As the Society’s Year of Sustainability draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I was somewhat confused by them when they launched in 2015 because I struggled to understand just how we’d achieve such lofty targets, and particularly how we’d coordinate our efforts and measure progress.
To refresh, the goals include the eradication of poverty, clean energy, good health, economic growth, sustainable cities, climate action, peace and reduced inequality. In a year that has been witness to record-breaking heatwaves across several continents, the continuing brunt of Covid-19, economic turmoil, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it can feel like we’re going backwards. So, while it’s impossible to do justice to the broad contributions of geoscience in achieving the SDGs, we have drawn together articles that highlight some ongoing work in this endeavour.
The creation of a more circular economy is key to achieving many of the SDGs. Currently there is no single reference point for the flow of technology metals – those essential for renewable energy infrastructure, for example – through the UK’s economy, so Frances Wall and colleagues discuss efforts to rectify this (p. 20). Colin Serridge highlights a similar dearth of information relating to the use of aggregates in the ground engineering sector (p. 16).
“As geoscientists, we appreciate that a fully closed-loop circular economy isn’t currently feasible”
As geoscientists, we appreciate that a fully closed-loop circular economy isn’t currently feasible – mining is essential to achieve the SDGs. The success of any mining project relies on the social licence to operate, and the Practices to People workshop (p. 46) offers communication training and an operational framework, based on the perspectives of social scientists, sustainability practitioners and exploration geologists. Similarly, discussions at a recent Energy Transition meeting (p. 44) focused on the need for a holistic approach to ensure a socially and environmentally just energy transition.
Other articles in this issue highlight efforts to facilitate discussions between experts, policy makers and financiers to identify barriers to investment in low-carbon technologies (p. 58), as well as coordinated bids to improve access to offshore data that will ensure the energy transition can progress at pace (p. 19).
Two timely articles discuss mitigation strategies to combat extreme heat in our cities (p. 38) and the need for a national effort to decarbonise residential heating, particularly given the current energy crisis (p. 42). Although somewhat tangential to geoscience, the success of such projects requires collaboration with geoscientists and geological engineers – and we’re interested to hear from readers working on specific case studies.
A major focus of the SDGs is reduced inequality. On page 34 the Equator team discuss efforts to increase access to geoscience, highlighting the impossibility of achieving an equitable and sustainable future if we don’t have equity within our own discipline.
Overall, the emerging picture is encouraging – it is one of cross-disciplinary collaboration and united effort to rapidly move things forward and force meaningful change.