The 17 SDGs are now THE resilience path forward
Indulge me, please, and allow this column to be the memo many (most?) resilience and adaptation professionals have not gotten yet. Because there is A LOT of activity taking place to make the world more climate resilient, but collectively we are missing a vital lesson found pricelessly in the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) framework and its 169 targets.
We have come to treasure the 17 as THE path forward for all things sustainability. Today, now that we know for sure the world will overshoot 1.5ºC in the next 20 years or so, on our way past 2ºC shortly thereafter, it has become an imperative of the highest urgency to see the 17, within that broader role, as a particularly fantastic facilitator of all things resilience.
That is something folks generally do not do, a costly gap matched by two other common and related omissions. Google “resilience” and the results invariably focus on cities, and then mainly on what resilience teams do to protect physical stuff from extreme weather events, like coasts, infrastructure and buildings.
Cities are, indeed, a central space, perhaps the most important, to be sure, given that we’re fast headed for a world of 70% urban population, where more than 80% of all carbon originates. We venture to cover them relentlessly in this blog.
But beyond cities, we need, as a resilience community, to focus just as relentlessly on communities, companies and organizations of all kinds, wherever they’re located, and what they need to prepare and adapt.
And the other omission: within our attention to cities, let’s attend to the human side of resilience as much as the physical.
To their massive credit, everyone at the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100RC program and the city teams spawned, bless their souls, plus ICLEI’s Resilient Cities Initiative and other leading efforts, share this very intention. But a read of what the cities are actually prioritizing shows a gravitational pull toward the physical.
It is not the fault of ICLEI, 100RCs or any other single player, that when “resilience” is mentioned in conversation, the talk turns to the physical agenda of the world’s cities, with little mention of the corporate side or the human dimensions on all sides.
It’s just how the language has evolved. The calling of this column is to broaden it far further.
Enter the 17
Vital in that process is, precisely, the 17 SDG framework — as an action guide to resilience in all its dimensions, and the reason we at TRJ have turned it into a guide for our writing.
Seven of the 17 focus on the human (1 Poverty, 2 Hunger, 3 Health, 4 Education, 5 Gender Equality, 10 Inequality, and 16 Institutions), eight on the physical (6 Water, 7 Energy, 8 Economy, 9 Industry & Infrastructure, 11 Cities & Communities, 12 Consumption & Production, 14 Oceans, and 15 Land), and two cover everything (13 Climate Action, and 17 Partnerships). Call it the 7+8+2 formula, if it helps grasp the point.
It is as dramatically life-saving to strengthen a stormwater system to prevent flooding, as it is to make sure people are not so poor that they lack the resources, or the healthcare, or the education, or the justice and equality, to better adapt to flood events, or to extended droughts, or raging forest fires, or a polar-vortex freeze.
Check out some of the resilience wording throughout the SDGs, and this is but a sampling (emphasis added):
- Goal 1 on Poverty, Target 1.5: “Build the resilience of the poor and vulnerable and reduce exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters.”
- Goal 2 on Hunger, Target 2.4: “Ensure sustainable food production and resilient agricultural practices that help maintain ecosystems, strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters, and progressively improve land and soil quality.”
- Goal 3 on Health, Target 3.d: “Strengthen the capacity of all countries for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks,” including those created by climate change.
- Goal 9 on Infrastructure, Target 9.1: “Develop quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure to support economic development and human well-being.”
- Goal 11 on Cities, Target 11.b: “Increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement holistic disaster risk management.”
- Goal 12 on Business, Target 12.6: “Encourage companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices,” including mitigation and adaptation.
If you’re yet unfamiliar with the 169 targets, please dig in. It is a short and marvelous read. Together, they are ambitious, they are sweeping, and they are daunting, exactly the challenge the world needs at this critical juncture.
Part of their magic is that they represent decades of global consensus building, making this the new true and shared language of sustainability today. Another is that they combine great detail with sufficient openness to interpretation, so we may customize the targets as needed, like the off-quote mention of climate-related health risks in the Goal 3 bullet above, and the inclusion of adaptation as one of the sustainable practices to be implemented by companies under Target 12.6.
Aside from the 7+8+2 framing, the pairings are telling, and helpful:
- Social welfare: 1, 2, 3 and 4
- Equality: 5 and 10
- Business: 8, 9 and 12
- Natural resources: 6, 7, 14 and 15
- Cities & infrastructure: 9 and 11
Another three are stand-alones, not as easily paired: 13, 16 and 17. The SDGs can also be inserted into just about every resilience initiative in the world. Take the Four Dimensions of the 100RCs, for example:
- Health & Well-being: goals 1, 2, 3, 4 and 8
- Economy & Society: 5, 8, 10, 11, 12 and 16
- Infrastructure & Environment: 6, 7, 9, 11, 14 and 15
- Leadership & Strategy: 13, 16 and 17
We will be writing far more about the Goals and Targets in this space, hopefully contributing to the expansion of the default limited instinctive understanding of what resilience means and includes, and thereby leading to far more significant action across all adaptation fronts.
God knows we’ll need it.