The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), officially known as Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a set of 17 “Global Goals” with 169 targets between them. Spearheaded by the United Nations through a deliberative process involving its 193 Member States, as well as global civil society. The Resolution is a broader intergovernmental agreement that acts as the Post 2015 Development Agenda (successor to the Millennium Development Goals).
In my country Kenya, 3rd president Mwai Kibaki launched Kenya’s blueprint for growth and prosperity in tandem with the SDGs on 10th June 2008; it was called Kenya Vision 2030. As a young man fresh out of high school who was yet to join engineering school at the university, it was tear drop moment for me. That feeling I felt must have been the same feeling when the industrial revolution wave was crisscrossing the planet impacting so many lives of the current first world countries.
Here in Africa, we weren’t impacted by the wave positively. Our continent felt the brunt of human slavery, colonization and the plundering of our abundant natural resources to spur this revolution. As a result, Africa has suffered the most due to irresponsible global governance, climate change and socio-economic inequality. But with the SDGs in place, I strongly feel this is the second chance our continent has been waiting for. In the words of one Horace, carpe diem! I will now delve into what I think should be the top 5 SDGs for African Engineers to ensure our continent steps into the big leagues of global economies.
#1 Clean Water and Sanitation
This is goal no. 6 in the SDGs list. For me, I consider to be most important goal as water is life. Period! It is geared towards ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. According to a report by WHO, 42% of healthcare facilities in Africa do not have access to safe water and nearly half of all people using dirty water live in sub-Saharan Africa. This is a crisis that needs to be mitigated like yesterday!
The main three targets include:
- Achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.
- Achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.
- Improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally.
Water, Sanitation and Hygeine (WASH) experts have stated that without progress on this goal, the other goals and targets cannot be achieved. Safe drinking water and hygienic toilets protect people from disease and enable societies to be productive. Attending school and work without disruption is a precursor to education and employment, both of which are the foundation of alleviating poverty.
Recovering the resources embedded in excreta and wastewater like nutrients, water and energy contributes towards achieving Goal 12 (sustainable consumption and production) and Goal 2 (zero hunger) while ensuring adequate sanitation and wastewater management along the entire value chain in cities contributes to Goal 11 (sustainable cities and communities), Goal 1 (no poverty) and Goal 8 (decent work and economic growth).
#2 Zero Hunger
This is Goal No. 2 on the SDGs list. It is structured towards ending hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. Before I go into the role African engineers have to play in this goal, a few facts for you:
- The agrarian revolution was what spurred the industrial revolution as people in a lowly populated and unpolluted planet were now food secure and could now establish factories with spare time.
- Globally, 1 in 9 people are undernourished, the vast majority of these people live in developing countries
- Agriculture is the single largest employer in the world, providing livelihoods for 40 per cent of today’s global population. It is the largest source of income and jobs for poor rural households.
- Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45 per cent) of deaths in children under five – 3.1 million children each year.
The role of agricultural engineers among others has never been so big in such times. Mechanized farming methods, to optimized land use for farming and increasing the amount of acreage of land under irrigation to ensure that this goal is achieved have played a huge part in this. Organizations like my alma mater Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture & Technology which equips students with the necessary skills to implement such solutions in industry and the One Acre Fund who are changing the lives of small scale farmers countrywide are making such huge impacts in making sure that indeed hunger is alleviated.
#3: Affordable and Clean Energy
Goal No. 7 on the SDGs list is geared towards ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
Goal 7 targets that by 2030:
- There’s universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services
- There’s a substantial increase in the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix
- There’s double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency
- There’s enhanced international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and advanced and cleaner fossil-fuel technology, and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology
- There’s expanded infrastructure and upgraded technology for supplying modern and sustainable energy services for all in developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States, and land-locked developing countries, in accordance with their respective programmes of support
For me as an engineer, this is where I have decided to play my role in achieving the SDGs. The opportunities in Africa for achieving these goals are immense. Kenya’s vision 2030 has an ambitious plan in ensuring that there’s 5000 MW of installed power available on the grid. Already the energy mix in Kenya’s grid is over 70% renewable energy and is among global leaders in harnessing of geothermal energy. Ethiopia is doing one mega project dubbed the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam which will be the hugest hydroelectric power plant in Africa with a capacity of over 6000 MW and will even be able to export to neighboring countries. Africa will be lit!
In recent days, there has been a huge outcry on the proposed Lamu County coal power plant and the proposed nuclear power plant in Meru County, that other first world countries are moving away from these technologies and we are busy investing hugely in them. But please remember this is the 21st century year 2017; technology advancement in ensuring that this energy is safe and emissions are highly reduced have come a long way. After all, no country ever industrialized without the right amount of energy to run its industries. Which brings me to my next goal.
#4: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
This is Goal No. 9 on the SDGs list. It encompasses building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization and fostering innovation. But according to World Pensions Council (WPC) development economists, they have argued that the twin considerations of long-term economic growth and infrastructure investment weren’t prioritized enough: “More worryingly, ‘Work and Economic Growth’ and ‘Technological Innovation and Infrastructure Investment’ joined the [SDGs] priority list at number 8 and number 9 respectively, a rather mediocre ranking which deﬁes economic common sense”. I agree with them.
Most African governments have ambitious infrastructure projects involving transport networks, ICT infrastructure and the empowering of locally based manufacturing industries. But unfortunately, it has been claimed time and again that the local human resource (read engineers) is not capable to implement some of these mega projects hence the need to outsource mainly from China. The worst part is, the contracts offered to these foreign firms span to years of operations before full ownership of infrastructure and its auxiliary services are returned to the people. It’s such a shame that we “lack the capacity” to handle such projects yet engineering graduates lack employment opportunities-but this is a story for another day.
But on a positive note, the examples of the Standard gauge Railway in Kenya and the Trans-African Highway is one of the mega-projects being implemented to open up border corridors all across Africa. What a time to be a highway engineer! Implementation of this SDG will impact more on others on the list.
#5: Climate Action
Last but not least, this is goal no. 13 on the SDGs list. It speaks for itself whereby global governments should agree to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts by regulating emissions and promoting developments in renewable energy. This has been echoed on a planetary scale by world leaders such as Pope Francis and Barrack Obama as a call to arms to act fast on this goal.
Nations and other parties negotiating at the UN have highlighted the links between the post-2015 SDG process, the Financing for Development process to be concluded in Addis Ababa in July 2015, and the COP 21 Climate Change conference in Paris in December 2015.
In May 2015, a report concluded that only a very ambitious climate deal in Paris in 2015 will enable countries to reach the sustainable development goals and targets. The report also states that tackling climate change will only be possible if the SDGs are met. Further, development and climate are inextricably linked, particularly around poverty, gender equality, and energy. The UN encourages the public sector to take initiative in this effort to minimize negative impacts on the environment.
Implementing industry and infrastructure projects with low carbon footprints and growing sustainable cities would impact immensely on this. Environmental engineers and other energy and climate experts should passionately pursue this cause. It is rather unfortunate that the current US president is opting out of the Paris agreement despite the fact their industrialization is among the hugest contributors to global warming.
In conclusion, I believe if African Engineers embrace these 5 Sustainable Development Goals, it will be easy to attain the rest in no time at all. They should think themselves as change agents to the catastrophe the planet has brought to itself over the past 200 years and relief every living thing on this Earth from undue pressure and eventual destruction. Africa could be the next utopia if the SDGs are met in good time. Although as a continent we have our challenges in bad governance, I am optimistic that the change is upon us; I have hope. As in the words of the UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon “We don’t have plan B because there is no planet B”.
Today in Engineering History: June 27th 1954, the world’s first grid-connected atomic power station began producing electricity in Obninsk, U.S.S.R., a small town 60 miles south of Moscow. The plant used a small, graphite moderated, water-cooled reactor, and could produce 5 megawatts. The reactor was used for both civilian power needs and also military purposes, such as research into the possibility of propelling submarines with nuclear power. It generated electricity until 1968, but continued in use for experiments and to warm the town’s centrally distributed hot water supply. Final shutdown took place in 2002 for reason of being unprofitable.