University Joins National Effort to Meet United Nations Sustainability Goals

August 05, 2019

The Ohio State University has formally joined a United Nations initiative to help solve global challenges related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice.

The university is now a member of the U.S. chapter of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a group of more than 60 leading academic institutions mobilizing global scientific and technological expertise to promote practical solutions for sustainable development, including the implementation of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement.

The SDGs are a set of 17 goals developed by the 193 member countries of the United Nations and are meant to be achieved by 2030. They cover a range of ambitious objectives to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure equality and prosperity for all.

Through its SDSN membership, approved June 26, Ohio State will plug in to multiple networks designed to help academic institutions, think tanks and other thought leaders advance the adoption of the SDGs in the United States, says Ohio State Sustainability Institute Faculty Director Elena Irwin, adding that doing so may also help the university’s own journey to make Ohio State campuses more sustainable.

“Just as sustainability science transcends any single discipline, the solutions to our sustainability problems transcend any single organization,” Irwin says. “Only by joining together with universities and other knowledge and research institutions, along with financing institutions, the private sector and society leaders from the United States and across the world will we be successful in addressing climate change, water quality, fossil fuel dependence and other world challenges. SDSN provides an immediate opportunity for Ohio State to do this.”

Ohio State’s land-grant mission compels us to discover and disseminate knowledge to improve public well-being, says Gil Latz, Ohio State vice provost for global strategies and international affairs.

“Our university is simultaneously local and global,” he says. “Our location in the Midwest gives our researchers a unique perspective on many sustainability challenges in the ‘heartland’ of the United States, including the intersection of agriculture and water quality, the environmental footprint of energy production, the interface between rural and urban communities, and the impact of urban development on social equity. Meanwhile, we have fully staffed outreach offices in Brazil, China and India as part of our Office of International Affairs. Ohio State also has several initiatives that focus on grand challenges, notably the Global One Health initiative and the Global Water Initiative.”

Experts from the SDG USA and the SDSN reported late last year that the United States is not a top performer in sustainable development. In the Sustainable Development Report of the United States 2018, the nation needs significant improvements to achieve the goals of No Poverty, Gender Equality, Reduced Inequalities, Climate Action and Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. States have made relatively more progress on Clean Water and Sanitation, Responsible Consumption and Production, and Life on Land than the other goals, although there is still progress to be made.

“Indeed, in this year’s global ranking, the United States ranks 35th overall, even though it is one of the richest countries in the world. The problem, in short, is that the U.S. economy is heavily focused on profits at all costs, even at the costs of the poor and the costs of the natural environment,” wrote economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, SDSN director and chair and founder of SDG USA.

Ohio ranks 36th in the nation in average progress toward meeting the SDGs and is in the bottom half of all of the rankings toward meeting every goal except Decent Work and Economic Growth and Reduced Inequalities.  It ranks particularly low on Goal 15, Life on Land, which aims to “protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss,” and Goal 16, Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, which promotes “peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”

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