At Green Works, we check in with our clients a little while after completion of a project. It is always good to get feedback and any thoughts on the project itself but it is also interesting to hear how the implementation is going and what changes have been made.
Often, we see changes are happening that go beyond the original project scope. Once a business has started its sustainability journey and has some first successes under its belt, there’s a desire to do more. On a personal level, people start to make little changes to their day to day lives.
I recently got in touch again with Forms Plus and asked what changes the attendees of our sustainable packaging workshops had made, and here are a few examples:
Many are focused on packaging and in fact avoiding single use plastic is the ~#1 change people make according to a recent Deloitte study, followed by buying more seasonal produce and local products.
To some, these changes may seem small, but I think they matter. Sure, such changes in themselves do not reduce our carbon footprints enough to limit global warming. We need big, systemic change for that.
How is major societal transformation created? Recent research (Centola, D, 2018; Winkelmann, R. et al 2022) found that it takes roughly 25% of the population for the societal convention to change and create a social tipping point. When enough people have changed their views and are starting to act on them, their thinking and behaviour becomes more ‘normal’, more mainstream, and more and more people start to do the same. That is where real systemic change can happen.
Just think - one in four.
That is not impossible, that is what we need to make happen. Why not start with something easy, like avoiding plastic or recycling more, and then see what else you can do. We don’t need perfection; we need lots of people doing what they can. So let’s celebrate every little change we see. Talk about it, spread the word, and get more friends, colleagues, suppliers and customers to do the same.
Why is it important for a business to evaluate its sustainability and environmental impact? For society to achieve the climate change ambitions set out in the Paris agreement of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees of pre-industrial levels all sectors must play their part. Governments are increasingly putting in place legislation, taxes and green incentives for businesses. Awareness among consumers has increased thanks to the David Attenborough effect and many now demand that businesses offer more eco-friendly products. If environmental protection and carbon reduction is not a priority for your business or for you personally, it is still an operational topic that should be addressed to ensure you that you are not left behind. Net zero is currently an optional strategy, but it is a matter of when, not if, it will become a legal obligation and so getting a head start is highly advisable.
What are the first steps we should consider when looking to address these issues? Firstly, a business should look at its full operations or value chain and ascertain where they think the biggest area of their footprint or environmental impact lies. They should also consider what risk climate change poses to their business model around areas such as legislation, supply chain and future product demand influences. For example, could a carbon tax influence your costs or will rising sea levels contribute to price hikes for raw materials. Once this is done, they can look at what is easy to change quickly and what needs more of a long-term plan.
Is it going to be expensive? Not always, many easy wins are actually cost saving or efficiency changes that make sense even if not considering environmental impact. Green energy and transport solutions are becoming more affordable and will soon be cheaper than conventional alternatives, especially if you make use of government incentives. For most businesses it will be cheaper long-term to reduce carbon emissions now and play their part in limiting warming than any adaption costs to cope with the effects of climate change.
What does getting to net-zero actually mean? We essentially need to balance the amount of man-made carbon emissions with the Earth´s ability to sequester (remove) carbon through natural and artificial sinks. This should be done by reducing the carbon produced and increasing the amount of carbon absorbed, either through natural carbon sinks such as forests or technologies such as carbon capture and storage. As businesses, the main area we can influence is the first of these by looking at ways to reduce our carbon footprint.
There’s lots of impacts outside my direct control – what should I do in these circumstances? No business can tackle these challenges on its own. Collaboration with stakeholders (or partners) is a key step to reducing the overall impact of the product or service across its whole value chain. In the short term, work with suppliers or downstream businesses to also adopt carbon reduction strategies through partnerships or contracts. You can also choose to work only with businesses that share your values and climate ambitions. Be vocal about what you are doing, simply sharing your story can engage, educate and perhaps even inspire your staff and customers.
I’ve heard of off-setting – is this not the answer? Off-setting is a tool that can be used over the short-term for emissions that are genuinely unavoidable or as a temporary transition solution whilst other forms of mitigation are implemented. Off-sets should not be seen as a way to continue “business as usual” and simply paying to make things look better to consumers. Any off-set program that is used must be evaluated for its credentials, for example ensuring it is permanent and doesn’t have negative social implications. Systems that remove carbon should be preferred over those that mitigate or reduce future emissions.
Do consumers really care about this type of information? With the media attention and focus on events such as COP26 this issue is certainly gaining momentum. A recent study by Deloitte (2021) found that the majority of consumers are now making changes to adapt to a more sustainable lifestyle. Avoiding single-use plastics is still the most common change consumers have made. Ethical and sustainability issues are a key consideration for 1/3 of consumers, who claim to have switched brands as a result. Lack of interest, price and lack of information are the main reasons holding some consumers back. Sustainability is also an important factor in attracting and maintaining employees – with top talent increasingly making employment decisions based the social policies of a business and not just the paycheck.
What information and help is there available to SMEs? There is a lot of information out there but admittedly it can be confusing. For most businesses, the UK Government´s business climate hub is a good place to start. If you want to get more technical around carbon calculation, then the Greenhouse Gas Protocol website has free tools and calculators you can use. Of course, some of this can be very time consuming and complex and so that is why many SMEs chose to engage with consultants such as Green Works to guide and create strategy and action plans around the relevant topics.
Is there a roadmap or framework I should follow? To understand the reductions relevant to your specific industry take a look at the Science Based Targets Initiative. It takes into account that some industries will be able to reduce their emissions more than others and offers for different industries.
At Green Works, we have developed our own framework to take you to net zero and we would be happy to walk through this with you during a free 1-hour discovery call.
So, if I decide to just do nothing, will it really matter? As one of richest nations on Earth we must see the big picture of our collective actions, both historic and future. The scenarios set out by the IPCC on what would happen in a world with over 2 degrees of warming are stark and devastating to all life on the planet. Climate change affects everyone and will make the disruption we have seen with the Covid-19 pandemic appear insignificant. We are already seeing the effects of climate change, here in the UK and in Europe: more extreme weather events, flooding, storms and heat waves in summer, devastating wildfires. Climate change is no longer something that only affects other people or distant countries. We have also witnessed in recent weeks the effects global supply issues have on prices, but these will be just the tip of iceberg compared to what’s ahead. So yes, what you do does matter.
Is there such a thing as ‘Sustainable packaging’?
Climate change and pollution is now the #1 issue for the British public according to the 2021 Ipsos Mori issues index. Our client Forms Plus have ‘upped the ante’ on where they want to be as a sustainable business and asked Green Works to develop sustainable packaging training for their team.
Online shopping has seen huge growth, particularly during the pandemic, creating more demand for everything from envelopes, parcels and bubblewrap to tape. But how sustainable are these packaging materials? Is there even such a thing as sustainable packaging…?
First, we looked at some climate science, the urgent need for action, consumer perceptions and the business case. We then focused in on packaging and how ‘sustainable’ the different options are. ‘Sustainable’ is really a relative term when looking at packaging, depending on the criteria you are looking at. Here a few things to consider:
What material is the best choice: paper, plastic, glass, aluminium? All have different pros and cons and the ‘right’ choice will depend on what it is you are trying to package.
The amount of material used will make a difference. Go with as little material as you can whilst ensuring the product itself is kept protected. The product itself will usually have a much higher carbon footprint than the packaging, so preventing damage is the priority.
Use packaging that is the right size for the item you are packing. Any empty space around the item will need to be filled with yet more material, and you are effectively shipping air, with all the carbon emissions that go with it.
Many materials that are ‘recyclable’ are never actually recycled. Recycling should be easy for consumers and any extra trip to a collection point is best avoided, so check whether materials are part of regular household recycling collections. Packaging made of only one material is also preferable, as it can then go straight into the recycling bin without the need to separate different materials (honestly, most people don’t bother). Recycled content is important, as using recycled material helps ‘close the loop’, but just because something is ‘brown’ it doesn’t mean it has recycled content.
Equipped with all the info to inform their clients about the pros and cons of each packaging option, Forms Plus are ready to help make a difference and find the best solutions for you. Get in touch to have a chat!
Sustainable agriculture in the developed world has lent heavily on genetically modified crops - but is this the right way to go for feeding a planet of 8 billion people and rising.
Sustainable agriculture and the concept of global food security is facing many challenges in its attempts to feed a growing world population against the backdrop of climate change. Therefore, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) should be considered as a part of a multi-disciplined approach in tackling these issues, but any productivity gain shouldn’t come at the costs of ecosystem services, biodiversity or human health. With such pressure on our agricultural systems GMO has the potential of increasing yields and crop resistance to disease therefore they deserve the chance to be explored further through research and properly controlled studies (Royal Society 2009).
It is however also important to proceed with caution as the financial interest of the agro-industry is a clear motive to lobby for GMO use, whether for the public good or not. Indeed, any subsidies to promote GMO use could end up as an indirect financial transfer to large corporate players in the industry and support the continuation of inefficient practices (WWF 2005). Although there is potential for improvement, current studies from countries such as the USA and Spain looking at yields, cost of production and profitability for GMO crops are underwhelming and there are continued problems with co-existence with other farming techniques, especially organic production (WWF 2005).
In 2003, agrochemical worldwide sales were valued at US $ 26.7 billion (WFF 2005) and so we must always consider that scientists and reports may be influenced by third party interests and look deeper into who is funding research and academic work. For example, Syngenta are both contributors and on the review panel for the Royal Society article. Furthermore, the WWF as an activist organisation will generally sit on the side of environmental protection over economic well-being or scientific progress and so their interpretation of other studies may be influenced by this background.
Royal Society, 2009. Reaping the benefits. Science and the sustainable intensification of global agriculture. London: Royal Society. http://royalsociety.org/policy/publications/2009/reaping-benefits/ (Accessed 16thOctober 2019).
WWF, 2005. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs): a danger to sustainable agriculture. Gland, Switzerland: WWF. http://.panda.org/downloads/.../gmosadangertosustainableagriculture.pdf (Accessed 16th October 2019).
How we measure carbon production and then trade it in both compliance and the voluntary markets is often both scarily inaccurate or overwhelmingly complex.
The standard comparison tool for different greenhouse gases is to convert them using an equivalency metric into a CO2 value. The most widely used is called the Global Warming Potential concept and evaluates the comparative integrated forcing of gases into the atmosphere over a set period of time, usually 100 years (Edwards and Trancik 2014). Global Temperature Change Potential is further variation to this method and expands the cause effect relationship by defining the mean surface temperature change resulting from the emissions pulses (Myhre et al. 2013).
Several alternatives have been proposed as it is suggested that the aforementioned methods do not fully take in account uncertainties about the future climate scenario and also often underestimates the impact of CH4releasing technologies, especially when climate thresholds are approached (Edwards and Trancik 2014).
Estimations of carbon emissions using narrowly defined protocols are usually under the real value of the actual footprint of the product or service analysed as they do not take into account the full supply chain life cycle. Power generation, cement manufacturing and transport are sectors where most of the emissions lie within scope 1 and 2. Most other sectors have their footprints mostly coming for their upward or downward supply chain and so have higher scope 3 emissions. Industries that only assemble or modify large amounts of components are good examples of this as the direct emissions from their operations make up only a small proportion of the overall footprint of the products they sell, once manufacturing and delivery is considered (Mathews et al. 2008).
Carbon calculators are an example of a personalised approach to help environmental behavioural change; but looking at research by Buchs et al. (2018) have been shown to have only limited long-term effect on reducing CO2 footprints of participants. Calculators do however improve awareness by allowing people to obtain more personalised information on their lifestyle impacts, make connections between actions and emission and also enable people to track progress made.
There are currently a large number of websites offering calculators as this is a cost-effective way of personalising information and making the environmental message less general. It is also a way of governments understanding whether individuals will adopt behavioural changes voluntarily or more policy intervention is required. More cynically it could be seen as a way of private companies attracting more site visits and selling their greener product variants or indeed a way of fossil fuel companies shifting the responsibility focus away from polluting sectors onto an individual highly consumption reduction is needed, not systematic change.
So once we establish a footprint on both an individual, business or societal scale what role do carbon markets play in regulating this?
Emission trading systems have been controversial as they have often failed to put an accurate value on the real externalities of carbon emissions and have in some instances provided windfall profits to companies in the energy sector who benefited from free allocation of allowances (Newell et al. 2014). This has been coupled with severe leakages where high carbon activities have just been transferred outside of scheme boundaries or indeed fictitious accounting where carbon have been artificially inflated so that credit can be obtained when levels are lowered once again (Cullenwood and Wara 2017).
Any new system should try and tackle these above issues and ideally be closely linked and homogenous to prevent switching between markets. Schemes should also avoid any clash with other mitigation policies to ensure the price is an accurate reflection of excess carbon in the market (Newell at al. 2014).
The voluntary offset market can potentially fill a space that the larger UNFCCC CDM projects cannot deliver due to their increased bureaucracy (Wang and Corson 2015), higher costs and verification requirements and also their lack of flexibility and diversity (Wylie et al. 2016). They can be successful at provide small scale, locally led sustainability objectives – such as ecosystem blue carbon projects and furthermore act as a cost-effective testing ground for new concepts and procedures (Wylie et al. 2016).
The contribution can be strengthened by ensuring that the low-income countries that these projects not only benefit sustainable development in low income regions but also ensures that not all financial benefits stemming from carbon credits are lost through transfer of property rights to the global north (Wang and Corson 2015).
Edwards, M. R. and Trancik, J. E. 2014. Climate impacts of energy technologies depend on emissions timing. Nature Clim. Change, 4, 347-352.
Matthews, H.S., Hendrickson, C.T., Weber, C.L., 2008. The importance of carbon
footprint estimation boundaries. Environmental Science & Technology 42, 5839- 5842.
Büchs, M., Bahaj, A. S., Blunden, L., Bourikas, L., Falkingham, J., James, P., Kamanda, M. and Wu, Y. 2018. Promoting low carbon behaviours through personalised information? Long-term evaluation of a carbon calculator interview. Energy Policy, 120, 284-293.
Myhre, G., Shindell, D., Bréon, F.-M., Collins, W., Fuglestvedt, J., Huang, J., Koch, D., Lamarque, J.-F., Lee, D., Mendoza, B., Nakajima, T., Robock, A., Stephens, G., Takemura, T. and Zhang, H. 2013. Anthropogenic and Natural Radiative Forcing. In: Stocker, T. F., Qin, D., Plattner, G.-K., Tignor, M., Allen, S. K., Boschung, J., Nauels, A., Y. Xia, V. B. and Midgley, P. M. (eds.) Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
Newell, R. G., Pizer, W. A. and Raimi, D. 2014. Carbon Market Lessons and Global Policy Outlook. Science, 343, 1316-1317.
Cullenward, D. and Wara, M. 2014. Carbon markets: Effective policy? Science, 344, 1460.
Newell, R. G., Pizer, W. A. and Raimi, D. 2014. Carbon markets: Effective policy? — Response. Science, 344, 1460-1461.
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Wang, Y. and Corson, C. 2015. The making of a ‘charismatic’ carbon credit: clean cookstoves and ‘uncooperative’ women in western Kenya. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 47, 2064-2079.
Wylie, L., Sutton-Grier, A. E. and Moore, A. 2016. Keys to successful blue carbon projects: Lessons learned from global case studies. Marine Policy, 65, 76-84.
The recently published government review on the economics of biodiversity was scathing on our interactions with nature and valuation (or lack of) of ecosystems. The Dasgupta review concluded:
"Our economies, livelihoods and well-being all depend on our most precious asset: Nature. We have collectively failed to engage with Nature sustainably, to the extent that our demands far exceed its capacity to supply us with the goods and services we all rely on. Our unsustainable engagement with Nature is endangering the prosperity of current and future generations. At the heart of the problem lies deep-rooted, widespread institutional failure. The solution starts with understanding and accepting a simple truth: our economies are embedded within Nature, not external to it."
Here I look over some of the other academic research that studies the complexities of ecosystem services.
Scientific publications provide ample real-world evidence and examples of biodiversity reductions causing changes to a range of ecosystem functions. Examples outlined by Dirzo et al. (2014) illustrate this well and include arthropod pests destroying food supplies potentially more than doubling without biological control; seed production falling in New Zealand due to declines in bird pollinators and lost wildlife as a food source in Madagascar increasing anemia in the local human population by 30%.
The way many ecosystems globally function has been drastically altered by changes in species numbers, both up and down (Wardle 2011). Furthermore, the type and magnitude of ecosystem function in relationship with biodiversity will depend greatly on levels of human interaction and any loss could hamper biodiversity’s potential stabilizing effect on future climate variables. (Eisenhower 2016). More specifically, Dirzo et al. (2014) indicates that globally ecosystems could suffer from declines in insect pollinator diversity such as those seen in Northern Europe in the past 30 years; reduction in pest control, nutrient cycling and even human health (whereby up to 36% of animal species used for food or medicine are now endangered).
Recent meta-analysis of conducted studies suggests the impact of biodiversity losses on ecosystem function is on a similar scale to global changes such as pollution and systematic defaunation threatens to push us toward global wide tipping points (Dirzo et al. 2014). This is reiterated by Hooper et al. (2014) when they summarise, that species loss is a key influence of the main processes involved in the carbon cycle and the provisioning of many ecosystem services.
Relationships and balances between biodiversity and ecosystems are however extremely complex and we still have a relative lack of knowledge about the net consequences of the species gains and losses on terrestrial ecosystems functioning. Our ability to understand the impact of species loss in real ecosystems thus requires further experimental studies to ascertain the response of Earths systems to future changes (Wardle 2011).
Further ecosystem research needs to be of a nature that can be easily understood by and communicated to the public so that all stakeholders can follow how these complex trade-offs between human wellbeing and ecosystem services work in practice (Costanza et al. 2017). These studies should look beyond the standard GDP per capita type measurements of progress and look deeper into the distribution of benefits and relationships. Research should also see which roles are played by technology in either preventing system decline and providing alternative ways to substitute them (Raudsepp-Hearne et al. 2010).
A majority of current research has been heavily focused on purely identifying what ecosystem services are provided and somehow measuring them. In the future, the priority must be to enable policy makers to know options and trade-offs between decisions they are making; this is achieved through studies that are more orientated to the decision-making process, incorporating elements such as objectives, performance measures and alternative actions (Martinez-Harms et al., 2015). Data sets used should be a mixture between biological, social and economic so that we can understand how ecosystem services correlate with human well-being over both short and long-term scenarios including a systematic review of existing and historic policy to allow better choices for future decisions (Guerry et al. 2015).
A further priority of any research must be that of speed – changes that could result in ecological tipping points may already be too late to prevent, but we are unable to wait until all the complex symbiotic dynamics are fully understood before we act on the next steps to prevent further irreversible effects (Costanza et al. 2017). Most people of the world live in urban areas and yet there is currently a gap in research on how urban ecosystems can be designed to enhance service provision in these environments (Raudsepp-Hearne et al. 2010). As we populations and cities grow improving knowledge in this subject will be vital.
I believe that putting an economic value on ecosystem services is essential to ensure their provision for future generations, but we must be cautious that as it doesn’t always have the desired outcomes one would expect. By putting a market analysis value on the goods and services provided by ecosystems can play a role in creating awareness around their contribution to human wellbeing and visibility to society (Hansjürgens et al. 2015) but we must be very cautious with using this as a blanket approach to ecology preservation and policy decisions. Costanza et al. (1997) put a yearly value of $38 trillion (rough average) on ecosystem services and so this should act as a strong incentive to protect these provisions (Balmford et al. 2002).
In a capitalist structure that makes decisions based on macro-economic criteria, valuing ecosystem services goes some way to ensuring the often ignored public and social goods found in nature are factored into this process and in an ideal situation win-win outcomes between nature and development such as those seen in Costa Rica Coffee Plantations (where retention of forest patches enhanced pest control) can be achieved (Adams 2014).
Despite the potential advantage of engaging capitalist policy makers in their own language we must be careful trying to manage the whole planet for human benefit (Rull 2010). By putting an economic value on nature, we are focusing on the anthropocentric utility and not its intrinsic value to a wider planetary spectrum that would be apparent with more bio-centric approaches (Schröter et al. 2014). We are also essentially selling out on nature but commercialising its value to satisfy policy makers driven by profits when really conservation is a moral issue and must be addressed as such (McCauley 2006). This could easily lead to species that don’t openly provide a service value being expendable and that a certain amount of nature can be sacrificed for human development (Rull 2010).
Furthermore, relationships within ecosystems are intricate and what exact processes provide goods and services are difficult to identify (Adams 2014): As the relationship is also constantly changing over time what could have no ecosystem service value today could be vital in the future, when it may already be too late.
Costanza, R. et al. 2017. Twenty years of ecosystem services: how far have we come and how far do we still need to go? Ecosystem Services 28, 1-16.
Martinez-Harms M. J., et al. 2015. Making decisions for managing ecosystem services. Biological Conservation 184, 229-238.
Raudsepp-Hearne, C. et al. 2010. Untangling the environmentalist’s paradox: why is human well-being increasing as ecosystem services degrade? BioScience 60, 576–589.
Guerry, A. D. et al. 2015. Natural capital and ecosystem services informing decisions: from promise to practice. PNAS 112 (24), 7348-7355.
Adams, W.M. 2014. The value of valuing nature. Science 346, 549-551.
Balmford, A. et al. 2002. Economic reasons for conserving wild nature. Science 297, 950-953.
Hansjürgens, B. et al. 2017. Justifying social values of nature: economic reasoning beyond self-interested preferences. Ecosystem Services 23, 9-17.
McCauley, D.J. 2006. Selling out on nature. Nature 443, 27-28. Rull, V. 2010. The candid approach. EMBO Reports 11(1), 14-17.
Schröter, M. et al. 2014. Ecosystem services as a contested concept: a synthesis of critique and counter arguments. Conservation Letters 7(6), 514– 523.
Dirzo, R., Young, H. S., Galetti, M., Ceballos, G., Isaac, N.J.B., Collen, B. 2014. Defaunation in the Anthropocene. Science, 345 (6195), 401- 406. 10.1126/science.1251817
Eisenhower, N. et al. 2016. Biodiversity-ecosystem function experiments reveal the mechanisms underlying the consequences of biodiversity change in real world ecosystems. Journal of Vegetation Science 27, 1061-1070.
Hooper, D.U. et al. 2012. A global synthesis reveals biodiversity loss as a major driver of ecosystem change. Nature 486, 105-108.
Wardle, D.A. et al. 2011. Terrestrial ecosystem responses to species gains and losses. Science 332, 1273 – 1277.
What are the processes responsible for climate change?
The IPCC report provides an authoritative compilation of scientific evidence about climate change. But how representative is it of scientific opinion? I.e. do climate scientists agree/disagree with the IPCC’s position presented in its Assessment Reports? I have taken a quick review of some of the latest literature to see whether this reflects the actual opinion of the scientific community.
According to six studies looking at climate change literature from published climate scientists between 90% and 100% of them agree with anthropogenic global warming as outlined by the IPCC’s report (Cook et al. 2016). Further work by Cook et al. (2016) indicate a more accurate consensus is around 97%. This number is reduced slightly when opinion from less relevant experts are taken into account or indeed assuming that papers that make no clear conclusion on warming factors actually dis-agree with the hypothesis. This is shown in work by Tol (2016).
Analysis by Steffen et al. (2018) gains credibility from the fact that its fundamental assumptions come from the theory of planetary thresholds, which themselves have been well documented with a number of sources providing significant evidence. This is reinforced with the knowledge that the behaviour of the Earths system´s movement between glacial and non-glacial states over the last 0.5 -1 million years has been recorded and understood There is also high confidence in the research that tipping points are hard to reverse once reached. Credibility could be further improved through more in-depth and quantitative modelling of Earth’s systems (Steffen et al. 2018).
Despite the strong scientific consensus that human activities are largely responsible for recent climate change, many people are sceptical of this., but why is this? Perhaps people are sceptical of the human contribution towards climate change as they are lacking personal experience of its effects or are prevented by individual values and beliefs to accept the science. Bain et al. (2015) adds that by accepting its connection many people would have to change their political ideologies, which in itself is difficult to facilitate. There has also been a failure in the communication of the theories needed to persuade non-believers that anthropological climate change is even occurring.
Le Quere, C., Raupach, M.R., Canadell, J.G., Marland, G., Bopp, L., Ciais, P., Conway, T.J., Doney, S.C., Feely, R.A., Foster, P., Friedlingstein, P., Gurney, K., Houghton, R.A., House, J.I., Huntingford, C., Levy, P.E., Lomas, M.R., Majkut, J., Metzl, N., Ometto, J.P., Peters, G.P., Prentice, I.C., Randerson, J.T., Running, S.W., Sarmiento, J.L., Schuster, U., Sitch, S., Takahashi, T., Viovy, N., van der Werf, G.R., Woodward, F.I., 2009. Trends in the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide. Nature Geoscience 2, 831-836.
Keenan, T. F., Prentice, I. C., Canadell, J. G., Williams, C. A., Wang, H., Raupach, M. and Collatz, G. J., 2016. Recent pause in the growth rate of atmospheric CO2 due to enhanced terrestrial carbon uptake. Nature Communications, 7.
Deb Richter Jr, D., Houghton, R.A., 2011. Gross CO2 fluxes from land-use change: Implications for reducing global emissions and increasing sinks. Carbon Management 2, 41-47.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and have been used my many organisations as a benchmark and framework for economic progress whilst protecting environmental concerns. But are they fit for purpose and have they actually had any kind of meaningful effect. Here we review a couple of relevant papers to see what the research says on the topic.
From the literature evaluated it could be concluded that the MDGs have had varied success against their pre-aligned targets, but in all instances, have made positive steps in the right direction. This leads Chibba (2011) to conclude that the struggle to get towards the goals as being more important than the targets themselves. Most success has been seen in removing people from extreme poverty and hunger, improving education, reducing child and maternal morbidity and the reduction of diseases such as HIV and Malaria. Other goals such as addressing environmental sustainability have been less successful (with the exception of eradicating ozone depleting substances) and overall none of the goals have been fully achieved, despite headline successes (UNDP 2015).
Part of the lack of success with the MDGs lies within the uneven distribution of their impacts across regions; with the poorest and most disadvantaged groups being left behind. This includes gender inequalities, lack of wealth distribution and increased exposure to environmental threats for the global poor. SDGs, although larger in number than the MDGs seem to offer more in connectivity between themes and solutions. For example, they recognise that there is only limited success if education or health care is improved, but only within certain geographies, income levels or ethnic groups.
The success of the SDGs must be measurable by both targets and indicators, that themselves need to be derived by expert opinion. Most importantly they need to be relevant. The indicators then need to be structured into an operational framework that allows them to be connected enabling target synergies are leveraged and trade-offs minimised. Although there may be many scientific and technical policies that measure success of the SDGs we must also ensure that there are understandable and accessible headline indicators to inform the wider public of their progress (Hak et al. 2016).
Chibba, M. 2011. The Millennium Development Goals: Key Current Issues and Challenges. Development Policy Review, 29(1), 75-90.
Hák, T., Janousková, S., Moldan, B. Sustainable Development Goals: A need for relevant indicators. Ecological Indicators 60 (2016) 565–573.
UN, 2019. Sustainable Development Goals. Available from: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/ (Accessed 2nd October 2019).
UNDP, 2015. The Millennium Development Goals Report. New York: United Nations.
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