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Sustainable Development Goal #13 of 17 and Project Management, Climate Action.

In this installment of our series on the SDGs, we look at #13 of 17, Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

I am going to approach this SDG a bit different from the others in the series because this is a heavily debated topic.
First. Climate Change is real.  Few debate this.  Second.  The rate of change that we are experiencing is due to human activity. This is fact. If you don’t agree, you can click here to see some cute pictures of bunnies. This is not a post for climate change deniers and all comments on this post to that effect will not be published.

Now that we have that out-of-the-way… There are three targets with SDG 13.  From a high level they are:

  1. Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries.
  2. Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning.
  3. Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning.

These are great.  They are about 30 years to late, but are still important.  Why do I say this? Read on…

Rising Oceans

Over the past several years I have visited 37 countries teaching courses, delivering workshops, keynotes, or taking part in conferences.  This work has shaped my personal viewpoint as the vast majority of this work has centered on sustainability.  I have seen firsthand the impacts of climate change and want to be very clear.  We are in serious trouble.  Here are a few things that have happened.

The relationship with rising oceans and climate change is simple.  As water gets heated, it expands. Oceans rise, land disappears.  50% of the world’s population lives near a coast.

Rising oceans is only one problem we will have to deal with.  There are a myriad of problems that we will have to deal with; a major one being health and disease (See my interview in the Project Management Research and Practice Journal for more on that).

Bio-Diversity Loss

Bio-diversity loss due to increased temperatures ensures that life on this planet that I could interact with as a child, my children will not.

  • Eight species become extinct every hour
  • The population of Black Rhinos has fallen from 65,000 to 2,100
  • The population of tigers has fallen by 95% in the last 100 years, from 100,000 to fewer than 3,500.
  • Only 450 Mountain Gorillas remain in the wild
  • Each year we consume 1.6 planet’s worth of resources by August

What we must do.

First, we need to be clear that planning to adapt as this SDG suggest is not going to work.  We needed to 30 years ago. Too late…  We must regenerate! Regenerative Development must become the central focus.  What does this mean?

Sustainable development as defined by the Brundtland report is to meet the needs of the present without jeopardizing the needs of the future whereas regenerative development extends further to repair what has been damaged while at the same time ensuring that current needs are met while safeguarding resources for the future.

What does this have to do with project management?

Everything!  I wrote my last post “Are you a Stormtrooper or a Jedi’ as a lead-in to this post.  We need Jedi Project Managers, and what’s more, we need organizations to make a shift to give PMs have the autonomy to make decisions that meet the needs of the business while safeguarding the planet.

This is why GPM exists and is the core reason why we are working with several like-minded organizations and individuals to build the International Institute for Peace and Sustainable Development.  The focus on regeneration and educating on how to do this will be a core focus of the institute.  Ok… That is all well and good but what can you, the reader of this post do right now?

Here are a couple of items.

Ask this of your project: “Is this project going to over-consume natural resources, contribute to biodiversity loss, or increase carbon in the atmosphere.” If the answer is no, you are fine.

If the answer is yes then you should work with the project owner to do everything you can to mitigate. For example, if the business case is to establish an energy plant, advocate for solar, hydrogen or wind over coal or gas.  There is precedent for this and odds are the Paris Agreement can serve as leverage.

If the answer is I do not know, then you need to find out and then take action.  I suggest downloading our P5 standard for sustainability in project management for guidance on the specific practices of “what” to do.

It is no longer an option or nicety to consider the impact to climate change in our projects.  Our very existence depends on it.


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Dr. Joel Carboni

Dr. Joel Carboni has over 24 years of experience in project, program, and portfolio management, having led Aerospace, Finance, Government, and Technology initiatives. He has a Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Environment, is a Certified Senior Project Manager (IPMA Level B®), and Certified Green Project Manager (GPM®). He is the founder and president of GPM Global and the President Emeritus of the International Project Management Association USA (IPMA-USA) He is a medal of honor recipient from Universidad Autonoma Lisboa, AI Media's Leading Advisor Award 2017, the 2015 World CSR Congress Leadership Award, 2014 HRD Leadership & Training Award, and 2013 IPMA Achievement Award. He has lectured on or taught sustainable project management in 50 countries worldwide.

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