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Putting environmental sustainability at core
As citizens on Earth, everything that we need for our survival and well-being is dependent directly or indirectly on our natural environment. It is therefore an imperative for us to create and maintain the conditions under which we can exist in productive harmony with nature.
Sustainability has become critical to our survival, now more than ever, due to growing concerns about the unintended social, environmental and economic consequences of rapid population growth, economic growth and consumption on our natural resources.
Dating back to Rio de Janeiro, 20 years ago and through the Agenda 21 Programme of Action, the United Nations has been advocating for countries to develop national strategies for sustainable development that build upon and harmonise economic, social and environmental policies and plans. In 2000, when world leaders agreed to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it was recognised that environmental sustainability was critical for global economic and social well-being. At the 2002 World Summit, there was a further call for countries to ensure that national development strategies take into account sustainable development and commence implementation from 2005.
In this regard, many Caribbean countries have made significant development advances post-independence as reflected in high levels of human development, and the expansion of choices and the quality of life many citizens enjoy today. We have made significant development progress across the world over the last 20 years. However, there are clear indications that the gains achieved could be unsustainable if the right environmental, social and economic balance is not found.
The 2011 UNDP Human Development Report, entitled “Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All,” notes that despite significant progress over the last few decades, income growth has come at a cost of environmental deterioration. Simulations in the report suggest that by 2050, the global Human Development Index would be eight per cent lower than in the baseline of an environmentally challenged scenario, dropping to as low as 15 per cent as we continue to experience increasing adverse environmental impacts such as land degradation, declining biodiversity, increased extreme weather events and natural disasters.
We will need to revisit the current volatile economic model, which has neglected natural resources impacts and social justice. At risk of possible reversal of development achievements, we must ask ourselves what can we do differently at the national level to secure our development investments?
Recognising that the Caribbean is especially dependent on our natural environment and energy for our livelihoods and well-being, it becomes increasingly important to integrate energy and environmental concerns into national development planning and other country-led initiatives. This helps to minimise trade-offs, making it possible to combine food security and climate mitigation without comprising the environment and while improving the lives of the poor.
The change in development approach will also demand that countries work better within and across sectors, and more effectively link local action to those at national levels. It will also require that we reinvigorate Agenda 21’s global partnership for sustainable development and significantly scale up international cooperation and action. We have no time to waste.
In a message marking the 2012 World Day of Social Justice, observed on February 20 each year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasised that the upcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD or Rio+20) in June offers governments and policy makers a chance to rethink development strategies and business practices, towards a more sustainable and equitable future.
We are heartened that momentum is building for agreeing at Rio+20 to define sustainable development goals (SDGs). These will need to complement and reinforce the MDGs, which have been instrumental in advancing poverty eradication and social development. The SDGs should form part of an integrated, coherent agenda for addressing the critical changes of the post-2015 period.
With less than two months before world leaders meet again in Rio de Janeiro, to set the roadmap for the future we want, it is vital for governments and policy makers to critically assess their current development strategies, and agree on concrete action to accelerate progress towards a future with peace, dynamic economic and social development, universal social well-being, and a healthy and equitable environment for present and future generations where women and men, boys and girls equally contribute to and benefit from development.
• Michelle Gyles-McDonnough is the UNDP resident coordinator and UNDP resident representative for Barbados and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States
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