Un Sustainable America?
By Shruti Parmar
“No nation, however large or small, wealthy or poor, can escape the impact of climate change…The security and stability of each nation and all peoples ‐‐ our prosperity, our health, our safety ‐‐ are in jeopardy. And the time we have to reverse this tide is running out.”
– President Barack Obama, September 2009
MDG 7 Ensuring Environmental Sustainability has been a key challenge for our generation faced with a threat to our very survival in the wake of Climate Change. It is also one that interferes with the achievement of crucial goals such as access to clean water and combating the spread of malaria and tuberculosis amongst others. It is also the one MDG whose disproportionate impacts most the poorer countries of the world. The targets of MDG 7 have the following sub-targets:
Target 7A: Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programs; reverse loss of environmental resources
Target 7B: Reduce biodiversity loss, achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss
- Proportion of land area covered by forest
- CO2 emissions, total, per capita and per $1 GDP (PPP)
- Consumption of ozone-depleting substances
- Proportion of fish stocks within safe biological limits
- Proportion of total water resources used
- Proportion of terrestrial and marine areas protected
- Proportion of species threatened with extinction
Target 7C: Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation
- Proportion of population with sustainable access to an improved water source, urban and rural
- Proportion of urban population with access to improved sanitation
Target 7D: By 2020, to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum-dwellers
- Proportion of urban population living in slums
We do know that the US has regularly resisted pressure on the developed countries to cut-back on CO2 emissions. What is its status when it comes to this crucial sub-target of MDG 7?
The United States of America has traditionally been one of the highest emitters of CO2 in the world accounting for almost a quarter of the world’s CO2 emissions. A study by PBL, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, found that the US is unlikely to meet its pledge to cut carbon emissions by 17 per cent on 2005 levels by 2020. While news has come in of reduced CO2 emissions by the US in 2012, one must remember a major factor of the same besides the economic downturn has been the fuel-switching from coal to natural gas for electricity generation according to the US Energy Information Administration. This has been due the reduced prices of natural gas which in turn is a result of the encouraged fracking process, one that is inherently harmful to the environment in more ways than one including contaminating ground water and causing earthquakes. Is this just a transitional measure or akin to jumping from the frying pan into the fire?
To maintain its pace of development in a time of economic crisis seems would be impossible with the pressure of environment sustainability, but the urgency of this target has to be understood. The super storm Sandy has been recognised even by President Obama as not just another coincidence. But the US also has strengths that it can leverage in leading probably a more serious and useful War on Climate Change despite practical concerns. Renewable/ clean resources, research and development, a creative use of the provisions of the Clean Air Act as well as a serious consideration of the green economy, sustainable transport and the cap-and-trade as well as the carbon tax.
With a development model imitated by most, the Unites States must lead the way with sustainable development initiatives in the 21st century beginning with achieving the goals of MDG 7.