What kind of transformations are needed to achieve the SDGs?

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are calling for some fundamental transformations.

If properly implemented country by country and and on a global scale will put our economy on a path to sustainable development.

The Six SDG Transformations

Transformation number 1: Education, gender and inequality

We should make sure that every person in every country has access to a good education system.

It should include formal education (from pre-primary school to secondary education), adult education, ongoing lifetime learning, school to work programs, and other aspects of skill-building.

All of these contribute to create societies that are well-educated, that have the skills for the 21st century, and that can participate in innovation.

By doing so we can achieve economic growth which means further economic progress and improvements in material conditions, good jobs will be generated, and economies will become more innovative. That results in having new technologies, new business approaches new business processes to improve human wellbeing.

Transformation number 2: Health, wellbeing and demography

We want a healthful society, in fact, health and more in general wellbeing, so physical health, mental health, and communities that are peaceful and thriving.

This requires significant transformations.

In some places in the world, even the most rudimentary health care is not available. This leads to millions of children dying every year before their fifth birthday because they’re living in places without even a rudimentary healthcare system. In some other places due to the tremendous expenditure, some people cannot afford access to the healthcare that they need.

During the recent pandemic, we have witnessed how scarcity and uneven distribution of medical resources has been affecting patients around the world.

There are also other huge crises of well-being that we are facing around the globe such as rising suicide rates, rising substance abuse, addictions to opioids, for example, epidemics of depression. So even in places with big and expensive healthcare systems, one can have a healthcare system but have a well-being crisis.

The Six SDG Transformations

Transformation number 3: Energy decarbonization and sustainable industry

Transformation number three addresses human-made climate change, which is caused by our use of fossil fuels that when burned, release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that traps heat in the earth and warms the planet.

Our industries are using other chemical and material processes that release other kinds of gases, so-called greenhouse gases. Methane, nitrous oxide and some other industrial chemicals that also caused global warming. So we need a transformation of our energy systems and our industrial processes and other contributors to greenhouse gases so that we stop the dangers of human-induced climate change.

Energy sector transformation is fundamental.

Moving from coal, oil, and gas to wind, solar power, hydroelectric power in some places, nuclear energy, geothermal energy, ocean power.

These are kinds of primary energy sources that do not emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and do not harm the planet in the same way that our fossil fuels do.

We do also need to turn wastes into new kinds of inputs for products or make products that are biodegradable rather than plastics that end up polluting the environment massively.

Transformation number 4: Sustainable food, land water and oceans

The fourth transformation is sustainable land use, especially around agriculture. The way we grow food or forests or pasture land, the way we fish, can have devastating effects on the environment.

Chemicals used in agriculture such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers such as nitrogen-based fertilizers and phosphorus-based fertilizers can be terribly polluting.

We need a transformation of how we grow food all over the world, how we manage forests, how we manage fisheries so that we’re not destroying the very biodiversity that we share the planet with, and that we depend on for our food supply and our wellbeing. Therefore, sustainable food and land use is a big transformation.

Transformation number 5: Sustainable cities and communities

The fifth big transformation is to make our cities work sustainably.

Many cities today are massive sprawls of pollution. Traffic jams, often urban-borne diseases like dengue fever, crises of water supplies that have led to huge water scarcity in major cities of the world during drought periods.

We need smart cities, smart in terms of transport, in terms of buildings, in terms of energy use.

We need to make, cities that are livable, healthful, walkable, green, pleasant places to live, safe from the kind of environmental threats that now imperil so many urban livers around the world. So smart, sustainable cities and all of the transport infrastructure around that is the fifth major transformation.

Transformation number 6: Digital revolution for sustainable development

The sixth and final of the grand transformations that will be necessary to achieve sustainable development is the digital revolution.

We’re living in a new world.

Our lives are being transformed by artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D manufacturing, using the internet to transmit the underlying data for manufacturing. The genomics revolution is a digital information revolution that is transforming healthcare and drug discovery.

There are many positive aspects of this digital revolution, but it also comes with many perils because some technologies such as artificial intelligence can be misused.

It can end up with new kinds of warfare, cyber warfare, or autonomous weapons. The internet can be not only a vehicle for transmitting information but a vehicle of course for spying and surveillance for loss of privacy, privacy, for manipulation of politics.

So the idea of a transformation to a digital world that is productive and secure and protects our human rights is a real big challenge.

All these transformations need major systemic changes.

They involve changes in technology, investments in physical capital, skill capital, and knowledge capital. They also require long term investments as well as complementarity of public action and private action.

We will require a set of economic, political, and social instruments for each of these transformations.

This is a deep systemic change.

We may get to 2030 to reach the SDGs, but we’re still going to have transformation required after that.

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