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Do Acceptable SDG Goal Trade-offs Exist?

Sometimes, when lucrative opportunities for economic growth arise, both governments and businesses look for trade-offs among the SDG targets that can be made at the expense of citizen wellbeing, thus pushing sustainable resource use, along with other commitments stemming from Agenda 2030, to the periphery of their attention

Sustainability is most often defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The concept has three main pillars: economic, environmental and social, which were transcribed into UN Agenda 2030 and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and adopted in 2015.

The SDGs address economic and social goals, as well as ecological sustainability challenges. That is to say, both globally and at the national level, countries that embrace the SDGs subscribe to an approach that places the same priority on efforts like improving living conditions for those in need and preserving the ecological integrity of the planet for future generations.

Yet, this task is made tougher by the fact that opportunities for economic growth may sometimes jeopardise sustainable resource use. Thus, both governments and businesses deliberate over whether to seek trade-offs among the SDG targets that come at the expense of citizen wellbeing.

The recent 26th UN climate change conference, officially known as the 26th Conference of the Parties (or COP 26), which took place in Glasgow, clearly suggested that Climate Change (SDG 13) might play a pivotal role in fulfilling all of the SDGs, if not the majority of them. In other words, it seems that achieving the 2030 Agenda will be impossible without achieving serious progress in addressing climate change.

Mining is seen as one of the industries that will be pushed by regulators to adhere to “net zero”, as the major guiding principle for business that was reinforced at the recent COP26 Conference in Glasgow. This is certainly important information for Serbia, where mining is increasingly being considered as a vehicle for accelerated growth

As a result, all countries are expected to revise their Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to reflect this ambition and come up with a detailed plan of how they will reduce the level of harmful greenhouse gases that they emit. This is certainly relevant for Serbia, which hasn’t exerted sufficient efforts to contribute to the overall goal of restricting global warming to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

One of the major steps in that direction is moving towards a green economy and clean renewable energy. These are today key terms that can be heard across domestic state administration, businesses and among ordinary citizens and which demand that commitments made public are turned into an applied reality.

It goes without saying that companies play an important role in that endeavour. Some of those that already embraced the SDGs as part of their market strategy, in order to distinguish themselves among others as responsible citizens, are now turning to “net zero” as the major guiding principle of their businesses.

In that respect, it is important to know that metals mining is considered one of the world’s dirtiest industries, responsible for at least 10% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. One of the outcomes of COP26 is expected to be the applying of further pressure on mining companies to become more responsible through increased regulation aimed at reducing emissions. Many see climate change litigation and the rise in climate activism, climate disclosures and sustainable financing as the key factors that will shape public attitudes towards economic opportunities that stem from mining.

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