In 2000, the United Nations established an ambitious set of global goals for working internationally to improve our collective life on Earth. Since 2000, the focus has been on the Millennium Development Goals.
Much progress has been made toward fulfilling those goals in the past 15 years. A couple of examples: Globally, the number of people living in extreme poverty has declined by more than half since 1990, with most progress occurring since 2000; the number of out-of-school children of primary-school age worldwide also has fallen by almost half since 2000.
On Sept. 25, the 193 member nations of the U.N. General Assembly passed a new round of global goals, the Sustainable Development Goals. These goals are a 17-item wish list for the world, with the aim of fulfilling them by 2030. These goals are to end poverty in all its forms, end hunger and improve nutrition, ensure equitable and quality education, achieve gender equality, ensure affordable renewable energy, take action to combat climate change and its effects, and promote peaceful and inclusive societies.
With the United States and other developed nations leading the way, these goals are within the realm of the possible. These 17 goals are accompanied by 169 specific targets. For example, the goal of ending poverty has as its first two targets, “By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day,” and “By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions.” A complete list of the 17 goals and targets can be found at https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org
It is important to consider how many of the goals depend on a stable climate. For example, we can’t reduce homelessness if rising oceans and increasingly strong storms inundate coastal cities; we can’t feed the world if droughts and floods make it impossible to grow crops in the places where they have grown before, or if the fish people depend on live in dying oceans; we can’t ensure healthy lives and promote well-being if more people become refugees from changing environmental conditions; we can’t ensure peace if people are increasingly in competition for diminishing resources and shrinking arable land. These and many other climate-related conditions make it far more difficult to reduce inequality within and among countries or to make cities and human settlements safe and sustainable.
Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development makes the following statement about the future of the planet: “We are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that [the planet] can support the needs of the present and future generations.” Already, Iowa is experiencing some of the effects of climate change, such as increased precipitation, higher winter temperatures, increased humidity, increased soil erosion and water runoff, and habitat changes resulting in earlier leafing out of plants and animal habitats moving northward, effects that will affect the state’s economy and livability.
From Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, the U.N. will sponsor the Climate Change Conference in Paris with the aim of achieving an agreement on climate action from all nations of the world. Many individuals, including representatives from Iowa, nongovernmental agencies and almost all nations will take part. With the clock ticking faster on the time remaining for reversing catastrophic climate change, the international community must use this opportunity to effectively address climate change and mitigate the disastrous effects it is having on the world.
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• Caryl Lyons is board secretary of the Iowa United Nations Association. Comments: iowauna.org