Almost 60 years ago, then-US president John F. Kennedy put the US on a mission to the future.
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind or more important for the long-range exploration of space, and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish,” Kennedy said.
Our generation’s moon shot is sustainable development on Earth.
We have already set the goals, but not yet embraced the challenges in full. In two pivotal moments in late 2015, the world’s governments unanimously adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris climate agreement.
The world pledged to end extreme poverty, ensure universal health care and provide education for all children by 2030, and countries would decarbonize the world’s energy system to head off the dire risks of human-induced climate change.
A subsequent scientific report in 2018 indicated that the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 ?C requires meeting the latter goal by the middle of the century.
These bold goals are no less achievable than the moon shot, which the US accomplished on Kennedy’s original time line, in July 1969.
The US moon shot illuminates how to achieve bold goals such as the 17 SDGs and the needed energy transformation.
The moon shot was a mission with organizational attributes — ably described by Douglas Brinkley, a history professor at William Marsh Rice University, in his study American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race — that were vital to its success.
It had a clear goal and time line, and a rigorous plan based on both. NASA devised a three-act mission, including the single-astronaut Mercury flights, the two-astronaut Gemini flights, and the three-astronaut Apollo flights that ultimately went to the moon and back.
There was also a national commitment to an integrated public-private program, ultimately involving about 20,000 private companies and 400,000 workers across the US.
Finally, there was a large and realistic federal budget commitment that funded the effort from 1961 to its completion in 1969.
Next year, with US president-elect Joe Biden in office, the US will likely recommit to the SDGs, rejoin the Paris agreement and commit to cooperation on these efforts with the rest of the world.
Success would require no less a bold commitment than the moon shot, but this time for goals on Earth and carried out by all countries together rather than one acting alone.
The sustainable-development mission should engage the public and private sectors worldwide, marshaling the idealism, energy and digital savvy of today’s young people.
To provide the demand stimulus and technological breakthroughs needed to spur the post-COVID-19 global recovery and prolonged economic advance would require ambitious long-term goals and plans, key intermediate milestones, and the financing needed to achieve them.
At the beginning of this year, the EU adopted just such a mission approach with its European Green Deal (EGD) and the accompanying program for research and investment, Horizon Europe.
Mariana Mazzucato, an economist at University College London, has argued wisely and persuasively for Europe’s mission orientation.
The EGD calls for decarbonization of the energy system by 2050, a circular EU economy that slashes industrial pollution, and a comprehensive “farm to fork” program to achieve a sustainable and healthy food system.
Europe’s commitment to decarbonize helped to spur Japan and South Korea to do the same, and China to commit to decarbonize by 2060, a date that can and should advance to 2050.
My colleagues and I in the US chapter of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network early this year laid out the Zero-Carbon Action Plan (ZCAP) that charts a technological, financial and employment pathway for decarbonizing the US energy system by 2050.
Like the moon shot and subsequent US technology missions (including the creation of the Internet and the sequencing of the human genome), the ZCAP envisions a public-private partnership to accomplish four key objectives: shifting all power generation to zero-carbon sources, mainly wind and solar energy; adoption of electric vehicles; converting buildings from oil and gas heating to electricity; and switching from coal, oil and gas in industry to hydrogen and other “green” (zero-carbon) fuels.
The main goal of the ZCAP is to help the Biden administration and the incoming US Congress do what governments generally find difficult: to think ahead as far as 30 years by setting a clear goal, and charting the technological and financial pathways to reach it.
The ZCAP compellingly demonstrates the feasibility of decarbonization by 2050.
At an annual incremental energy systems cost below — and perhaps far below — 1 percent of US national income, the US economy can complete the energy transformation while increasing jobs, reducing air pollution and addressing the special needs of hard-hit communities to ensure a just transition.
The key to mission thinking is to identify the technological pathways to success, and the policies and finances needed to pursue those pathways.
Of course, not every step on the actual path can be known at the start. NASA had to innovate at every step of the moon shot, and the engineers scrambled relentlessly and brilliantly to develop new technologies to overcome obstacles.
Yet NASA had charted out the main milestones of the moon shot by late 1962.
In the same way, there are still critical unknowns about the energy transformation to 2050, such as the best zero-carbon solutions for aviation, ocean shipping, steelmaking and some other heavy industries.
Yet for each problem, there are several possible solutions that can be explored through directed research and development.
Similarly, we have much to learn in how best to use new digital technologies to fight extreme poverty (SDG 1), ensure healthcare coverage (SDG 3), and guarantee universal access to education (SDG 4).
However, many promising demonstration projects are underway around the world.
The coming year can therefore mark a breakthrough for the planet, a positive coda to the deaths and despair of this year.
With intensified public health policies around the world modeled on the successes of the Asia-Pacific countries and with the introduction of vaccines, the COVID-19 pandemic can be brought under control, thereby opening the way for a fresh global start on sustainable development.
Three major UN gatherings are scheduled next year — on biodiversity conservation (in Kunming, China, in May), food systems (at the UN headquarters in September) and on climate (in Glasgow, Scotland, in November).
All are opportunities to launch our generation’s bold mission for sustainable development.
To seize them, governments, academia and businesses worldwide should work together intensively in the coming months to chart out the pathways to the future we want and need so much.
Jeffrey Sachs, a professor of sustainable development and a professor of health policy and management at Columbia University, is director of Columbia’s Center for Sustainable Development and of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
Copyright: Project Syndicate
If social media interaction is any yardstick, India remained one of the top countries for Taiwan last year. President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has on several occasions expressed enthusiasm to strengthen cooperation with India, one of the 18 target nations in her administration’s New Southbound Policy. The past year was instrumental in fostering Taiwan-India ties and will be remembered for accelerated momentum in bilateral relations. However, most of it has been confined to civil society circles. Even though Taiwan launched its southbound policy in 2016, the potential of Taiwan-India engagement remains underutilized. It is crucial to identify what is obstructing greater momentum
In terms of the economic outlook for the semiconductor industry, Taiwan has outperformed the rest of the world for three consecutive years. This is quite rare. In addition, Taiwan has been playing an important role in the US-China technology dispute, and both want Taiwan on their side, reflecting the remaking of the nation’s semiconductor industry. Under the leadership of — above all — Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), the industry as a whole has shifted from a focus on capacity to a focus on quality, as companies now have to be able to provide integration of hardware and software, as well as
US President Joe Biden’s foreign policy on China and the Indo-Pacific region will have huge repercussions for Taiwan. The US Department of State in the final weeks of former US president Donald Trump’s term took several actions clearly aimed to push Biden’s foreign policy to build on Trump’s achievements. Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s announcement on the final day of the Trump administration that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was committing “genocide and crimes against humanity” in Xinjiang was welcome, but comes far too late. The recent dropping of “self-imposed” restrictions on meetings between Taiwanese and US officials was
In memory of Diane Baker: one of the last working dance journalists, a true dance aficionado and dear friend. On Friday, through a mutual friend, I received the shocking news that dance critic Diane Baker had passed away suddenly at her apartment in Tianmu, Taipei. The news quickly spread, and messages of concern quickly swarmed in from the dance community in Taiwan and abroad. Her sister Sharon in the US later confirmed that Diane died of a heart attack on Wednesday last week. She was 65. Diane was a dear friend to Taiwan’s dance community. Her frequent appearance at dance performances in