The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), approved in 2015 by member nations including the United States, provide a nonbinding framework for countries to improve their quality of life and environmental protection. In this month’s issue of ELR—The Environmental Law Reporter, John Dernbach and Scott Schang compile 22 authors’ expert recommendations for the Biden-Harris Administration to accomplish these Goals while also fulfilling the Administration’s key promises.
Providing concrete objectives and metrics, the SDGs can help measure U.S. progress in sustainability outcomes. By incorporating economic and social development into environmental protection, the goals also outline a holistic framework to address the country’s top priorities: COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity, and climate change. Moreover, adopting the SDGs signals a rejoining of global environmental efforts, and encourages other countries to follow the United States’ lead.
The contributing experts put forward a broad range of steps the federal government can take to achieve each of the 17 SDGs. For example, to address poverty (Goal 1) and economic inequality, the Administration could support a universal national $15 minimum wage. Increasing food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would help reduce hunger (Goal 2). Other recommendations include implementing universal health coverage (Goal 3), addressing educational inequities (Goal 4), and supporting union efforts by appointing officials who advocate for union rights (Goal 8).
Some actions would require amending existing rules and laws, such as ensuring clean water and sanitation (Goal 6) by revising the previous administration’s waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, and eliminating barriers to use of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to strengthen antidiscrimination (Goal 10).
Finally, a number of actions address climate change, including large-scale renewable energy development (Goal 7), funding local sustainability efforts (Goal 11), and adopting stronger motor vehicle emissions standards (Goal 13).
Given the breadth and long-term range of the SDGs, these recommendations will help guide both current and future administrations. A forthcoming book in 2022 with the same contributing authors will propose further recommendations for policymakers to achieve the SDGs.
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