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Capitalism: Is It Making The UN's SDGs Harder to Achieve?

The United Nations developed the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 within The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Sustainable Development Goals are built on decades of work by the UN and call upon all members to take action. The SDGs recognise that a number of deprivations such as poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve issues like education, inequality, and more, This occurs alongside tackling climate change and forest and ocean preservation.

The Sustainable Development Goals pave the way to a more prosperous, sustainable planet for our future generations. Sustainability is constructed in three pillars: economic, social, and environmental. Sustainability requires long-term solutions to issues within these pillars to take effect.

Unfortunately, many of the targets that the Sustainable Development Goals aim to achieve struggle to prevail whilst we exist amongst capitalism, as such issues are rife due to this system.

But this doesn't mean we should give up our efforts to strive towards a more sustainable future!

Global inequality

Inequality manifests itself in many situations in life. Capitalism as an economic system only seems to promote this inequality.

The first goal of the 17, is to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. In the 2021 report, the UN outline the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the links of this with the issues of poverty. The Covid-19 pandemic subsequently reversed the efforts that the UN had already made in reducing poverty across the globe, however, even before the pandemic began, the end-goal to eradicate poverty was still out of reach. Capitalism is the key culprit as to why this goal seems to be so far from our grasp; the system encourages a sense of competition between countries and prioritises the individual interests of private corporations instead of the needs of workers. These organisations prioritise wealth and maintaining this wealth, where the current standard of capitalism means workers are underpaid for their work, whilst these organisations make a profit. One key feature of capitalism that we see across the world is to keep the rich, rich.

Gender inequality

The fifth SDG, to achieve gender equality, identifies the fact that if women had equal access to land ownership, this would alleviate poverty and food insecurity. However, studies have shown that in the majority of countries, women have fewer rights than men agriculturally.

Another important issue under gender inequality is that discriminatory laws continue to deprive women of their human rights. Even though today there are laws in place to prevent discrimination on the basis of gender in the workplace and employment, there are still countries that continue to restrict women from working in certain jobs.

Although sexism exists outside capitalism, the system itself is sexist. Capitalism is a system that thrives on inequality, and it is upheld by the patriarchy. The top 10 richest people in the world today are all men and for hundreds of years, before and after women were given access to more financial freedom and freedom to work, capitalism has led to unparalleled levels of gender inequality regarding wealth.

The environment

SDGs 12 and 13 aim to tackle issues affecting our environment and sustainability. In just 25 years (1990-2015), the annual global carbon emissions grew by 60% - doubling the total global cumulative emissions! Shockingly, the richest 1% of the population are responsible for 55% of rising global emissions, where the bottom 50% of the population are responsible for just 3% of rising global emissions.

The fast-fashion industry has a significant impact on carbon emissions, with it taking place as the second-largest industrial polluter - accounting for 10% of global pollution. Fast fashion brands often uses cheap, low quality material that leaves the clothes susceptible to irreparable damage, so these clothes often end up being thrown away after few uses!

The process of the production and shipment of these clothes also have devastating effects on our environment; CO2 emissions and water pollution are huge contributors to the carbon footprint of the fast fashion industry. Capitalism depends on the demands of consumers under a free-market economy, and due to the clothes being such low quality, these brands can make their garments incredibly cheap for purchase whilst still making profit. So, consumers continue to buy these products because of their temptingly low prices.

Capitalism encourages over-consumption, mass-production, and allows business owners to profit off of harming our planet, therefore, it continues to reverse the efforts the UN has made to promote a healthier, more sustainable environment for our planet.

Achieving sustainability

It's not impossible to achieve a more sustainable environment under a capitalist system, no matter how suppressive the system may be. Though it is the responsibility of the majority to take action in order for these changes to really begin to take effect.

In order for sustainable capitalism to succeed, it must meet the needs of present society, without eradicating the needs and opportunities of future generations. Long-term solutions to current issues must be considered. These solutions must be based on exercising sustainability to protect and preserve our planet and those of us that live on it.

We play a crucial part in making change through our support and action; what may seem like a small change to us makes a huge impact on our planet and humanity. Small changes to our day-to-day lives are the first step to achieving sustainability. These changes can be:

  1. Donating to humanitarian charities. (United Nations Foundation)

  2. Using more sustainable brands.

  3. Saving energy and water. This can even be done from your own home!

  4. Using reusable products instead of single-use products.

  5. Purchasing second-hand items from charity shops or independent sellers.


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