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SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production - An Essay on Advocacy

Planet earth and its inhabitants are no strangers to misfortune. Every year, thousands are exposed to catastrophic natural disasters, devastating conflicts, and perilous living conditions. Nonetheless, humankind has found ways to rise above these tragedies and continue being humans—at the cost of the earth’s health. The United Nations, an organization tasked with keeping peace in this tumultuous world, established a set of sustainable development goals to improve the quality of life for all humans, while defending the world they depend on. The current SDG budget cut is truly unfortunate for humanity, although it is also an opportunity to evaluate which issues are worthy of attention. Most people do not consider irresponsible consumption and production of resources to be unusually dire, but this unsustainable practice is secretly sabotaging the environment. It masquerades behind the mask of irrelevance, pretending to be unworthy of both humanity’s acknowledgment and ire. However, irresponsible consumption is a serious issue, and it will continue to be, as long as the world is still exhausting natural resource supplies. Humanity’s callous nature will not only drive these resources towards depletion, but it will hasten global warming and negatively impact numerous ecosystems. Even worse, those who are aware of humanity’s irresponsibility decide to ignore it in favor of convenience and comfort. It is vital that SDG #12, responsible consumption and production, remains in the SDG budget due to its importance for a healthy environment, humanity’s continuing existence, and the progress of other SDGs.

Preserving the health of the environment is essential now, more than ever. Natural resources are one element of the environment that humans simply cannot live without; goal 12 encourages humankind to be kinder to the environment, whilst operating—and thriving—off fewer resources. Humanity’s dependence on natural resources has only increased in the past 100 years, especially for nonrenewable resources like fossil fuels. Humanity is consuming such resources at an alarmingly rapid rate. Statistics explain how the “demand for oil rose by 1.3% - which is almost double the average annual rate seen over the 10 years prior… it’s estimated that our known oil deposits will be gone by 2052” (Howarth 1). Even as discouraging as the evidence may seem, it proves that mindful consumption is a necessity to counteract the rate at which humans are draining oil deposits. For such an essential resource in the lives of billions, the reckless way humans regard and consume oil must be altered. Alas, it is not merely the impending depletion of oil that humans should be worried about. Oil’s inherently harmful effects, coupled with the mass amounts that are being consumed, are devastating the environment. Oil pollution is notoriously stubborn to eliminate; its greasy tendrils leave lasting effects on wildlife, ecosystems, and communities. If even one species becomes endangered by oil pollution, the rest of the ecosystem is thrown into a struggle to adapt. Therefore, the responsible consumption and handling of natural resources remain necessary for nature’s health. The Joint SDG Fund also notes how the food production sector “accounts for around 30 per cent of the world’s total energy consumption and accounts for around 22 per cent of total Greenhouse Gas emissions” (Joint SDG Fund 1). The evidence above indicates that food production directly impacts energy consumption. Sustainable methods of producing meals can lessen irresponsible waste generated in the food production process. To be specific, the resources used for energy in food production emit environmentally damaging gasses that are gradually warming the climate. Global warming has already resulted in rising sea levels, extreme weather patterns, and the displacement of many animals. The environment is being severely overwhelmed by humanity’s poor habits. If food is consumed responsibly, it decreases the demand for staggering food production and reduces greenhouse gas emissions produced by unsustainable energy sources. Given that reasoning, goal 12’s importance among the other SDGs is evident, for it is imperative for protecting humanity’s beloved planet earth.

Moreover, sustainable efforts are needed to guarantee the world can continue to cater to the growing human population. SDG 12 concentrates on how humans can reverse their damage on their environment and subsequently extend their existences. One way to be a proactive protector of humanity is to recycle; this practice “saves non-renewable resources. For example, by not recycling paper, 80% more wood will need to be harvested by 2010 to meet growing paper consumption demands. However, through active paper recycling, only 20% more wood will need to be harvested by 2010” (Benefits of Recycling 1). As proven, recycling has a plethora of benefits for the environment, such as conserving natural resources that are frequently wasted. This “menial task” is necessary to safeguard the precious natural resources needed by future generations. For instance, humans rely on trees for construction and providing ample oxygen for all living life. Trees basically make up the foundation of human life. When considering their importance to humanity, it seems imprudent to squander these precious resources on paper, especially when there are greener alternatives for this simple material. The very least humans can do to conserve trees and prevent deforestation is to do as SDG 12 urges: recycle. Even with sustainable practices like recycling becoming more widespread, the ever-growing human population is a noticeable reminder of all the work that must be done. According to recent estimates, “[t]he global population could grow to around 8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050. The equivalent of almost three planets could be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles” (Joint SDG Fund 1). The numbers suggest the earth cannot naturally sustain humanity in a few decades. Even now, “[l]and degradation, declining soil fertility, unsustainable water use, overfishing and marine environment degradation are [already] lessening the ability of the natural resource base to supply food” (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations 1). Earth’s inability to yield food threatens the survival of humanity, for every being on the food chain relies on the earth for food. For humans, soil fertility is essential for agriculture, and those same crops need fresh water for sustenance. All of these fundamental resources—air, water, and soil—can only be offered by Mother Nature. Every creature large and small indirectly relies on similar resources; the food chain is a delicate balance of life bound only by the earth’s generosity. If the earth cannot provide those resources, it seems as if the existence of humans and their precious home planet are confronting an urgent, genuine, and grave issue. Nevertheless, this harsh, looming reality humankind has put itself in is reversible by lessening the worldwide per capita consumption. Some may point out that those living in underdeveloped countries cannot even access necessities like food, let alone live sustainably. Indeed, the consumption of resources is not distributed evenly across the world; unfortunately, “[t]he world wastes or loses around a third of the food it produces while almost 690 million people go hungry” (Joint SDG Fund 1). SDG 12 aims to address inequality when facing sustainable consumption. Change always starts with the most influential, and in the case of sustainability, “developed nations are asked to lead the way in adopting sustainable consumption and production practice” (MDG Monitor 1). Developed nations will prompt a domino effect that will encourage people, particularly the privileged, to lower their consumption and demand for resources. Lowering food waste can drive down global food prices, making healthy and nutritious meals more accessible to the poor. The improved purchasing power of the poor implies people should become increasingly aware of sustainable consumption. Consequently, everyone has an impact on humanity’s survival. Still, this daunting task is not only for individuals to undertake; in a fast-developing world, SDG 12 encourages countries to responsibly support and nourish their citizens. All of humanity, both countries and individuals, must embrace sustainability to prolong their futures.

In order to stabilize the earth for the growing population, SDG 12 must be kept in the budget to foster sustainability.

Finally, keeping SDG 12 in the budget is beneficial for other SDGs. The SDGs were designed to be intricately interconnected since only through cooperation and unity can ambitious goals be accomplished. SDG 12 connects to a larger number than most because SDG 12’s focus on sustainability encompasses all. SDG 12 aids SDG 6, clean water and sanitation, in its quest to provide water and sanitation services for all. Aside from the numerous issues surrounding water that SDG 6 seeks to address, sustainable management and consumption is an objective for both SDGs. Freshwater is a valuable commodity, for “only 3 percent of the world’s water is drinkable, and humans are using it faster than nature can replenish it” (United Nations Development Program 1). The slowly diminishing freshwater source is disturbing, not just due to the worryingly small percentage of it on earth, but because water is needed to sustain all life. More still, water is a renewable resource, yet it is consumed more rapidly than it can replenish itself. Water should thereby be used in moderation. After all, SDG 12 proposes that all resources are used responsibly, to ensure Earth can continue to supply clean water and fresh resources for every human being. Furthermore, SDG 12 contributes to goals 2, 3, and 8. Explicitly, SDG 12 occupies a major role in combatting zero hunger. SDG 12 relates to zero hunger in the sense that “[h]alving the per capita of global food waste at the retailer and consumer levels is also important for creating more efficient production and supply chains. This can help with food security and shift us towards a more resource efficient economy” (UNDP 1). As the evidence illustrates, reducing food waste and streamlining food supply chains make food more accessible and plentiful. Particularly for struggling and underdeveloped countries, responsible consumption and production are critical for providing citizens with food. In addition, SDG 12 seeks to confront inequalities in food availability and advocate for economic growth while maintaining responsible food production. This level of food sustainability also connects to good health and wellbeing because SDG 12 forces the food industry to produce meals ethically; hence, the goal can lift millions of people out of obesity and food deserts. Those in opposition may argue that SDG 12 borrows all of its “importance” from other SDGs. The goal’s environmental component, for instance, is already the primary concern of SDG 13, climate action. Taken directly from the SDG report, SDG 13 plans to “redefine our relationship with the environment, and make systemic shifts and transformational changes to become low-greenhouse-gas emission and climate-resilient economies and societies” (SDG Indicators 1). “If concern for the environment is already prominently displayed in SDG 13,” critics may exclaim, “what is the need for SDG 12?” However, this argument is misdirected. SDG 12 will not instantaneously or singlehandedly solve climate change, but the changes SDG 12 represents for humanity are the first steps in creating a sustainable future. According to SDG 12, lessening humanity’s direct impact on the environment comes first and foremost; the alleviation of global warming and the revitalization of the environment will follow because of humanity’s change. Expressly, the responsible consumption and production of food lie at the heart of saving the environment. Agriculture accounts for 70% of global freshwater withdrawals, 78% of global ocean and freshwater eutrophication, and half of the world’s habitable land (Ritchie 1). Producing food responsibly and sustainably is compulsory for curbing climate change, reducing humanity’s ecological footprint, decreasing water stress and pollution, as well as preserving forested land and natural ecosystems. But most notably, SDG 12 is principle in assisting SDG 13 in its campaign for climate action. Climate action is a relatively broad and ambitious goal; one goal cannot cover all aspects of saving the environment. Thus, it makes sense that SDG 12 should stay in the budget, especially since it zeroes in on such an influential part of climate action: sustainability and accountability. It is no coincidence that the SDGs are so intertwined, for the UN purposefully designed these goals to encourage teamwork among humankind (SDG 17). Although SDG 12 may seem modest in comparison to ending world hunger or tackling climate change, collaboration among the SDGs is necessary for them to triumph.

Picture a world where trash and smog have replaced all traces of what was formerly balance and beauty. Humans live in wastelands, forced to scavenge for even the most basic essentials. Wildlife, the most unfortunate victim of humanity’s neglect and malfeasance, has almost been driven to extinction by hordes of swarming livestock. Earth is a barren land—extracted of all its natural resources and suffocated in a torrent of greenhouse gasses. This faraway, “alternate” planet could very well be earth one day… The growing human population requires more and more natural resources to sustain it, all while humans continue to source and consume these resources irresponsibly. If this behavior continues, humanity will be forced to pay dearly for its negligence—with its existence. SDG 12 seeks to address and eradicate this issue. More than that, SDG 12 is crucial for the success of other goals. Hence, SDG 12 should remain in the SDG budget if humankind wishes to protect the environment, prolong humanity’s survival, and secure the success of many other indispensable SDGs.



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