Development, Sustainability, and the challenges ahead

Photo: Friends of the Earth International

We are now officially living in the era of Sustainable Development. It was in New York when most of the world’s leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, an agreed global agenda to tackle poverty, inequalities and climate change by 2030.

New or Old Concept?

Many would ask: What is so new about all this? We have been fighting poverty and climate change for decades, our leaders have attended countless conferences, signed agreements upon agreements, yet poverty remains and we all start to see, and feel, the effects of climate degration. So what’s in the SDGs for us?

Well, while for decades we believed economic growth was the holy grail of development, sustainable development has enlargened this perspective to add social, political and environmental elements.

Growth is not enough

Indeed scholars have long argued that betting it all on economic growth has left billions short of benefits. While the overall achievements of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) have been positive, such as poverty reduction or the spread of health care, other areas have worsened.

Transnational Agro-Corporations, through monopolising policies, have left 1000s of african farmers jobless, sometimes even foodless. The promotion of seed patents, genetically modified organisms and internationalisation of agriculture in West Africa, through growth driven policies, have sometimes resulted in entire villages being displaced in terms of unemployment, poverty and hunger. The price for economic growth and international competitiveness has not been shared equally among populations.

Inequalities, Income Gap and Wealth Distribution

Unfortunately the poorest and weakest are often the most affected. But coupling with that, there is also a social element, as even poverty nowadays does not strike equally.

Inequalities are a reality, first and foremost for women and children, but also for the rural as opposed to urban populations. Minority groups, religions, races or political ideas are lacking elements of the growth centered perspective.

Governance

The political aspect cannot be ignored either. Over the last decades of development, decision and policy making often obeyed the dictact of economic growth. As long as the GDP increases, everything goes. Scores of unconcious decisions have been taken in the name of development and growth. The political influence of TNCs such as Monsanto on the governments of many African countries is beyond reason. The results of these politics is almost a pattern: growing economy, decreasing average poverty and increasing inequalities.

Environment Degradation

Last, but not least, years of growth driven activities have devastated our planet, the very ecosystem in which we all live. Future generations will likely be cursing us — if this world was like a rented flat, we definitely are loosing our deposit. But more than that, and just like poverty, climate change effects too tend to strike inequally. Reccurring floods and droughts in some of the poorest parts of the world are consistently affecting the weakest, poorest and less resilient world population.

Sustainability

So in the midst of all of that, it seems the world has started to realise that development must be achieved, but according to different ethics. Economic growth must benefit everyone, development must include all, and politics must adapt and work toward a more holistic approach.

Development expert Jeffrey Sachs has shorten the SDGs as:

A call for socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable economic growth

In practice, it does also comes down to governance, conflicting political or economic interests often got on the way to steps forward. Climate negotiations are a primary example of how difficult it can be to reach agreements.


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