Humanity is currently strolling at, perhaps, the most exciting and challenging times in history.
Increasing population and diminishing resources are exacerbating the stress imposed on our climate system and planetary boundaries.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a part of the United Nations’ (UN’s) 2030 agenda for sustainable development. The SDGs are a universal call to action intended to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that everyone enjoys peace and prosperity and lays down the framework for work in the spirit of partnership and pragmatism to make the right choices today to improve life, sustainably for future generations. In plain language, they are a vision of how we wish to share the earth's finite resources among what will soon be nine to 10 billion people — all with a right to development.
This makes the SDGs relevant to every person, country and company on earth. The stand-alone goal on means of implementation (SDG 17) is unique compared to all the others. This goal includes targets that are not under the sole purview of national governments, but need to be addressed in a multilateral setting. The main identifiable actors in this multilateral setting are governments, civil society, the business community and the individual.
Governments have clearly shown action by ratifying the SDG agenda in 2015, although much more action will be needed around the adherence and implementation of policies, frameworks and the 169 target cognates emanating from the goals. Civil society and the business community, in particular, seem to be getting on board for various reasons, and cherry-picking SDGs that they envisage will either affect or benefit the sustainability of their operations in the future; even though a better approach would have been to activate all 17 SDGs at the same time and holistically tackle all interactions in a manner that reduces the negative setbacks. The cherry-picking act is nonetheless a step in the right direction because of the different cultures and needs of people across the globe which might eventually lead to uniform attention for all SDGs.
The role of the individual in the attainment of the SDGs, however, is my area of greatest concern. The “push and pull” concept is a key partnership strategy in achieving the SDGs. This concept describes the complementary forces needed to displace a load to a desired position. In this context, it stipulates that governments create the “pull” effect whilst the other stakeholders create the “push” effect needed to complement the solutions to the goals.
SDG 12 aptly captures the effective role needed from the individual through ‘responsible consumption and production’. But considering humanity’s conservation in character and our unwillingness to adapt to change, responsible and highly sustainable consumption clearly faces an uphill task in becoming the norm anytime soon. The answer to this worrying situation, I believe, is in SDG Four—Quality Education. If quality education becomes available and accessible to all by 2025, the feedback effect on the attainment of all the other SDGs will be greatly enhanced.
Addressing behavioural change (with specificity to the Ghanaian context) will require an urgent and efficient inculcation of the SDGs into senior high school (SHS) curricula in Ghana in the shortest practicable time. This is the surest way to open the effects of irresponsible consumption and all other anthropogenic effects of our activities on the climate system and encourage climate-conscious behaviours needed to reduce these impacts and propel us into a sustainable future of increased population, yet the efficient and effective use of natural resources.
Fortunately for Ghana, our President is a Co-Chair of the UN Secretary General’s Eminent Group of Advocates for the SDGs, an indication that His Excellency is fully abreast of the issues and challenges of the SDGs and has fully embraced it. It was also very refreshing to read the President’s article titled: “The SDGs must propel Africa beyond aid” in the Daily Graphic on May 7, 2018. Laudable piece Mr President, keep the vision in progress. The puny detail missing from the messages though is the urgent need to make the SDGs a permanent pedagogical feature of our school curricula. Initiating this bold and ambitious move is an authority that is constitutionally vested in the Presidency. It also fits in perfectly with the Free SHS programme which seeks to broaden access to education to Ghanaians from all backgrounds, increasing the reach of the message and impacts the SDGs are intended to have.
Not to overstate the points, but most of the interactions between the SDGs can only be understood, managed and decoupled through knowledge dissemination, a scenario which can be made possible through early education on the subject matter. A clear and present example is the so-called “super-wicked” problem facing agriculture. Agriculture has the triple unenviable overlapping tasks of ensuring global food security (increased production to feed the expected increase in population), adapting to climate change (adopting climate-resilient production methods and yields) and at the same instance contributing to climate-change mitigation (reducing GHG emissions through improved techniques and carbon sinks).
Truly, the complexity of the problem facing global agriculture is enormous and even more so in Africa. The UN states that agriculture alone employs 40 per cent of the global workforce. Imagine the impact which would be made should all these people adopted climate-smart agriculture as a tool for sustainable development. That can only be made possible through quality education in all its forms (including training, capacity-building and public awareness programmes).
Education is critical
Globally, more than one billion children go to school daily. General education is the most common way through which societies prepare their youth for the future, including a changing climate. Therefore, many countries have embarked on integrating sustainable development issues such as climate change and disaster risk management in school curricula, developing relevant learning materials, building capacity and providing training for teachers and facilitators. What are we waiting for? For the wider context beyond the scope of this article, the Curriculum Research and Development Division of the Ghana Education Service, the Ministry of Education and all stakeholders in the education sector should review and redevelop the curriculum framework of Ghana to ensure that education for sustainable development (ESD) features prominently at all levels of the educational system. To this end, the National Climate Change and Green Economy Learning Strategy (2016-2025) is an incredibly good document to refer to. Why not hasten its implementation?
The writer is a Senior Energy Engineer/Sustainability Strategist at Zanet Energy Solutions