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Sustainable Development Goal 18

Do proposals for expanding the 17 goals stand up to scrutiny?

With the United Nations agreeing to 17 Sustainable Development Goals, 169 targets, and 232 indicators for 2015-2030, do we really need more? Many think so, with numerous movements emerging for an 18th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG18). They range from practical to whimsical.

One SDG18 aims to promote the existing 17 while an "SDG+1" initiative pushes individual responsibility and ability to implement the current goals. Some highlight sentiments, such as "#SDG18 - #Love & #Joy." A parody social media account desires a new Goal of "Eliminate All Progress," which is perhaps the one we are closest to achieving.

 Ilan Kelman
The Sustainable Development Goals could seek the stars!
Source: Ilan Kelman

Not all the proposals provide extensive detail. Irrespective of agreement or otherwise with the 17 official goals, they are clearly categorized with targets and indicators. SDG18's ideas often lack such specifics, being provided as only general statements about the goal itself and the rationale behind the suggestion.

The justification sometimes falls short. One SDG18 is for "Disaster Risk Resilience" using the acronym DRR. Yet disaster research, policy, and practice have used DRR to represent "disaster risk reduction" since the 1980s. If the proposed DRR became SDG18, how would we differentiate DRRs? In any case, does "Disaster Risk Resilience" mean resilience for or against disaster risk?

Meanwhile, DRR as disaster risk reduction is already well-represented with Goals 1, 2, 11, and 13 explicitly mentioning disasters. If those statements were removed to bring them together into a single SDG18 on disasters, disaster risk, and resilience, would separation achieve more than the current integration?

The same debate emerges for SDG18 to cover "animal health, welfare and rights" and another asking for "zero animal exploitation." According rights to non-human entities—whether rivers, forests, animals, or plants—is not strong within the Sustainable Development Goals and could be treated separately or else fully integrated into existing goals. Ecosystems are addressed such as Goal 14 on saltwater ecologies and Goal 15 on land and freshwater ecologies.

Other hopes for an SDG18 support consolidation. "Life with Artificials" recognizes how connected we are to technology. Phones more powerful than the previous generation's desktops extend our arms. Wearable computers are in vogue, giving real-time directions while shopping or navigating.

Automation and robots serve us, from flight and hotel check-in to driverless vehicles—or do we serve them by forcibly following their algorithms? Cyborgs, artificial intelligence, and the divide between those with and without access motivate the need for this goal to address the morals and practicalities of a technology-driven society.

One cousin is a separate proposal focusing on only "the Digital Age." Digitalization, information, misinformation, and disinformation are important, but this SDG18 separates these topics from wider technological scopes and influences. The integrated approach from "Artificials" addresses concerns in the present in conjunction with potential future changes.

Similarly, in a world currently controlled by a pandemic and responses to it, the 2015 proposal for "global health security" as SDG18 is prescient. It was based on long experience and solid analysis, accounting for previous health security challenges while thinking ahead. Cross-border health risks were emphasized, particularly those that expand swiftly. If this proposal had been entrenched, would the COVID-19 pandemic have been dealt with differently?

Same with the gap identified when analyzing biocultural heritage for SDG18. Powerful points describe how much local and vernacular knowledges, as well as connections between cultural and natural heritages, sit within the goals. Although no knowledge system is comprehensive and some cultural heritage deserves to be relocated to museums, the Sustainable Development Goals could drive far deeper into how people, culture, and the environment interact and could constructively support each other for sustainability.

Not all goals are international. Laos grasped the opportunity to implement its own SDG18 on eliminating unexploded ordnance; that is, bombs and munitions left behind after conflict. Making day-to-day life safe from these remnants is a task the world should embrace. Bosnia and Herzegovina also reports on progress towards their similar SDG18 of becoming mine-free.

Then, there is striving for sustainability success beyond this planet. Acknowledging that the Sustainable Development Goals understandably focus on the Earth, different SDG18s "Space for All" and "Life in Space" peer across the parsecs. Despite the problems we face day to day on the ground, sustainable development should mean timeframes and locales far from today's struggles, to apply current lessons and hopes to humanity's long-term future.

Without neglecting the immediate perils continually afflicting too many people, we should never stop dreaming. Even when those dreams advance sustainability among the stars.

References

Kickbusch, I., J. Orbinski, T. Winkler, and A. Schnabel. 2015. We need a sustainable development goal 18 on global health security. The Lancet, vol. 385, no. 9973, p. 1069.

Poole, A.K. 2018. Where is Goal 18? The Need for Biocultural Heritage in the Sustainable Development Goals. Environmental Values, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 55-80.

Visseren-Hamakers, I.J. 2020. The 18th Sustainable Development Goal. Earth System Governance, 3, article 100047.

Waage, J. and C. Yap (Eds.) 2015. Thinking Beyond Sectors for Sustainable Development. Ubiquity Press, London.

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