National University of Singapore takes the lead in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals
On the 9th to the 11th of November this year, the National University of Singapore organised the Conference on Attaining the Sustainable Development Goals – Environmental Law, Policy & Management, bringing together corporates, students, NGOs and lawyers to put the best minds together to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Established September 25th 2015, this initiative by the United Nations set 17 goals to “end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all”, with specific targets to be achieved by 2030.
This conference was focused on the law, policy, science and management of SDG Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production; Goal 13: Climate Action; Goal 14: Life below Water; and Goal 15: Life on Land.
Our main takeaways:
Goal 13: Climate Action
Professor Nicholas Robinson talked about the role of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in climate action. Started in 1969 in the US, the EIA is a “process by which the anticipated effects on the environment of a proposed development or project are measured”. In Asia, it was the Asian Development Bank (ADB) that called for the assessment because with the EIA, potential environmental impacts that are deemed unacceptable, can be identified at an early stage and mitigated.
Why this is important was very well-illustrated by Mr Desmond Lee, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of National Development, about how by 2030, Singapore needs to cut CO2 emissions by 36%. As a nation, our objective is with new buildings, 86% of them would be green, which is to say uses low energy or is energy neutral. One way to achieve this would be through the EIA.
However, it is not without its challenges. Speakers and guests talked about how anyone can conduct the EIA, and there is no form of certification needed to carry it out. This is to say that, the results of the assessment could be prone to human errors and biases. And even if the results are accurate, the report generated is extremely long and boring, and it is difficult for the general public to understand its content.
Goal 14: Life below Water
Who better to talk about life below water than “Her Deepness” herself, Dr Sylvia A. Earle, best known as an oceanographer and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. Having spent more than 7,000 hours underwater, she had first-hand experience of the 50% of corals that have died in the Great Barrier Reef and the melting of the polar ice caps.
We had the chance to speak to Sylvia Earle herself and she shared her insights about what she has seen over the years.
She talked about how mankind have been dependent on nature for far too long without recognising that we too, are dependent on nature. She gave a great analogy of how if a piece of our computer was removed, however small, the computer will still not function properly.
Because of our interdependence, Earle believes that we need to start shaping a future in which both nature and mankind can prosper. One way in which she feels this can be achieved would be through better regulations. She was an advisor for the treaty that was signed by George Washington Bush in 2006 to create the world’s largest marine reserve. This reserve was then doubled under Obama’s administration.
While all these changes in regulations are in the right direction, Earle feels that more can be done. Right now, 64% of the world’s oceans lie beyond national jurisdiction, which makes it difficult to protect the world’s vulnerable oceans.
“We can’t claim ignorance anymore.” – Sylvia Earle
Goal 15: Life on Land
A lesser known threat to life on land is the issue of peat. Dr Mas Achmad Santosa, coordinator of the Special Staffs; Presidential Task Force to Combat Illegal Fishing, shed some light on how 30% of the earth is covered by PEAT and it contains 30% of the CO2 available on earth.
It is a huge issue in Southeast Asia because 83% of peat is found in the region. Peatlands are a form of soil that have been accumulating for millennia and have become a major store of soil carbon, sink for carbon dioxide, and a source of atmospheric methane. The problem is not peat itself, but rather that when peatland is disturbed for agricultural or forestry needs, then there is loss of habitats. This is because many ecosystems, plants and animals alike, thrive in peatland and harvesting peat is equivalent to clearing out the entire eco-system there.
Not only does the clearing of peatlands have an impact on life on land, it also has an environmental dimension to it. That is why PMHaze, the People’s Movement to Stop Haze, was present at the event to shed light on the peat issue and how in the clearing of peatlands, it releases greenhouse gas into the atmosphere contributing to haze.
The conference was a platform for like-minded individuals with expertise in their own field to come together to work towards attaining the SDGs. It is now clear that whether you are a student, an NGO, a corporate, or from the government, the important thing is to work together. Afterall, the 17th SDG is “Partnerships for the Goals”.
“There’s no limit to what we can achieve if we don’t care who gets the credit.” – Tony Opusa