Report of the Club of Rome 2018, Chapter 1.10 “Agenda 2030: The Devil is in Implementation”

Original author: Prof. Ernst von Weizsäcker and Dr. Anders Wijkman
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Three months before the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement, the United Nations oversaw the adoption of another unanimous agreement - the 2030 Agenda [94], mainly consisting of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 objectives that define them. Figure 1.12 includes icons for the 17 Goals.

Figure 1.12: 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals for the period until 2030. Goals number 1-11 can be viewed as socio-economic. Goal number 12 is about responsible (sustainable) consumption and production. Objectives No. 13-15 relate to the environment. Goal number 16 is about peace, justice, and social institutions. Objective number 17 - about the partnership in this process.

The Declaration accompanying the Goals, in the presentation of its vision, contains the following statement: “... we imagine a world in which the development and application of technologies are climate-sensitive, reckoned with biological diversity and are sustainable. A world in which humanity lives in harmony with nature and in which wild nature and other living creatures are protected. ”[95]

While the Club of Rome fully supports this “highly ambitious and transformative vision,” there is a need to verify the integrity of the Goals and the modalities by which these Goals will be fulfilled. And this is the true meaning of this quote. Meaning undoubtedly relates to the three Objectives related to the environment, and asserts the following: about urgent actions that are necessary in the battle with climate change (Objective No. 13); on the importance of the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development (Goal No. 14); on the protection, restoration and promotion of the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, on sustainable forest management, combating desertification, halting and reversing land degradation, halting the loss of biodiversity (Goal # 15).

However, it is not confirmed anywhere in Agenda 2030 that success in achieving 11 social and economic Goals (No. 1-11), in the case of using traditional growth policies, will make it almost impossible to even reduce global warming, stop overruning fish in oceans or stop land degradation, not to mention stopping biodiversity loss. In other words, if we assume that significant changes in the ways of achieving economic growth will not be identified and undertaken, humanity will encounter significant trade-offs between socio-economic Goals and Goals related to the environment.

If you rely on the fate of similar goals mentioned in Agenda 21 [96], the deficit in the socio-economic direction will be solved by accelerating growth and trade, which will lead to a wave-like erosion of the environment, be it climate, oceans or land systems. And despite the socio-economic progress that has been achieved by this tactic over the past 25 years, it cannot be considered sufficient - obviously not the way it is actually needed. To achieve this, a radical new synthesis is required.

Such a synthesis should take into account that for developing countries the conflict between social Goals and Goals related to the environment is often muted. The developing world often refers to the powerful slogan of the late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, spoken by her during the first UN Summit on Environmental Protection in Stockholm in 1972. Her slogan was: “Poverty is the biggest source of pollution.” At that time, this statement contained much of the truth. The environmental problems were mainly confined to local problems due to pollution. In such a situation, the obvious solution was to control pollution, which cost some money that only the rich could afford.

The problem is that nowadays the more accurate slogan will be “Prosperity - the biggest source of pollution”. All due to the fact that the release of greenhouse gases, the consumption of resources, as well as the exploitation of land, worsening the quality of soils and biologically rich habitats, are companions of wealth. This reality is clearly seen in a recent report by Chancel and Piketty [97], which traces global irregularities in carbon emissions during the period 1998-2013. The authors note that the 3 million richest Americans (the first 1%) are on average responsible for CO2 emissions of a staggering 318 tons per capita per year, while the average value per person in the world is about 6 tons! It turns out that a rich person has more than 50 times more pollution and consumption than the average person,

Often refer to the fact that it is useless to consider the conspicuous way of life of the rich - because their number is small. However, the data provided by Piketty paint a different picture. The fact is that 1% of the richest Americans are responsible for about 2.5% (!) Of global greenhouse gas emissions. If we consider 10% of the richest families in the world, their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is already 45% of the total. So first of all, you should aim at changing the habits of the rich, not the poor.

This means that developing countries are right in stating that the main burden of changing the course should be on rich countries. It is obvious that developing countries see in their priorities the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in the socio-economic direction, such as poverty eradication (Goal number 1), food security (Goal number 2), health care (Goal number 3), education (Goal number 4) and employment for all (Goal # 8). Ultimately, these goals are relevant to every person on the planet — 7.6 billion today, 9 billion in less than 20 years, and perhaps 11.2 billion by the end of this century. [98] This horrifying number indicates that the world is unwilling or unable to change its demographic habits (see Chapter 1.7).

While “wealth is the biggest source of pollution”, the mentioned compromises between the Goals in the socio-economic direction and the Goals related to the environment will prevail and will fundamentally overshadow and undermine successes in the socio-economic area. On the other hand, everyone should agree with the UN statement that “the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are universal goals and objectives that should involve the whole world, equally developed and developing countries. These goals are whole and indivisible and they balance the three dimensions of sustainable development. ” [99]

Recent studies, perhaps, confirm that the trade-offs between the Goals in the socio-economic direction and the Goals related to the environment are really huge. The study on water consumption, carried out by Arjen Huksstroy, [100] notes that achieving food security (Goal No. 2) can easily conflict with water sufficiency for everyone (Goal No. 6); impact on biodiversity (Target No. 15), although this has not yet been explained, but is strong and almost always negative. The International Resource Group performed a preliminary assessment of the interrelationships and tradeoffs between the various Sustainable Development Goals [101] and found that most of the Goals affecting well-being (11 of the 17 Goals) are “based on judicious use of natural resources”. This is a very diplomatic way of saying that the achievement of socio-economic goals simultaneously with the predominance of the unwise use of natural resources is simply impossible. At the same time, Michael Obertsteiner and his colleagues [102] found numerous compromises between the course of reducing the cost of food and setting on the promotion of Goals No. 13, 14 and 15.

Certainly, it would be dishonest and one-sided to criticize socio-economic Goals (using formulations that attack mainly developing countries) and not to pay attention and not to criticize excessive consumption by the rich representatives of the Earth. Even when environmental destruction occurs in the developing world, it often happens because of the harvest or the production of goods for final export to the rich. The developed world gives to “outsourcing” most of the environmental damage arising from consumer habits: for example, about 30% of all threats to animal species arise from international trade. [103] The Rome Club has always insisted on the principles of fair and fair trade. This means that, considering the trade-offs between economic and environmental objectives,

In their latest study, Jeffrey Sachs and colleagues [104] offer some quantitative assessments of performance, as well as challenges in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals currently in place. Using the available indicators provided by the World Bank and other organizations, countries were assessed on the achievement of each Goal and ranked in accordance with the overall implementation rate of all 17 Goals. Figure 1.13 includes the first 10 and some of the largest countries.

Figure 1.13: Countries ranked according to the current implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (composite index; 100 - maximum score). The first 10 countries are in Europe (as well as Iceland). The United States is far behind due to high volatility and excessive resource consumption. Positions of developing countries are still weak due to high levels of poverty, starvation, illiteracy and low employment rates (Source: -to-achieve-the-un-sustainable-development-goals ).

It is amazing that the first 10 positions are occupied by the flourishing countries of Europe, and the last 10 positions with the lowest rating (see the table below) are the poorest countries, mainly from Africa. The ranking of the last 10 countries is as follows.

At first glance, these numbers should not come as a surprise. Agenda 2030 implies an intentional increase in the rating of poor countries. However, upon reconsideration of the study, the following fact is disturbing: the high fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals strongly correlates with the traditional development path based on growth, including the excessive use of natural resources, which is reflected in the ecological footprint per capita.

The country's ecological footprint, which is annually assessed and updated by the Global Network for Examining Human Impacts, is measured by the area required to provide the population of this country with goods and services. It is not surprising that a higher score usually falls on countries with a high socio-economic indicator and wealth.
Figure 1.14 reflects the environmental footprint per capita of countries participating in the Sustainable Development Goals (vertical axis), and is a function of the average Human Development Index - HDI (horizontal axis) of the population of the respective countries.

Figure 1.14: Resilience Graph from the Global Network for Studying Human Impacts. On the vertical scale - the ecological footprint per capita (hectares per person), on the horizontal scale - Human Development Index (HDI). Poor countries (on the left) have a regrettably low HDI, and rich countries have a regrettably high mark, thereby leaving the “Quadrant of universal sustainable development” almost empty. The top line with dots shows global per capita bio capacity in 1961, when the population was 3.1 billion (Source: 2017 Global Footprint Network. National Footprint Accounts, 2017 Edition;

The HDI is a composite indicator that includes education, health care, and per capita income, which is used to measure the well-being of people in different countries. In the lower right corner of the picture is the “Quadrant of universal sustainable development”, which corresponds to the HDI above 0.8 and the environmental footprint per capita below 1.8 hectares.
The alarming fact is that this rectangle of sustainable development is almost empty: that is, there is no country that would demonstrate a high socio-economic level (HDI above 0.8) and at the same time reach a stable rating on the scale of the ecological footprint (below 1.8 hectares). If we project what has been said on the Sustainable Development Goals, then the meaning is as follows: there is not a single country with a high index for all three “bases” (economic, social and environmental).

Sachs and colleagues discovered a hidden paradox: if 11 or 12 socio-economic goals were achieved by all countries, it was to be expected that the average footprint would reach 4-10 hectares per person. For a population of 7.6 billion people, this would mean that we need from two to five planets the size of Earth!

If you look at another impressive chart, the ecological footprint allows you to estimate the “day of exceeding the limit”, that is, the day after which the world begins to consume resources that cannot be replenished during the remainder of this year. Whereas in 1970 this day fell at the end of December, in 2017 it already moved to August 2; and it is expected that by 2030 this will occur no later than June (Figure 1.15).

Figure 1.15: “Day above the Limit” moves up the calendar (Source: )

Sachs and colleagues note that even the leading countries in achieving the Goals are far from being considered environmentally sustainable.

In the end, from a discussion of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, it would be worthwhile to conclude that the world most likely cannot afford to pursue these 17 Goals separately. A coherent policy will be required to work out the Goals in the socio-economic direction and the Goals in the field of the environment as a whole. However, this will induce the world to fundamentally restructure the technological, economic and political approaches to its development that have been used for decades. [105]

To be continued ...

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More translations of the report of the Club of Rome 2018


Chapter 1.1.1
“Different types of crises and feelings of helplessness”

Chapter 1.1.2:

Chapter 1.1.3:
“An Empty World Against Full Peace”

Chapter 1.5:
“The Climatic Challenge”

Chapter 1.6:
“Technological Wild Cards”

Chapter 1.11 :
“Disruptive technologies and the digital revolution”

Chapter 1.12:
“From an empty world to a complete world”

Chapter 2.6:
“Philosophical mistakes of market doctrine”

Chapter 2.10:
“Maybe we need a new era of Enlightenment”

Chapter 3.1:
“Regenerative Economics”

Chapter 3.2 :
“Development Alternatives”

Chapter 3.3:
“Blue Economy”

Chapter 3.4:
“Decentralized Energy”

Chapter 3.5:
“Some Success Stories in Agriculture”

Chapter 3.6:
“Regenerative Urbanism: Ecopolis”

Chapter 3.7:
“Climate: Good News, but Big Problems”

Chapter 3.8:
“Closed-loop Economics Requires Different Logic ”

Chapter 3.9:
“ Fivefold resource productivity ”

Chapter 3.10:
“ Beat Tax ”

Chapter 3.11:
“ Financial Sector Reforms ”

Chapter 3.12:
“ Economic System Reforms ”

Chapter 3.13:
“ Philanthropy, Investment, Crowdsors and the Blockchain ”

Chapter 3.14:
“ Not GDP is one ... ”

Chapter 3.15:
“Collective Leadership”

Chapter 3.16:
“Global Government”

Chapter 3.17:
“Actions at the National Level: China and Bhutan”

Chapter 3.18:
“Literacy Concerning the Future”


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