Sustaining the world we want (without screwing it up)


This article was published in Greenbiz on Tuesday, July 19, 2016.

When it comes to the SDGs, maybe we should focus on seeing beyond the 2030 deadline.

When preparing to speak at a conference about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) earlier this year, I asked my 14-year-old son what he thought about the SDGs. He replied “all the goals are fine and right — but we only need them because we screwed up.”

This resonated with me, as I wondered how my son’s generation would meet its needs without compromising the ability of generations beyond 2030 to meet their own need.

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Muhammed Yunus was among the audience at the conference where I spoke, and he and I quickly agreed on two things: I have a smart teenager; and the biggest challenge after we have achieved the 17 SDGs is to keep “The World We Want” and not “screw it up” again.

Achieving the SDGs is crucial, but will not be easy. The list of tasks that need to be undertaken to reach the SDGs is momentous, and the magnitude of despair the world will experience if the goals are not reached by 2030 is hard to imagine.

What will the world we want look like and how will we sustain it, and not just ‘screw it up’ again when we have reached the goals?

However, it is not only important to consider how the SDGs will be achieved, but we also need to think about how we will sustain the world we want when the 17 Global Goals become a reality in 2030.

I, therefore, hope that one of the big questions that will be on the world’s agenda before 2030 is: How do we keep the world we want post-2030? Moreover, what is the system that will sustain it, what are the incentives, and how will we govern the world’s resources? Who is in charge — who are we holding accountable, and for what? Is GDP the right measurement — what are the alternatives? How can we expect that people will consume responsibly and share with others, including generations to come? Who will run the world, and how will we ensure that we continue to improve and not move backwards after the goals are achieved — hopefully — before 2030?

To start, we will need to think about what it will take to sustain a world where we’ve met these goals:

I alone do not have the answers — and I do not know what they will mean to businesses, investors, governments or my teenage son, who will be 28 in 2030.

However, to produce these crucial answers, we need to ask: What will the world we want look like and how will we sustain it, and not just “screw it up” again when we have reached the goals and eliminated our current most challenging global problems?

Furthermore, what are the possibilities beyond 2030 and how do we move forward to mitigate other systemic problems such as hate, mistrust in each other and the individualism that permeates how many of us think and act? I hope that we can initiate a substantive debate, crowd-source intelligent solutions and foster both human and financial investment in order to build the world we want and the system that will maintain it.

Leaders from all over the world are meeting in New York this week to attend the U.N. High Level Political Forum to review the 2030 Agenda while highlighting important connections between the SDGs and the new Agenda for Humanity (PDF).

The forum’s theme is “Business and the Global Goals: Securing the Way Forward,” and serves as an opportunity for member states of the U.N. and specialized agencies, major groups and other stakeholders to come together to provide political leadership, guidance and recommendations on how to follow up with the agenda. However, I recommend that the forum also offer an opportunity for leaders to build partnerships and make commitments to sustaining the world we want beyond 2030.

What I am suggesting is that our motivation and commitment to sustaining a better world beyond 2030 start now. To sustain a more just and equitable world, we will need to think about broader system-changing investments in order to not just solve problems, but to actually effect meaningful and sustainable global change. We need to start now — and involve all generations, including the youth that will enjoy, live in and be part of the world we all want for years to come.