By Mel Wilson, PhD
I write this article at the beginning of 2017. To say it is a time of uncertainty is an understatement. Between last year's Brexit vote, Donald J. Trump winning the U.S. presidential election, and the ongoing rise in populism and sectarian violence within and between many countries, it is fair to say that the world's geopolitical tectonic plates are in upheaval and we are in for a bumpy ride for the next few years.
That said, some things remain relatively certain. The earth's population will continue to grow. Developing countries will continue to develop. Technology will continue to evolve. The climate will continue to change. And the pressure on natural resources to meet human needs will continue to mount. Addressing these, and other continuities, will require planning, coordination and cooperation, no matter which governments are in charge or ideologies are flourishing.
So how do we marry these two ostensibly conflicting concepts, the shift to political nationalism and the increasing need for international cooperation? Can we square this circle?
I like to think we can. To do so we need to look past the next few years of uncertainty and almost-chaos, and see the future we need to work towards. In other words, we need to follow the advice of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky: we need to skate to where the puck is going to be.
"I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been." - Wayne Gretzky
This desired future state has been articulated in the United Nation's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the associated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
For those not yet familiar with the SDGs, they are a set of 17 goals and 169 targets covering an array of social, economic and environmental issues, with a target date of 2030. The SDGs are the result of several years of research and consultation with stakeholders ranging from governments to communities, from academia to business. They are, in effect, the world's top priorities for ensuring the enhancement and sustainability of civilized human life and society as we know it.
The seventeen SDGs are built on five key themes:
People We need to end poverty and hunger, in all their forms, and ensure that all human beings can fulfill their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.
Planet We need to protect the planet from degradation so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations. We need to do this through sustainably managing natural resources, ensuring sustainable consumption and production, and taking urgent action on climate change.
Prosperity We need to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.
Peace We need to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence.
Partnership We need to revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development and base it on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity. We need to focus in particular on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable, while encouraging the involvement of all countries, all stakeholders and all people.
The SDGs give us a clear indication of where the puck needs to go.
Given the all the recent geopolitical upheaval, I recognize it will take considerable effort for governments, businesses, and civil society to put aside their differences, roll up their sleeves, and work together to achieve the SDGs. But there really isn't a viable alternative. And while current generations may not appreciate the impact of failing to meet the SDGs, future generations certainly will. And they will look back at us and wonder how we could be so myopic.
So whereas the short-term geopolitical acrimony makes it difficult to tell where the puck is now, the SDGs give us a clear indication of where the puck needs to go. And it is that future state that we should be focusing on, heading towards and delivering on. If we don't make people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership our top priorities, we are in for a very bumpy ride indeed.
In fact you might say it is game over.
© 2017 Mel Wilson, all rights reserved
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