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Even Without Trump, the U.S. Will Fail to Meet the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. Here’s Why.

NASA satellites capture the October 2017 California wildfires from space. Photo credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

By Nick Konstantine Lioudis

There is overwhelming evidence that climate change is impacting our environment. In fact, it’s been such an area of focus that it was singled out by the United Nations in its January 2016 launch of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of global guidelines as a necessary means to address, among other sustainable issues, the swift deterioration of our planet.

In Canada, the $317 billion Canadian Plan Pension Investment Board has been dedicated to sustainability for over 10 years running, using the tenets of engagement, integration and collaboration, according to its annual report.

Yet here in the U.S., we’ve made little to no progress on the issue to date.

One recent example is The Paris Agreement, which was infamously rejected by President Trump at an assembly of UN officials, and reportedly contributing to the resignation of lead economic advisor Gary D. Cohn.

The implementation of the agreement is essential towards achieving the SDGs—and without greater emphasis natural disasters in the form of wildfires in California, projected weekly flooding in certain parts of the U.S. due to sea level rises, crop failure and other climate-related risks, will only persist and get worse.

A main reason why the U.S. is failing to achieve these goals is that unlike its global counterparts, pension funds and university endowments, which possess trillions of dollars in collective financial power to impact change, have failed to push their weight around on sustainable issues.

For instance, the $232 billion California State Teachers Retirement System, which has long touted its devotion to sustainability efforts, has made strides to incorporate stakeholder engagement and LEED certified building practices, but in terms of the SDGs, has barely moved the needle in the two years since their launch, as its annual report indicates.

Higher education isn’t much better. Two of the most environmentally-conscious and prestigious private schools in the U.S., Smith College and Middlebury College, have deferred their investment decisions to Investure, a firm that has repeatedly stated that it has no intention of divesting their multi-million dollar endowments of fossil fuel-related holdings, despite ongoing protests by students and faculty.

There is a shred of optimism in the fact that our nation’s blind spot for sustainability measures has not gone unnoticed by the impact investment sector. In fact, a report released in March by the U.S.-based thinktanks IRRC Institute and The Investment Integration Project (TIIP) aims to eliminate barriers surrounding sustainability adoption by providing a clear roadmap for investors to “determine their influence on four foundational characteristics of environmental, societal, and financial systems,” while another group, The Global Impact Investment Network (GIIN), also recently released a report that points to a five-to-seven year roadmap to greater impact adoption by focusing on six actionable steps investors can take today.

With an actual roadmap, could investors now be able to remove the theoretical from the equation and more effectively measure influence (and presumably) reduce the amount of frustrated hands being thrown in the air? That much is unclear, but at minimum, U.S. institutions—and even more all over the world—will now be better equipped to point to actual figures that are measuring the sustainability strides they are making to their constituents and more importantly, their skeptical peers.

Using the argument for fossil fuel divestment to counter the effects of climate change as an example, the report contends that this specific sustainability issue goes beyond the adoption of alternative power resources and that there is a need for an evaluation of several alternative energy sources that global economies can utilize on a daily basis. By just pivoting to or being reliant on a single new resource, such as solar energy, would be simply repeating the mistakes we’ve already made with fossil fuel usage.

Yes, a measurement and evaluation approach is just one part of a long overdue process to create a more sustainable society. It will take much more to unwind our nation’s blind spot for adopting broader sustainability measures in comparison to our global peers, punctuated by the lack of commitment to the Paris agreements. However, with concrete roadmaps to sustainability being formed, the most powerful institutions in our nation are running out of excuses to a problem that, if not taken seriously, will impact future generations to come.

Nick Konstantine Lioudis is a New York-based writer, editor and multimedia professional. He regularly publishes on Medium, and has been Head of Content for Casual Spectator and Deputy Editor of Financial Investment News. Follow him on Twitter at @nickkonstantine.

Article photo: “NASA Satellites See California Wildfires from Space” by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

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