Christiana Briddell

The Moonshot of our Times: Meeting the Challenge of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (with chemistry)

Blog Post created by Christiana Briddell on Aug 12, 2019

By Christiana Briddell, Communication Manager, ACS Green Chemistry Institute


In a cultural and political climate that grows increasingly more divisive and nationalistic, the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) stand as a clarion call for decisive and coordinated action for the benefit of global humanity. These far-reaching goals cover everything from the eradication of poverty to climate action to peace and just institutions. If you want to dream big—look no further.


Set in 2015, these 17 broad goals each contain specific targets with indicators to help track progress in achieving them. If you are interested in learning more, the U.N. website is very educational: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs

 

The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals
The American Chemical Society—representing the world’s largest society of scientists—recognizes the importance of chemistry in uplifting people’s lives and ensuring the well-being of the planet. In their policy statement on Sustainability and the Chemistry Enterprise, the Society states: “We believe the chemistry enterprise must continue to provide leadership in forging the science and technology that will provide humanity with a sustainable path into the future.”


Using the SDGs as a framework, the ACS is developing a strategic response to this challenge. One of the first priorities is to inspire and enable chemists to see themselves and their work as directly relevant to one, if not many, of the goals. Indeed, there are a myriad of ways that chemistry will necessarily underpin our global efforts in achieving them.


For example, we cannot truly meet goal #2, End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture, without closing the loop on soil fertility by finding a way to produce ammonia (NH3) sustainably (which requires a sustainable energy source to produce hydrogen), and by recovering and recycling phosphorus from waste streams. This will require significant development in the fields of catalysis and low-energy, high-efficiency separations respectively. In just this one goal, a revolution in agricultural science and subsequent impact on global infrastructure is required.


It is easy to be overwhelmed when faced with an immense transformative challenge, such as truly meeting the SDGs. On the other hand, sufficiently inspired groups of researchers have performed similarly “impossible” feats under tight timelines—most recently brought to mind with the 50th anniversary of the successful Apollo 11 mission to the moon in July of 1969. Truthfully, although the technological challenge is Nobel-Laureate quality significant, the harder challenge may be in our own capacity to shoulder the responsibility of caring for the future of the planet and the humans who will live on it. Can we put aside other demands; adopt a focus, purpose, collaborative and innovative spirit fit to meet these goals?


This is the question we must ask ourselves.


In the coming issues of The Nexus, we will focus on each goal in turn and discuss specific ways that chemistry innovation can help to move us forward. We will also reveal ACS’s evolving strategic response to the SDGs including a new hub on the website for all things related to chemistry & sustainability. We invite the chemistry and chemical engineering communities to share their approaches to addressing the SDGs so that we can highlight successes, learn from each other, and work together in achieving the dream of a sustainable world.

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