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Economic heavyweight stresses climate change action

Internationally acclaimed economist Professor Jeffery Sachs today told Ozwater’19 delegates their expertise is crucial in helping transform business-as-usual development into truly sustainable and inclusive progress.

Delivering his keynote address by hologram, Sachs – who is Director of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) – highlighted six categories of action needed to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

“Why do we even have the concept of sustainable development? It is because our capitalist economic system does not by itself produce what we want for our wellbeing,” he said.

“We want economies that are prosperous, of course, but also socially fair and inclusive, and environmentally sustainable. We want the triple-bottom line, not just a GNP [gross national product] bottom line.

“A bargain economy is pretty good at producing wealth and prosperity, but it’s not very good at sharing that wealth fairly.

“There is a tendency over time for the widening of inequality, unless active measures are taken to keep that inequality under control. And our current system is miserable at protecting the natural environment.”

Sachs said the first category needed for sustainable development is quality education for all, including social safety networks and support to keep inequality low.

“Australia is not as unequal as the United States. But still, Australia’s inequality has been rising over time and it needs to be brought back under control.”

Sachs listed quality healthcare and de-carbonising the world’s energy system as crucial to achieving more sustainable development, highlighting the Australian Government’s controversial approach to coal as unfair.

“I can’t stress how basic this is. By 2050 we have to be out of coal, oil and gas,” Sachs said.

“Australia, out of coal – and not just inside Australia, but all the rest of the countries that are Australia’s customers for coal too. There is no place in the world for large-scale coal burning in a safe manner.

“This is where governments have not been fair or realistic to Australians or the world. They are continuing on in a sector that is completely unsustainable and creating a lot of damage to the rest of the world.”

Sachs also listed sustainable land use and sustainable cities as key categories that need to be addressed in creating a cleaner, fairer future.

“Our farming systems are not sustainable. We are taking over too much habitat – we have taken up about 50% of the primary productivity of the planet for our species alone,” he said.

“Land use needs to be brought back under control, including the management of wastes and stopping chemical pollutants.

“But we also need to turn our cities electric, based on clean and green electricity. We are going to have 70% of the population living in our cities by 2050 – the vehicles we drive should be electric, our buildings should be heated through green electricity, and our industry activity should be fuelled by sustainable alternatives.”

Finally, Sachs noted that the future of smart technology use must be managed in a sustainable manner, ensuring the technologies we will rely on can be maintained and supported.

“The digital revolution is everywhere; it’s in artificial intelligence, it’s in robotics, it’s in the Internet of Things. We need to have good coverage, 5G for example, to enable these technologies of the future to work,” he said.

“But we also have to govern in a way that is prudent and safe. We have to learn to live in a sustainable manner with our new digital age.”

While not on the official SDSN list of development categories, Sachs also stressed the importance of action, stating that Australia is in an excellent position to take the 17 Sustainable Development Goals as an opportunity for global leadership.

“We need the end of foot dragging, the end of politics backed by the coal industry; what we really need is sustainability,” he said.

“I count on Australia to be in the lead. You have the expertise to help find the pathway towards sustainable development.

“Australia is a natural leader in the global sustainability effort, not only for what you achieve within your country, but also in what you achieve internationally as well. We need your brains, your good spirit and heart.

“If we take these six transformation categories holistically, we can not only have prosperity, but we can have social justice and we can have sustainability of the planet for ourselves, for other species, for our children and for our grandchildren.”

Day one of Ozwater'19 might be finished but the conference is far from over! Don't miss tomorrow's keynote speakers, Craig Reucassel, Macinley Butson and Iain Walker. View the full program here.