Climate change is a central focus at the United Nations General Assembly this week. The spotlight is on the U.N.’s summit of Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, an effort to end global inequality by 2030. And it’s taken on a more important role than ever before at this year’s gathering.
The 17 goals were adopted by the assembly in 2015 and include, among other objectives, ending global poverty and hunger, and taking climate action. At the heart of it all, though, is really a healthy planet. Without that, the other goals are not possible in the long run. And already criticism is growing louder, that the implementation of the SDGs is lagging behind and that the 2030 deadline is quickly becoming out of reach.
The summit is framed against the backdrop of extreme heat this summer. The world has broken and set new temperature records. The oceans experienced some of the warmest temperatures ever recorded. Stronger and more intense storms have devastated communities. And deadly wildfires have claimed lives and destroyed livelihoods.
Nobody knows better than Hawaii Gov. Josh Green how the intersection between a warming world and real-life destruction is already impacting communities in the U.S. and around the globe.
Wildfires decimated western Maui on Aug. 8, killing at least 97 people with more than 30 still missing. The historic town of Lahaina was destroyed along with hundreds of other buildings.
“Everyone is vulnerable now, everyone,” Green said in an exclusive interview with Scripps News Live. “This is not an abstract situation any longer. The evidence is there.”
From 1953 to 2003, Hawaii experienced 6 wildfires. The islands have logged six fire emergencies this year in August alone.
“It’s on us,” Green said. “We have to be very smart about the future. It’s going to take a lot of action to reverse climate change, of course, but now we have to mitigate.”
“Obviously there are so many vulnerable communities.” Green added. “Where there’s poverty, there’s less infrastructure and where there’s less infrastructure, there’s extreme exposure.”
Green was in New York this week to help kick off Climate Week. He told Scripps News Live that as frightening as the impact of climate change is for those who have experienced it first-hand, he’s still hopeful that governments will rise to the occasion.
He admitted achieving the SDGs in the next seven years is “aspirational” and he said he would be surprised if states can do it.
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres agreed. Guterres told the summit the world is falling behind on the development goals and that “… the SDGs need a global rescue plan.”
Sometimes, though, terrible crises can “serve as catalysts,” Green said.
“For us in Hawaii, we had concerns over the years, but we've never had a fire that took people's lives like this, ever.”
Green is implementing a policy shift in the state with renewed focus on ways to combat climate change. But he said he’s more concerned than ever, not just with the suffering in Maui, but globally.
“Just in the last two or three weeks, we've also had a terrible disaster in Libya and Morocco,” he said. “We've had fires all across Greece and Canada, affecting the Northeast of the United States,” Green added.
“It's everywhere. We'd have to be idiots not to focus on global warming and mitigation of these strong storms. So, let's hope that the world will rally.”
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