Interactions between Sustainable Development Goals with Keywan Riahi

Aug 16, 2017 by

by Maja Repina & Shiri Heffer

Our day at IIASA started with a short introduction about the history, work and aims of the institute. Our first presenter, Keywan Riahi – director of energy, introduced us to the interactions among sustainable development goals (SDG). First, we reviewed the 17 SDGs that are based on two agendas: 1) human development in a secure environment and 2) the planetary boundary agenda. The different SDGs can be grouped by different topics, such as human needs or scientific disciplines, which can allow the creation of clusters that can enhance synergies. The different clusters are not competing and do not have any hierarchy of importance. In order to avoid competition between the different goals and to create synergies while promoting the goals and specific targets, the International Council of Sciences created a systematic score that runs between -3 to +3 and helps to analyze which goals are synergetic to others (air pollution and health) and which ones are tradeoffs and thus can create barriers (energy and land).

Shiri’s perspectives

The relations of SDG 7 (Energy) to SDG 2 (Hunger) or 15 (Landare examples for trade-offs and where the promotion of one can create barriers for the promotion of the other. Increasing energy efficiency is needed in order to provide energy for 3 billion people that currently are lacking access to energy. This goal can be achieved, also, by renewable resources like wind and solar panels. However, each of these consume large amounts of land or bio-energy, like corn, that is needed for food creation. Overall, I think that despite the SDGs’ importance, mainly as a respectful recognition to the world resource exploitation and as a macro direction to our societal future, they are too general and thus too rough. For example, as we learned in this summer semester, our current mainstream economics has many failures and challenges, therefore trying to summarize all into goal number 8 that claims for decent work and economic growth without discussion about changing the current system of capitalism itself, and how to achieve it, can be a barrier to define and create good optional solutions.

Maja’s perspectives

The idea of setting the optimistic goals for all signed countries is somewhat misleading. Although the goals are genuinely good, they are not useful. I will try to present a three stage argument in favour of this notion. Firstly, I believe goals’ only purpose is to “quasi” satisfy the need for action and involvement on an individual and institutional level. It seems as if by setting and committing to them we have already achieved so much, when in reality this is nothing but a start of the process of change. Secondly, it is possible to some extent that the act of committing to them is an empty promise, since there is no higher institution that will evaluate the achievements, nor penalise the wrongdoers or ignoring parties. Because why choose the hard way, right? Lastly, it is hard to believe that the goals are truly including all objectives, especially when it comes to setting the normative rules by posing the “universal” values for all. Leaving aside the question of moral objectivism vs. moral relativism, it is somewhat hard to believe that the world will achieve gender equality in only 13 years (the goals were set in 2015, to be achieved in 2030). Call me a pessimist, but I believe not dreams, only actions will bring us equality.