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Sustainable Development Goal 12

Ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns

Muhammad Abdul Mazid | September 20, 2018 00:00:00

Globally more people are expected to join the middle class over the next two decades. This is good for individual prosperity but it will increase demand for the already constrained natural resources. If appropriate actions to change the consumption and production patterns are not taken, it will cause irreversible damage to the environment. There are many aspects of consumption that with simple changes can have a big impact on the society as a whole. For example, each year about one third of all food produced-equivalent to 1.3 billion tonnes worth around $1 trillion-ends up rotting in the bins of consumers and retailers, or spoiling due to poor transportation and harvesting practices, something that businesses need to address. When it comes to consumers, households consume 29 per cent of global energy and contribute to 21 per cent of resultant CO2 emissions. However, if people worldwide switched to energy efficient light bulbs, the world would save US$120 billion annually. Water pollution is also a pressing issue that needs a sustainable solution. It is an irony that we are polluting water faster than nature can recycle and purify water in rivers and lakes. Less than 3 per cent of the world's water is fresh (drinkable), of which 2.5 per cent is frozen in the arctic. More than 1 billion people still do not have access to fresh water while excessive use of water contributes to the global water stress.

It's in everybody's interest to find new solutions that enable sustainable consumption and production patterns. A better understanding of environmental and social impacts of products and services is needed-- both of product life cycles and how these are affected by use within lifestyles. Identifying "hot spots" within the value chain where interventions have the greatest potential to improve the environmental and social impact of the system as a whole is a crucial first step. Businesses can also use their innovative power to design solutions that can both enable and inspire individuals to lead more sustainable lifestyles, reducing impacts and improving human well-being. There are two main ways to help-- by reducing waste and by being thoughtful about what people buy, and choosing a sustainable option whenever possible. Reducing the waste can be done in many ways, from ensuring reduced consumption of plastic-- one of the main pollutants of the ocean. Carrying a reusable bag, refusing to use plastic straws, and recycling plastic bottles are good ways to do our part every day. Making informed purchases about what we're buying also helps. If we buy from sustainable and local sources, we can make a difference as well as exercise pressure on businesses to adopt sustainable practices.

Sustainable consumption and production is about promoting resource and energy efficiency, sustainable infrastructure, and providing access to basic services, green and decent jobs and a better quality of life for all. Its implementation helps to achieve overall development plans, reduce future economic, environmental and social costs, strengthen economic competitiveness and reduce poverty. Sustainable consumption and production aims at "doing more and better with less," increasing net welfare gains from economic activities by reducing resource use, degradation and pollution along the whole life cycle, while increasing the quality of life. It involves different stakeholders, including businesses, consumers, policy makers, researchers, scientists, retailers, media and development agencies, among others. It also requires a systemic approach and cooperation among actors operating in the supply chain, from producer to final consumer. It involves engaging consumers through awareness-raising and educating on sustainable consumption and lifestyles, providing consumers with adequate information through standards and labels and engaging in sustainable public procurement, among others.

Fact remains that despite technological advances that have promoted energy efficiency gains, energy use in OECD countries will continue to grow another 35 per cent by 2020. Commercial and residential energy use is the second most rapidly growing area of global energy use after transport. In 2002 the motor vehicle stock in OECD countries was 550 million vehicles (75 per cent of which were personal cars). A 32 per cent increase in vehicle ownership is expected by 2020. At the same time, motor vehicles are projected to increase by 40 per cent and global air travel is projected to triple in the same period.

While substantial environmental impacts from food occur in the production phase (agriculture, food processing), households influence these impacts through their dietary choices and habits. This consequently affects the environment through food-related energy consumption and waste generation.1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted every year, while almost 1 billion people go undernourished and another 1 billion remain hungry. Over-consumption of food is detrimental to our health and the environment. 2 billion people globally are overweight or obese. Land degradation, declining soil fertility, unsustainable water use, over-fishing and marine environment degradation are all lessening the ability of the natural resource base to supply food. The food sector accounts for around 30 per cent of the world's total energy consumption and accounts for around 22 per cent of total Greenhouse Gas emissions.

In this premise, the UN has set Sustainable Development Goal 12 to achieve the following by 2030

* Implement the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production-- all countries taking action, with developed countries taking the lead, taking into account the development and capabilities of developing countries

* Management of sustainable and efficient use of natural resources

* Halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses

* Achieve environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimise their adverse impacts on human health and the environment

* Substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse

* Encourage companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices and to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle

* Promote public procurement practices that are sustainable, in accordance with national policies and priorities

* Ensure that people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature

* Support developing countries to strengthen their scientific and technological capacity to move towards more sustainable patterns of consumption and production

* Develop and implement tools to monitor sustainable development impacts for sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products

* Rationalise inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption by removing market distortions, in accordance with national circumstances, including by restructuring taxation and phasing out those harmful subsidies, where they exist, to reflect their environmental impacts, taking fully into account the specific needs and conditions of developing countries and minimising the possible adverse impacts on their development in a manner that protects the poor and the affected communities.

Dr Muhammad Abdul Mazid is former Secretary to the government and former Chairman, NBR.

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