Two large practical problems with the UN's SD Goals.
1) The SDG's focus on development with seemingly little or no focused attention to rebound effects.
2) Projects that are intended to be sustainable are also widely using ill-defined standard measures that give misleadingly low indications of both present and future impacts.
1- lack of attention to rebound effects
The UN's SDG targets have the effects all development plans have, which is to increase human pressures on natural resources. The big "rebound effect" is the usual one, that "wealth breeds demand" because people using economic success to further invest in greater economic success. It should be but doesn’t seem to be factored into any of the plans, as if "unseen impacts don't count". We know they DO count, though, and are a quite genuine threats to success.
The development stimulus in less developed countries is one of the causes of the food crisis, for example. It both adds to the globally growing demand for resources, pushing up food prices. It also connects productive small farmers with foreign markets so they no longer sell their products in their own regions. There are lots of "back fire" effects like that. They are occurring because the SDG's are framed as development plans first, rather than as sustainability plans first.
The right step for the UN is to adopt The Commons Approach. That focuses everyone's attention on their mutual and common interests, so development avoids adding to the intensity of economic competition over resources that only speculators benefit from. In the present business climate focusing primarily on development interests is leading to plans that tragically backfire.
2 – need for a large change in our measurement methods
People need better measures of the real total effects of their choices. Better measures doesn't guarantee success but protect against failure, steering you to solutions that are much more likely to work and to last.
An unusual flaw was recently found, exposing a major source of misinformation in the design of the most familiar measures of economic impacts, the LCA and Scope 3 GHG measurement methods. Those and many other common methods use "economic accounting" not "environmental systems accounting". The two approaches are *radically different* as ways of counting the same “end product” or “whole business” externalities. The familiar methods count only the “consumption for production” of technology, and ignore the “consumption for production” for the human services needed to operate the technology(!). It's just left out.
It’s a BIG omission and a major inaccuracy for the physical measure of attributable impacts on the environment. The present LCA and Scope 3 GHG metrics are commonly leaving out 80-90% of the real environmental impacts for delivering business products and GDP! Two levels of peer-reviewed analysis of the problem are available, simple & complex, plus some collected “Slides & notes”.
- simple “Shining a light on dark energy”
- complex “System Energy Assessment (SEA)"
- collected “Slides & notes”
It will take a significant effort to understand this new information on how to accurately measure and attribute the impacts of business operations and products, and then integrate it into the various CSR and Sustainability Dashboard models. Given the scale of the error it would help correct it would also seem sure to have significant value, for redirecting our efforts toward more feasible solutions.