Kristie L. Ebi, Ph.D., M.P.H.
In thinking about how to move the MDGs into alignment with sustainable development, Kristie L. Ebi explained that in addition to identifying specific tasks, there is a need to think broadly about how to promote health within sustainable development. Achieving the SDGs will require more than an engineering approach to the world, where a problem is recognized and a technological solution identified. Top-down approaches to improving public health have worked effectively for a wide range of issues, which is why the MDGs and other inspirational goals mainly take this kind of approach. However, these approaches are unlikely to be sufficient to address the challenges presented by global environmental change and the need to achieve sustainable development goals; working with other sectors to address current and future challenges will be critical. Further, it is important to recognize that one size may not fit all with respect to global goals and targets to further sustainable development.
“Wicked Problems” and Managing Climate Change
Ebi noted that “wicked problems,” a term used in social planning, applies to this discussion. A wicked problem is one that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize (Wikipedia, 2013). In addition, because of complex interdependencies, efforts to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems (Australia Public Service Commission, 2007). Ebi noted that those who work in climate change may immediately recognize how this term applies: there are high levels of uncertainty about how specific changes will occur in the atmosphere and what those changes will ultimately mean at a particular location at a particular time. Because of the complexities, efforts to solve one part of a wicked problem can cause problems somewhere else. This can be seen with climate change efforts undertaken in one sector, such as agriculture or water, which can then affect human health. She explained that actions to address health or other risks of climate change cannot be taken independently from what is being done in other sectors because they could affect other problems. It