Best for a Sustainable New Year

Happy New Year members and friends of SPN! It’s been a little while since our last update, but needless to say it has been a busy season for SPN and in the climate space particularly. As I write, the world celebrates the global climate deal that took shape at the UN COP21 in Paris. The world has committed itself to no more than a 1.5ºC temperature rise, a feat thought impossible not long ago. This will require recalibrating plans in 2018, 2020, and so on, as current plans don’t actually hold to this target. Nevertheless, this is progress! Congratulations to everyone who worked so hard to reach this historic agreement. While a deep-dive into the intricacies of the deal is still forthcoming, the consensus seems to be that this was really the best we could possibly hope for, despite not (yet) being quite enough to save the planet.

"Pace is now the key word for climate. Not where we’re going, but how fast we’re going there...We know where we’re going now; no one can doubt that the fossil fuel age has finally begun to wane, and that the sun is now shining on, well, solar. But the question, the only important question, is: how fast." - Bill McKibben

If you missed it, SPN had some of the foremost experts discuss the UN’s recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the effects of climate change on women in developing countries, a critical point of contention in the lead-up to the Paris agreement. We also had a fascinating conversation with experts in architecture and forestry about the ecological benefits of building with wood. It turns out—obvious once you think about it—that wooden structures are carbon sinks, and sustainable forest management are important in decreasing carbon emissions.

The timely conversations about the SDGs (AKA the Global Goals) and the impacts of climate change on women in developing countries were most informative. We learned from MasterCard and SABMiller that the development of the SDGs was an exceptionally consultative process that for the first time engaged industry, balancing those perspectives with global development and sustainability goals. This process helped to create the most comprehensive and ambitious set of development goals to date.

The goals number 17, a few more than the preceding MDGs, and together aim to achieve three overarching objectives: ending extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and fix climate change. Tools have been created to simplify business contributions to the goals, such as the game-changing SDG Compass, developed jointly by the UN Global Compact, GRI, and the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD). It helps businesses to enhance their core business activities while directing them toward reaching the goals. Read more about it here.

Finally, and this was borne out in Paris, the impacts of climate change on women in developing countries is getting the attention it deserves as a keystone of climate change solutions.

Facebook dove headfirst into the climate movement, creating a "Love Earth" page to share content during the Paris conference and promote a picture switch campaign (which wasn’t as successful as past campaigns) but nonetheless pushed a lot of beautiful content to an audience of about a half-million.

“Fantastic news from the UN climate negotiations in Paris – every country in the world agreed to cut carbon emissions and move towards clean energy. Climate change affects us all – but people in the developing world, especially women, will be the worst hit. They’re more likely to suffer in natural disasters – and more likely to work in the small farms that are already being affected by climate change.” -Sheryl Sandberg

Decentralized renewable energy production seems to be the agreed-upon solution to both sustainable development and climate change, which makes it an unlikely tool for women’s empowerment. Governments and civil society have a responsibility to engage women worldwide in climate solutions. At the same time, national climate policies are sorely lacking, especially in the United States, which is the largest emitter historically, the richest country in the world, and which has one of, if not the largest climate denial party in control of its legislative bodies.

Now more than ever we need to expand the sustainability movement to put this historic plan into fast action – and to hold our leaders accountable to the Paris promise.