Can We Finally Give Sustainability Its Due?

History has shown that a crisis is a chance to change the way we live. While we suffer and nature reclaims the streets, can the Lockdown Recession transform an unsustainable world that didn’t think much about its future before?

The end of every recession usually brings about a collateral solution for an underlying problem that had been ignored earlier. The Great Recession of 2008 brought about positive, systemic changes in the banking sector. Regulatory bodies came into force and regular stress testing was introduced. After the Asian Financial Crisis of the 1990s, economies in Asia developed stronger collective institutions to decrease their reliance on the IMF.

Unsustainability- the monster under the bed

The underlying problem before the upcoming recession was not just healthcare-related. It was a larger issue- that of sustainability. With humans locked indoors, animals are reclaiming the streets and the air is becoming more breathable. Delhi’s sudden plunge in pollution levels is a reminder of how much worse it used to be. But most importantly, this crisis has shown us that it is possible to bring radical changes, to transform ourselves overnight, to start afresh.

Since we have all this time on our hands now, let us look back at the most crucial and neglected document in the world- the 2030 Agenda.

The 2030 Agenda

In 2015, all United Nations member states had agreed upon the 2030 Agenda For Sustainable Development. It calls for global partnership on 17 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). The essential goal is that economic growth, environmental conservation, and the fight against social evils must happen alongside each other. Despite progress in a few areas, the 2019 SDG report showed that on some crucial fronts, progress had been slow and even in reverse. These included poverty, environment, education, gender equality, water management, sustainable infrastructure, inequality, urban poverty, climate change, marine conservation, biodiversity, peace and inclusivity, and global partnership. With an increased investment in fossil fuels, 2018 was the year in which the world produced more greenhouse gases than any other. 25% of urban residents in the world lived in slum-like conditions. By 2030, 700 million people could be displaced due to intense water scarcity.

The signs we’ve been ignoring

Fossil fuels have been predicted to last us only for the next century or half, at our current rate of usage. Scientists have been warning about increased risk of wildfires due to climate change- caused majorly by fossil fuel combustion- for over a decade now. The recent Australian bushfires killed more than 30 humans and millions of animals. Climate change has also doubled the number of wildfires in the US in the last 50 years. At the same time, pollution is one of the leading causes of chronic diseases which put patients at a higher- read, 10 times- risk of Covid-19. People living in areas with higher levels of pollutant PM 2.5 are 15% more likely to die of Covid-19. Even before the pandemic, the yearly death rate due to pollution has 4.6 million, as per the WHO.

Last but not the least bees, the prime pollinators on earth, are responsible for almost 75% of the crops we consume. They are essential for primary industries like agriculture which provide jobs to majority populations in developing nations. Reduction in their numbers has also been linked to increasing levels of malnutrition and non-communicable diseases in certain countries.

Green is the new black

If the birdsongs outside, the sky getting clearer, and air becoming fresher aren’t a strong sign that we can change for good, I don’t know what would be. In China, 53,000 to 77,000 lives were saved because of the positive effect of a drastic drop in pollution. According to an NRDC report, the US alone can slash fossil fuel usage by 80% by 2050.

The fact that oil prices are hitting rock bottom right now is a strong reminder of the excessive consumerism creation. It is time to give a boost to sustainable investing and clean energy industries, and to hold businesses more accountable than for taxes and CSR alone. Governments have gained more control over economies than ever before. Now is the time for them to steer society and enterprise towards sustainability.

With high-profile public policy efforts like Swachh Bharat, the plastic ban, active participation in formulating the Paris Agreement, India has been taking some important steps. But what remains untapped is our culture of sustainability. We need to keep pushing our boundaries. Restricting the number of unnecessary chartered flights, giving a boost to public transport, subsidising green energy, bringing scientists on board for better solutions, and fostering conservation- all of this is a mammoth task, but a rational and essential one.

Initiatives like Skill India, Make In India, and StartUp India need to integrate sustainability. With a worldwide generation that is probably the most worried about the planet than any of the ones before, our youth has the chance to lead with examples of sustainable living, sustainable business, and sustainable systems.


Snehal is Columnist at GGI.

She is a writer, poet, music aficionado, Oxford comma proponent, and a lot of other things. She also writes on personal finance for 'Qrius Creative Labs'. She has worked as a copywriter, content writer, scriptwriter, creative strategist, and direction assistant at multiple organisations in the past. 

Snehal is a graduate from the  Bachelor in Mass Media, Advertising from St.Xavier's College, Bombay.

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