Time is running out: Behind the curve on SDGs

SustainAblility and Globescan’s recent survey of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals is not encouraging.

Progress on transition to sustainable development to date (% of experts)
Progress on transition to sustainable development to date (% of experts)

Over 500 experts contributed.  The consensus is that progress and attention is lagging the need for change.  If data is restricted to those with a decade or more of experience the picture is worse.

“Poor” progress on transition to sustainable development to date (% of experts)
“Poor” progress on transition to sustainable development to date (% of experts)

Progress is dominated by social entrepreneurs and NGOs while national governments’ and corporates’ performance is considered poor.

Contribution of organizations to progress on the SDGs (% of experts)
Contribution of organizations to progress on the SDGs (% of experts)

The lack of attention by governments and corporates is underpinned by their “clients” – voters and consumers – so clearly there remains among people generally a lack of awareness of the need and opportunity for system change.  People don’t perceive the dangers of failing commercial and social systems and the disintegration of Earth’s natural environment upon which we rely.

Perhaps this is not surprising.  Except for change agents and social entrepreneurs, people are not engaged with the problems of the world but instead stick to traditional mindsets and routines.  (The SDG’s themselves are fundamentally flawed in their promotion of growth, as opposed to working within natural laws and the capacity of the biosphere.)

It saddens me to reflect that these results seem to repeat the consensus of previous surveys despite the zeitgeist of business, politics and society which  is for new systems, like government reform, purposeful business, ethical leadership and sustainability.

For example, one of the largest chemical companies in the world, Akzo Nobel, puts environment and safety before financial results when reporting, but the organisation itself remains hierarchical and inward looking in its culture.  Despite its global reach, its management is dominated by one nationality, one ethnic group  and one gender.   Despite its wealth, it remains cowed by analysts and asset mangers to conform to outdated measures of performance, which weaken its flexibility and capacity to deliver livelihoods to the 45,000 families it is responsible for,  to serve its millions of consumers and to reform its technical infrastructure to reflect the demands of the planet.  Despite its forward thinking, it retains inflexible hierarchies in which senior managers have little time to think and those further down the pyramid must simply obey.  It has achieved much under its forward thinking CEO, Ton Buchner (who often wears an SDG lapel pin and is an acquaintance), but how much more resilient and attractive would the organisation be if he and his organisation were not hamstrung by traditional thinking?

This pattern is reflected in too many large organisations, both public and private.  It is worse in those led by blinkered capitalists and professionals who long ago made a Faustian deal for success and turn a blind eye to the real problems facing humanity.

We do not have decades to change.  We have years, hopefully.  Christiana Figueres,  former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 2010-2016, who catalysed the Paris climate accord, has said that if carbon emissions don’t peak in the next three or four years “it will be too late”.  (This matches our forecast made in 2000.)

It is long past due to raise public awareness and liberate the ideas that can enable transformation of society.  The needed change is only possible if driven by people, not governments or rules, which are symptoms of the pyramid system squashing life out of us and the planet.

How can you help?  Simply change your thinking.  Challenge your assumptions.  Ask yourself if you really think it’s possible for 9 billion people to throw out as much garbage as you do in a year.  Nature is breaking under the weight of humanity now.  We, particularly those of us in cities, must divest ourselves of the hierarchical values of greed and seek new ways of living which nurture nature and relationships rather than break them up.

This means giving up the big salary and choosing a different world.  It means taking your children out of that expensive traditional school, which has been the path to success,  and liberating the human potential of young people by encouraging thinking (not rote learning for exams) and team experiences (not individual trial and reward).  We must encourage understanding of their own bodies (not feed them processed “food”), community (not just “people like us”),  and the biosphere (whose continued vitality their daily choices determine).

If you think a change in life is in order, go for it!   While there’s time.

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