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Is it possible to preserve both?

In order for economic growth to continue, we must preserve the environment. Policies need to be put in place for sustainable development. Countries and companies have come to the realisation that they cannot continue to ignore the environmental problem at hand. Enter, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs were the first wide scale global attempt to tackle problems other than economic growth. The MDGs and furthermore, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were turning points in history. Or so, that is what they seemed to be at the time. They showed promise of a real commitment to saving the environment.

The MDG in question is number 7, ‘Ensure environmental sustainability’ and whether this was actually achieved. One of the sub-targets under MDG number 7 is to integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources. The Millennium Development Goals Report (2015) seems to leave out the integral part of what policies were adopted by countries to tackle environmental degradation. There is no mention of any programmes or individual country successes. However, the report does note that deforestation has decreased although this still remains an issue in many areas (2015: 52). Arguably, one of the faults of the MDGs is that the focus was on encouraging and promoting sustainable development rather than doing more to actually enforce the laws and ideas. Also as Awortwi and Musahara (2015: 268) note, goal number 7 was “too narrow” to effectively handle environmental problems.

There was a general acknowledgement that gaps in achieving the goals still remain, enter the SDGs. The SDGs were a reformed continuation of its predecessor, the MDGs. The SDGs are a set of more complex and broader goals; however just as the MDGs they have a set timeframe of 15 years to be achieved. Will each goal and its sub-targets be achieved by 2030? Only time will tell.

Given the increased number of goals, the issue of environmental sustainability falls under more than one goal under the SDGs. However it is closely examined under goal 13 which is to: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. Under this falls the COP21 Paris Climate Conference, aimed at striving for a global temperature of 1.5 degrees Celsius. However, ‘Fatal Flaws’ have already been pointed out. Most notably the absence of a world federal government to implement reduction targets (Wollershiem, 2015). Also, Bawden (2016) notes that the Paris Agreement doesn’t come into force until 2020, by which point the extent of global warming could worsen dramatically.

The public wanted to know that an agreement had been reached and the signing of the Paris Agreement in April confirmed this. However, similarly to the MDGs, none of the commitments are legally binding and this is where the problem lies. In order for a real change to be made, emission-reduction targets need to be integrated with government policies, making them enforceable. Instead of painting a pretty picture to create the illusion that global warming is under control. As Ford (2015) notes, a few governments aren’t so keen on all the goals, particularly the more “uncomfortable” environment related goals. Ford goes on further to note that the 17 goals are seen as unappealing to some countries, with some political leaders such as David Cameron publicly saying he would want 12 goals at the most, preferably 10.

The sad truth is that the political leaders of the world are more concerned with their economic growth than preserving the environment. The dominating paradigm of capitalism places high importance on economic sustainability and little on environmental sustainability. For now, we can only sit back and allow the SDGs the chance to live up to its promises.

By: Rina Kastrati


Awortwi, N. and Musahara, H. (2015) Implementation of the Millennium Development Goals: Progresses and Challenges in Some African Countries. Addis Ababa: OSSREA.

Bawden, T. (2016) ‘COP21: Paris deal far too weak to prevent devastating climate change, academics warn’, Independent, 8 January. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/cop21-paris-deal-far-too-weak-to-prevent-devastating-climate-change-academics-warn-a6803096.html (Accessed: 10 November 2016).

Ford, L. (2015) ‘Sustainable development goals: all you need to know’, The Guardian, 19 January. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/jan/19/sustainable-development-goals-united-nations (Accessed: 10 November 2016).

United Nations (2015) The Millennium Development Goals Report 2015. Available at: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/2015_MDG_Report/pdf/MDG%202015%20rev%20%28July%201%29.pdf (Accessed: 10 November 2016).

Wollersheim, L. (2015) The Fatal Flaws of the Paris Climate Conference. Available at: http://www.dwfed.org/the-fatal-flaws-of-the-paris-climate-conference/ (Accessed: 10 November 2016).


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