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Are we SUSTAINABLE enough in development?

It’s been one year since the Sustainable Development Goals were agreed. But has the world noticed?

Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere

Despite encouraging progress, current trajectories show the world will not meet this goal by 2030. Change can be accelerated by increasing the effectiveness of country-level interventions, particularly in poverty-soaring regions such as sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, and additionally mitigating the impacts of climate change that have been magnifying the vulnerability of poor people.

Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
The SDGs have prompted a broadened understanding of food systems and the interlinkages within them. Some leading companies are assessing their business operations against all SDG targets in the landscapes where they operate, rather than focusing more narrowly on their own supply chains. Select silos are being addressed: leaders in health, nutrition and agriculture are beginning to bridge the coordination gap between ministries, market incentives and language, and are striving to set out a common agenda for healthy and sustainable diets. But such efforts will need continued creative collaboration to come up with market-based approaches that drive growth while protecting the health of people and planet.

Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
We have lived a year of challenges and promises as the world progressed towards SDG3. On one hand, there has been notable appetite for collaboration to combat emerging infectious diseases with pandemics potential. On the other hand, the business models to make breakthrough innovations available and affordable have yet to be invented. CEPI, the recently founded Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, is a step forwards. But then, we shouldn’t be seeing market-dominating pharma manufacturers hiking up the prices of off-patent drugs by more than 1,000%. It raises concerns over bioethics affects trust in the industry.

Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
There is now a wide range of information available on best practices and success stories in education, from financing methods and teacher training to curriculum reform and tech-enabled learning. It is critical that these are used to transform education ecosystems, fully and holistically, using clear targets, a mixture of public and private ventures, and the engagement of all stakeholders, including business and governments.

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
There is a strong momentum towards gender equality today, combined with more data and knowledge on best practices than ever before. Two next steps are critical for impact: advancing the care economy and engaging men in the home to address the dual work-care role that primarily falls on women. We also need to grasp the unique opportunity offered by today’s labour-market transformations to accelerate gender equality in high-growth sectors and roles.

Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
A unique venture has been created to accelerate the progress and action agenda for the sixth Sustainable Development Goal. The High Level Panel on Water, convened by the UN and World Bank, is a first of its kind, with 10 heads of state tasked with mobilizing action and investment for the water agenda. With the potential to break silos and create the right political environment for effective action, what’s needed now is the connection to the champions, experts, innovators and investors across sectors to help build out key initiatives at speed and at scale.

Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
While the needle has not significantly moved in terms of providing energy access to all, since COP21 there has been considerable momentum on the issue. Stakeholders have launched various initiatives: for example the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, led by Bill Gates and other high-net-worth individuals; and the Mission Innovation, whose signatory governments have committed to doubling their allocations to clean energy research. New technologies could both expand energy access and contribute to decarbonization. In addition, the Africa Development Bank 2016 annual meeting, under the theme “Energy and Climate Change”, launched a platform for innovative financing and coordinated action from private and public partners. These are steps in the right direction to overcome the financial challenges blocking access for all.

Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
The best way to generate sustainable growth that creates jobs and lifts living standards is to build underlying competitiveness into all economies. This means all the usual elements, such as strong institutions, infrastructure, education and efficient markets, but it also means encouraging the open trading of goods and services between nations. Trade and investment has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty in the past 50 years, but the trend we detect these days is towards more of a zero-sum game of mercantilism. This needs to be reversed if we are to have any realistic expectation of meeting this goal.

Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Investors are increasingly comfortable with resilient and sustainable infrastructure as a destination for their funds, since they take a long-term view of fiduciary duties and explore innovative models such as blended finance. Now, focus is needed when it comes to finding common standards, improving risk mitigation and aligning incentives for success in public-private partnerships.

Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries
Over the past year, many pronouncements have been made by the G20 and others about the importance of reducing inequalities, yet there has been little in the way of concrete plans. To achieve growth that is inclusive and not limited to small elites, we need more focused and long-term thinking, and actions to drive improvements in living standards throughout societies; for example, entrepreneurship, good infrastructure and public services, and stamping out corruption in business and public spheres.

Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
As we live in an increasingly urbanized world, cities and human settlements will be the key to achieving the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. However, since the adoption of the 11th goal, progress towards implementation has been slow, with efforts limited to debate around how national governments should be guiding, tracking and implementing the goal. It is considered that the path towards implementation will be reinvigorated with Habitat III, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, taking place in Quito, Ecuador, in October 2016. However, if significant progress is to be made post Habitat III, national governments will need to find the political will to empower cities, and build their capacity and resources. Cities, meanwhile, will need to enable vital cooperation between the public and private sector, as well as wider civil society, to create the financial and delivery models required to achieve sustainable development.

Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Goal 12 gives the players in the consumption and production system a target and a rallying point. With the work of various organizations, from the UN to the World Economic Forum, and buy-in from governments including in China and the US, the institutions and commitments are also in place. However, the biggest challenge is still looming: we need to implement. Value chains, from the raw material to the consumer, need to be overhauled in a way that reverses the status quo of take-make-waste and creates a perpetual, circular take-make-take-make system; a system that can lift global living standards without an accompanying rise in emissions and resource use.

Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Paris has set the framework. Implementation is now the key word. Governments need to translate their national plans (NDCs) into smart policies. The private sector should further transform their business models. Putting a price on carbon will be an important part of the equation. But to meet the targets of Paris, ambition will need to be raised. They year 2018 is the next key date, as this is when the first review of the Paris Agreement takes place; when countries are expected to come back to the table, hopefully with noticeably more ambitious emissions reductions targets.

Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use oceans
September 2016 saw strong support for marine conservation, with $5 billion pledged at John Kerry’s Our Ocean conference. But while a number of governments, including the US, have stepped up to provide leadership, the same cannot yet be said of the business community. Looking ahead over the next 12 months, much focus will now be on paving the way for a successful UN Head of State Oceans Summit in June, as well as identifying the most promising emerging technologies from the Fourth Industrial Revolution; for example, using satellite tracking of ocean activity, which will give us a better idea of what the carrying capacity – and thus sustainable levels of activity – of the oceans should be.

Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems; sustainably manage forests; combat desertification; and halt and reverse land degradation; and halt biodiversity loss
Last year saw good progress on the global framework to support this goal. The Paris Agreement and fresh funding for forests should accelerate national efforts to protect and restore terrestrial ecosystems – a safe, proven way to sequester carbon at scale. Corporate commitments to end deforestation continued to expand. And global monitoring tools, like Global Forest Watch, markedly improved. But a dramatic fire season in South-East Asia was a stark reminder of how progress on the ground remains difficult. In the coming year, public-private cooperation platforms will need to support domestic champions of sustainable rural development, tapping into the opportunities from sustainable sourcing commitments and sustainable finance.

Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
The launch of the SDG16 Data Initiative, a platform compiling official and non-governmental data, is an innovative way to measure progress towards the achievement of the 16th goal. Open and transparent data will strongly support all the goals; it will help member states track their results and identify the gaps in their national policies. However, available data is still limited due to the official statistical systems and efforts to improve access to justice need to be strengthened.

Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
The ambitious 2030 Agenda demands the combined forces of public, private and civil society sectors to achieve scale and impact. We must now unlock the power of collaboration through a global platform that makes use of interdependencies, develops new models and shares risks and responsibilities to maximize measurable results.


Last Talk by Professor Ir. Dr. Azraai Kassim

Date: 14 July 2016