Unanswered Questions | A Make-or-Break Moment: Sustainable Development Goals after COVID-19

Check out Kirsten Brosbøl answers to audience questions we didn't have the chance to address during the session on May 20th!

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📺 You can find the recording of the session here

Summary of the Event

The COVID-19 pandemic is a significant setback for all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) created by the United Nations to "achieve a better and more sustainable future for all by 2030."

How can we use this make-or-break moment to revitalise the 2030 Agenda and emerge from the crisis stronger and more resilient?

Kirsten Brosbøl, Founder & CEO of 2030beyond and former Member of Parliament and Minister of Environment of Denmark, and Christian Vanizette, Co-Founder of makesense.org, discussed:

  • How far have we come since the creation of the SDGs in 2015?
  • How has the COVID-19 crisis affected the 2030 Agenda and what can we learn from it?
  • Why don’t 50% of people trust their governments, and how can political leaders do better?
  • What is the role of civic engagement in SDG implementation?

Follow-up Questions 

Answers by Kirsten Brosbøl

What career paths can we take to support the achievement of the SDGs?

Most jobs will somehow have to relate to the SDGs in this decade, and sustainable development in the long term. If you are in the sciences or engineering, many companies will need people who can work with ESG and aligning their strategies with the SDGs. If you are in the humanities or social sciences, there are many ways to engage - in civil society organisations, in politics, in public service. With the advice from President Obama: Ask yourself not what you want to be, but what you want to do - then you can start tomorrow and don’t have to wait for a future career.  

Would there be any challenges towards achieving our goals when we eventually transition back to "in-person" activities?

I think we will see that many people and many companies have adjusted to working remotely at least some of the time. So, while we will see more travelling/flying again, we can hope that it will not reach the same level. But we will still have to work on sustainable travel and commuting, which will not only benefit the environment but also our well-being. 

How can governmental and economical systems realistically reprioritize sustainability and welfare gain above financial gain and convenience? Furthermore, what has been the major method of achieving the SDGs recently?

We need to rethink our economic models that are used for shaping policies and calculating the effects of various measures. This means working towards a ‘beyond GDP’ measuring and also calculating the cost of inaction when it comes to investing in the environment, climate, social wellbeing, education etc. 

The major method of achieving SDGs? Well, that depends if you ask about government methods, parliaments, policies or private action. I would say that on the government side, we still need to see a lot more action, and no country is currently on track. Some countries are closer than others, and I think for instance the European Green Deal is a good example of a policy that tries to align with SDGs. 

What part do we as consumers play in championing constructive media? As long as people click on the hero and villain headlines, media owners are going to be templated to reward journalists for head to head / conflictual stories.

That’s right, so we need to ask more of our media providers and stop getting all our news from SoMe. You will need to find those smaller news media, sometimes online, that provide constructive solutions journalism - and be willing to pay for it. Journalism is a profession, and they need to be paid. And the media has to work to change the news culture towards constructive journalism. 

Do you think post-Covid offers a new opportunity to make big steps towards sustainability that wasn't there before?

COVID has meant a huge setback, so the challenges are bigger than before. But I think that we have seen a willingness to act on science with COVID that we can use to demand action on other scientific agendas, like climate change. And with the recovery plans being adopted now, there will be huge investments in infrastructure and jobs, which is an opportunity not to be missed to go green. 

To what extent do you see international voluntary organisations and NGOs as essential?

They are very essential. They have pushed politicians to act, they create awareness and mass mobilization, and provide valuable knowledge to the political processes and oftentimes solve concrete problems on the ground. 

Do you think humans are intrinsically motivated to reach the SDGs? If not, how can we incentivize others to achieve these goals? Do you see scientific advancement as a viable method to sufficiently lower costs for sustainable methods of production and mass production of goods that can achieve the SDG goals?

Technology is an important lever but we cannot sit around and wait for the tech-quick-fix. We must act now using the technology at hand. 

I think everyone is motivated to make sure that their children have opportunities to thrive, and if you want that, you must act on SDGs. So, I think the motivation can come from young people - but the action is the responsibility of those in power now. 

If SDGs would increase the possible expense, how can less developed countries and areas with smaller capital and less advanced technologies join this process of SDG while maintaining their competence?

We need more investments from the global North in the global South to close the financing gap for less developed countries. So we need to use the international financing mechanisms and also countries must live up to the 0,7 % target of ODA. 

I'm looking to go into finance, how could finance change to support the SDG goals, particularly climate change? As you mentioned, finance is such a crucial cog in the wheel to change the tide on climate change, how can young people entering finance help this change?

By focusing on green investments and diverting from ‘black’ investments in fossil fuels etc. this is critical; when the money flow moves into sustainable investments, that is where the world will go. 

How can countries in which the poverty level is high be given the incentives to take part in improving the long term environmental issues when their citizens are dying in the short term out of poverty?

Again, we need more investments in the global South to close the financing gap. But we also need to look at the cost of inaction; how will climate change affect people living in poor areas, and how can we mitigate that. There is no doubt that they will be even worse off if we don’t act on climate change. 

Do you have thoughts to share on this topic? Comment below and let's continue the conversation! 💬👇

Nikol Chen (she/her)

Digital Content Manager, Laidlaw Foundation

Hello! I have been with the Laidlaw Foundation for over 2 years, helping us strengthen the global Laidlaw community and expand our programmes to break the cycle of poverty, reduce inequality, and develop a new generation of leaders.

I am originally from Kazakhstan and I studied Human Sciences at UCL. I am a fan of all things human- and design-related, as well as an avid swimmer, obsessive podcast listener, documentary enthusiast, and film photography fan.

Drop me a line if you'd like to chat! 💬👀