The Paris Agreement was the fourth major global agreement of 2015, completing a year of renewed global commitment to working toward sustainable peace and shared prosperity. The others covered Disaster Risk Reduction, Financing for Development, and 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which all member states of the United Nations General Assembly agreed to work for at home and abroad. 

The reason those four agreements were made was to address macrocritical (economy-shaping) forces, before unrecoverable disaster struck, either locally or globally, and because the United Nations had originally been set up to achieve these kind of improvements to human wellbeing. 

The MyWorld 2015 survey had revealed that millions of people in more than 170 countries were facing sustainability challenges and expecting an ambitious response. Climate disruption is a threat to all societies, but impacts can be sudden, local, and devastating. If too many happen at once, whole nations, and even regions, could find themselves unable to respond or recover effectively. 

Everyday things are a big deal. Water, food, work, and rights, ultimately determine whether the world can be healthy, peaceful, and prosperous.

Each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals points to actions that would eliminate some, but not all, macrocritical threats. And each of them affects the others. 

  • Unchecked climate change (SDG13) can affect life on land (SDG15), and also in the ocean (SDG14), undermining food security (SDG2) and human health (SDG3). 
  • To address this, we need abundant clean energy (SDG7), and that can be a strategy for creating decent work (SDG8) and reducing poverty (SDG1).
  • Doing all of this should reduce inequalities (SDG10), build healthier, more habitable cities (SDG11), and foster responsible consumption (SDG12). 
  • Education (SDG4), gender equality (SDG5), and sanitation (SDG6) reduce the risk of civil conflict and enhance quality of life across whole societies. 
  • Ultimately, all of the goals also make it easier to secure and sustain peaceful societies with transparent institutions that serve people well (SDG16). 

That’s a quick tour, but one example of how the SDGs work in combination to reduce system-level risk and improve quality of life and wellbeing.

Investing in the creation of value for others can pay dividends. 

As part of the data visualization work for the Resilience Intel initiative, we created the Whole-Earth Active-Value Economy (WEAVE) knowledge graph. 

This graph maps knowledge relationships between institutions, jurisdictions, water, climate, and biodiversity resilience—in connection to one or more of the following: agriculture, food, finance, energy, infrastructure, science, shipping, watersheds, ocean health and resilience, forestry, and land use practices. 

On the left, you see the whole WEAVE graph. On the right, you see 8 institutional WEAVE graphs. The green starburst makes clear that the US sits in a privileged position, with all of this information flowing through it. To its left, the US Supreme Court shows itself to be gaining experience with these issues, but not as detailed as the other, larger institutions below it. 

The most important, however, might be the faintest graph—the 4-point shark-fin shape at the top left. That company is a leader in its industry, but its WEAVE graph suggested a low level of operational resilience (outside of routine balance sheet considerations). In the COVID crisis, that prediction turned out to be accurate. 

Low levels of macrocritical resilience value—reduced connection to the creation of enhanced wellbeing for people, Nature, and the whole economy—signal a probable lack of preparedness for major shocks. A “major shock” can be defined as systemic, complicating, and affecting fiscal, social, and environmental wellbeing. 

With the experience of COVID, we can now see clearly how extremely such a major shock stresses fiscal resources, social cohesion and wellbeing, and the operational viability of standard services we take for granted. For an institution with low macrocritical resilience value, they can find themselves suddenly last in line for any kind of assistance or protection. 

Healthy societies are able to protect people, Nature, and future wellbeing, all at once.

Macrocritical resilience is partly about seeing what makes long-term success more likely, and then making sure it has a solid foundation. Investing in education, for instance, generates major rewards for a society 20 years later, with enhanced wellbeing, prosperity, and stability. The same goes for clean water, ending corruption, and protecting Nature. 

That COVID is a health crisis may help to ensure we move toward a more integrative understanding of health. 

  • We are less likely to be healthy if our air and water aren’t clean, if we can’t access natural, healthy food, and if our lives are defined by the countless stresses of scarcity. 
  • In other words, human health is dependent on the health and resilience of natural systems and on the inclusiveness of our economy and food systems, and those things shape the health and resilience of whole societies. 

A healthy society is less polluted, less violent, makes less room for corruption, and values the humanity of every person. That requires recognition of the right to access sound scientific information and to benefit from a clean, healthy environment. We tend to think of societies and industry as separate from, or even the opposite of, Nature, but societies are embedded within Nature, like we all are. 

Emerging from COVID with improved health and resilience must include active investment in all of the SDGs—not because they are a defined UN agenda, but because they are tools for improving the health and resilience of people, Nature, and whole societies. Investments that align with those priorities should be favored, because they are actually higher in value.