ONE of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to “Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns” (SDG12). There are eight targets under this goal, including to achieve “environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimise their adverse impacts on human health and the environment.”
Shifting to sustainable consumption and production is essential in addressing climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.
It was hoped that all the SDGs as outlined by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development would be achieved by 2030. But with recent setbacks such as the Covid-19 pandemic, would achieving any of these targets by 2030 be possible?
The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2021 states that the total amount of materials used by an economy to meet its consumption needs rose by more than 40% from 2000 to 2017.
All regions in the world except for Europe, Northern America, Australia, and New Zealand experienced significant increases over the past two decades.
As of 2020, 83 countries and the European Union reported a total of 700 policies and implementation activities towards achieving SDG12. However, only 50 policies and implementation activities were reported in sub-Saharan Africa compared to Europe and Northern America with a total of 374 policies. With so many regions lagging behind, progress towards achieving this goal may be slowed down or even halted until the other regions can catch up.
Meanwhile, electronic waste (ewaste) continues to proliferate. The SDG Report 2021 says the world generated 53.6 million metric tonnes of electronic waste in 2019, a significant increase of 20% since 2014.
Out of 7.3kg of ewaste produced by one person, only 1.7kg was documented to have been managed in an environmentally sustainable way.
Improper disposal of ewaste also results in a significant loss in valuable raw materials such as gold, platinum, and rare earth elements. It is said that 7% of the world’s gold may currently be contained in ewaste. With ewaste generation expected to grow by 0.16kg per capita annually, recycling needs to be increased perhaps tenfold to meet the 2030 deadline.
Progress towards eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, another target of the SDG, also remains uneven. Due to a reduction in GDP worldwide in 2020, many countries took the opportunity to phase out fuel subsidies. However, with the increase in fossil fuel subsidies in regions such as Central and Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, and fuel prices rising sharply in 2021, the previous efforts might be reversed.
Recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic provides a big opportunity for us to finally shift our economies and societies towards more sustainable means of development. As Liu Zhenmin, under-secretary-general of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, noted in the 2021 SDG Report, “historically, pandemics have served as catalysts for political, economic, and social change, and that still holds true today.”
The pandemic and climate disasters, including the recent floods that inundated many parts of Malaysia including Kuala Lumpur, are evidence of our inadequacy in creating a sustainable future. If there is a time to reflect on our past mistakes and make push for change, that time would be now.
International Islamic University Malaysia student