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Saving lives by changing our habits

Sep 06,2018 - Last updated at Sep 06,2018

A quick tour of the globe today would show the traveller, in addition to the magnificent natural beauty and diversity we all like to enjoy, some very disconcerting images about the state of the world. For example, we would see all the beautiful of bodies water with all their marine life, yet we learn that only 0.5 per cent of all that water is fresh (drinkable), hence available for all of humanity’s ecosystem’s and fresh water needs. Furthermore, we, humans, are polluting water faster than nature can recycle or purify it.

Many challenges to the global ecosystem are jeopardising man’s ability to sustain life on this planet. Land degradation, declining soil fertility, unsustainable water use, overfishing and marine environment degradation are all lessening the ability of natural resources basets to replenish themselves, and ultimately provide food. In fact, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), if the global population reaches 9.6 billion by 2050, “the equivalent of almost three planets could be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles!”

This worrying reality acquires further urgency when we look at how much food is wasted every year, compared to how many people in the world remain hungry. According to UNDP figures, 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted every year, while 2 billion people remain hungry or undernourished.

The Arab region shows similar trends. Home to a bulging youth population, yet poor in water resources and technology production, the Arab region faces considerable challenges in achieving poverty reduction and inclusive sustainable development. With a population expected to reach 598 million by 2050, the region’s ecological footprint is ever increasing, with no sufficient uptake in sustainable production patterns. In fact, 80 per cent of the world’s energy consumption in 2013 was from non-renewable sources.

Understanding these realities is what brought forth the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 12 in particular focuses on changing production and consumption patterns to ensure the sustainability of life, for us as well as for future generations. Goal 12 calls for efficiently managing our shared natural resources and disposing of toxic waste and pollutants in manners that are safe to the environment. This can happen through encouraging individuals, as well as industries and businesses to recycle and reduce waste.

It also requires strong planning and coordination on the government’s part, to create current, innovative and enforceable frameworks for encouraging sustainable business practices and consumer behaviour. This means, for example, managing chemical and industrial waste in an environmentally sound manner and reducing household waste through reuse and recycling. It is important in that regard to ensure the availability of information and tools for people to practice these healthy habits once they are made aware of them.

On top of local and national efforts, creating a future that is “greener” for everyone will involve the support of the developed countries. An important issue in climate change negotiations between developing and developed countries has always been the importance of the “common but differentiated responsibility” concept. One of the targets of Goal 12 is for all countries to take steps to implement programmes on sustainable consumption and production, with developed countries taking the lead, taking into account the development and capabilities of developing countries. This also entails supporting developing countries in strengthening their scientific and technological capacity to move towards more sustainable patterns of consumption and production.

Day 5 of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development that was held in New York during July 2018, included a review of global progress towards achieving SDG 12 on sustainable consumption and production. In his keynote address, Peter Thomson, UN secretary general’s special envoy for the Ocean, stated that SDG 12 is “at the heart and soul” of the 2030 Agenda. Indeed, he noted that the Paris Agreement on climate change and the 2030 Agenda are “our plan to make this right” and to progress to a low-carbon, sustainable way of life.


The writer is national information officer at the UN Information Centre in Beirut and has an PhM in Development Studies from the University of Cambridge. She contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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