Grant Olear

Three major global inititatives all work together to make a more sustainable and equitable world.

Much of the talk the past few years in the international environmental policy sphere has been about three global initiatives—the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the New Urban Agenda and of course, the Paris Agreement.

The latter was agreed upon at COP21 last year in Paris, and the agreement will officially enter into force this Friday, just days before COP22 begins. It brings all nations together for a common cause, undertaking ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects. Each participating nation put forth a plan on how it will address the sources of greenhouse gas emissions and what can be done at the national level to meet their respective pledged goals and to help keep the global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius.

The New Urban Agenda, an action-oriented document that sets global standards of achievement in sustainable urban development by rethinking the way we build, manage and live in cities, was ratified last month at the U.N.’s Habitat III. It is a guide for global efforts in urbanization for the next 20 years, and brought together relevant stakeholders and partners at all levels of government, as well as in the private sector. 

The SDGs were established in 2015, as a set of goals to end poverty (both economic and education), protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years. Goals range from quality education to responsible consumption and production, all tied to an equitable and resilient future for all.

Although the three global initiatives described above may sound different, they complement each other in significant ways. The Paris Agreement, the largest of the three initiatives but also the most focused on climate change, is supported by the broader New Urban agenda and the SDGs. 

Cities will be a major force in helping nations achieve their commitments under the Paris Agreement, as they generate over 80 percent of global GDP, consume approximately two-thirds of the world’s energy, and account for more than 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Strong cities translate to strong nations. The New Urban Agenda lays out the path for sustainable development in cities and urban spaces. 

These sentiments were echoed at Habitat III by U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, who stated, “Brainpower is the new currency of success.” Equal access to education, health professionals, transportation, electricity and much more is crucial to developing an integrated, resilient and sustainable urban area. 

The SDGs compliment both the Paris Agreement and the New Urban Agenda by outlining the most crucial elements for a prosperous and sustainable future world. Much of the work that nations and cities will do, while targeting greenhouse gas emissions, will also focus largely on inclusion and equity to ensure that each citizen benefits from improvements made. 

At USGBC, these developments reinforce our longstanding commitment to the triple bottom line, with equity infusing how we approach our work. As we expand access to our platforms, we are looking at the nexus of system goals and credits with the SDGs. We continue supporting implementation of the Paris Agreement, here in the U.S. and around the globe, through our suite of tools and key international partnerships such as the U.N. Building Efficiency Accelerator. The aspirations and commitments represented by these global agreements will help guide the public and private sectors alike as we move toward a more sustainable and equitable world.