limited resources, inadequate infrastructure, and geographical vulnerability.
Disparities in Access to Resources: Inequitable distribution of resources and opportunities, including education, healthcare, and economic prospects, perpetuates social inequalities, limiting the potential of vulnerable populations.
Need for urgent action
The urgent need for sustainability arises from the imperative to address these challenges effectively and mitigate their severe consequences. Sustainable practices and policies are critical in tackling climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting renewable energy, and fostering climate resilience.
This urgent need is also evident in the focus areas below expected to be deliberated in a few weeks at the 28th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 28):
Fast-tracking the energy transition and slashing emissions before 2030;
Transforming climate finance, by delivering on old promises and setting the framework for a new deal on finance;
Putting nature, people, lives, and livelihoods at the heart of climate action; and
Mobilising for the most inclusive COP ever.
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