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Sustainability and Sustainable Development:
Can we do more?
The concept of sustainability has been functional since the existence of ancient civilisation. From being aware of their unsustainable practices to pushing for the birth of sustainable practices, historically sustainability has been practiced for over thousands of years.
Ancient civilizations and Sustainable Practices: Did they know about environmental decline?
So, the Aztecs practiced strict recycling methods. The Greeks, Romans and Egyptians were aware of the fact that their ‘urban’ practices of development were considered as unsustainable practices. The Bantus, the Semi-Bantus and the Sudanese tribes of Cameroon have been actively passing down knowledge about sustainability. Most often than not, the Indigenous Peoples have been responsible for sustainable practices. These sustainable practices have been adapted to changes experienced in the 21st century.
Did they know about the impact of their practices? Yes! How so? Being close and one to nature, civilization in the ancient times was heavily and purely reliant on the environment. The health of the ecosystem determined the health of the community as a whole. Adapting themselves to the environment, their farming methods, home-building methods and food habits were influenced by the environment. As a result, their lifestyle revolved around long-term sustainability.
Sustainability and the awareness quotient
Sustainability is defined as meeting with the needs of today without compromising the needs of tomorrow.
In simple terms, we strive for a balanced living today. And we do not risk the needs for our future. It is a universal future yes. But the impact of sustainability becomes larger when you think about futures individually. It is my future. It is your future. Doesn’t sustainability matter to your future?
Awareness of Sustainability
Sustainability was not widely known as a concept, rather there seemed to be a limited understanding of it when the Millennium Development Goals were developed. The concept of sustainability and the growth of it over time is what we are referring to here. Yes, the Brundtland Commission did introduce and define sustainability. But where was the term and the awareness in the 1980s? And where are we with the same today?
After World War II, reconstruction was a major challenge. It also became the real reason of motivation for countries to focus on rebuilding and development. The post-war international economic system had changed. Sustainable paths for development were necessary. Multilateral solutions were the need of the hour then. They are the need of the hour even today. Although countries have built international cooperation for economic reasons, a lot more has to be done. Developed countries have to continue to stay on the path of sustainable progress. They cannot stop just because they are recognised as ‘Developed Countries’. Developing and Underdeveloped countries have to continue doing the same. A label cannot be in the reason why Japan, China, USA or even Indonesia refuses to continue implementing sustainable action.
Even thirty years ago, our future was threatened. To be politically correct, the future of the people living then was under threat. Even today, our future, my future is still under threat. Long-term environmental issues, social issues, economic issues, domestic and international political issues- have continued to exist. And they have continued to contribute towards the degradation of our future. How far did the Millennium Development Goals work? How far did the Millennium Development Goals go to promote awareness about preparing for a better future? Only the developed countries and their monetary aid for developing countries would know.
What kind of a world are getting into, and leaving behind?
An urgent call for action to bring about a global change with a global agenda- sounds like a universal call for a revolution of some kind? Well, the passive aim was to develop strategies for sustainable development. More enthusiasm, many more aspirational goals were needed to push for help. Did the world really need help? Do we still have to worry about a balanced, wholesome, sustainable future for the decades to come? Yes! Of course, we do. Read more
We’ve all watched movies such as The Day After Tomorrow, San Andreas, Sky scrapper, Arctic Blast and The Hurricane Heist. Environmental degradation and the repercussions of the impact are on their way. Mitigation and Adaptation,reducing the adverse impact and preparing for the impact is a plausible act. It is a collective act. It is a collective measure. Each of these movies have a moral: There is scope for a new tomorrow again. But do any of us really want a new tomorrow? Do any of us really want to begin from scratch again? One has to understand that it is not just one single environmental factor that has brought us this far into the damage. It is also built in with the impact of economic activities, and the various changes socially and culturally; that have led to multiple effects causing a universal ripple effect of climate change.
The environment is not alone.
The environment is not a separate constant from needs, human actions, and ambitions. The environment cannot be defended in isolation. The environment is connected with development, sustainability, economic growth, social growth and cultural values. The environment is tied into every single thread of the roll. That is why, many countries provide ‘developmental aid’ as a disguise for urbanising the countries, rather than providing them with methods for a balanced and sustainable growth formula. We do not even realise that global hunger is another impact of environmental degradation. It adds on to effects on a human’s social, political, economic, and cultural existence. Humans may not have the strength to earn a livelihood, thereby becoming physically tired and malnourished. Humans will not be able to keep up with changing trends in the society and lose touch with the political systems that exist. In short, they are doomed completely. Why? Hunger. And why hunger? Food wastage, shortage of food supply, may not be eligible for employment, therefore unfit for economic survival as well.
We have heard of words such as Sustainability, Sustainable Development, even phrases on the evolution of sustainable practices. All in usual conversations about the environment.
As human beings, we carry the capacity to create a profound impact on everyone’s lives. One of the mistakes we make is to believe that the environment will always continue to replenish her resources by herself. The environment does not need help. Evo Morales says, ‘Sooner or later, we will have to recognise that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans.’
That’s why, the birth of the SDG Goals has been crucial. The UN has introduced us to 17 goals with 169 targets.
The Millennium Development Goals have been a precursor for the Sustainable Development Goals. Known as the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) in short, they were set with 8 goals and 18 targets. The expected universal goal of the MDGs was to tackle poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation, and discrimination against women. Not that they are absent today.
The Millennium Development Goals have experienced both the positive and the negative ends of the spectrum. From promoting awareness about conceptual stability and raising awareness about global issues, to making people overcome social problems specifically in developing countries. The Millennium Development Goals were also criticised for not covering areas such as political conflicts, women’s rights, or were not aligned with the human rights standards.
The Sustainable Development Goals
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are also called as the Global Goals. They were adopted in 2015 by the United Nations as a universal call of action to eliminate poverty, ensure protection of the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity, the Sustainable Development Goals are key to realising a better world, a smarter world. Read more
The Sustainable Development Goals were designed and developed by 2 teams created at the RIO+20 conference. The framework was an elaborate agenda to replace the Millennium Development Goals for the UN’s conference in New York, 2015. The 2 teams comprised of an Open Working Group and the UN Task Team. The Open Working Group was managed by intergovernmental groups, who were assigned to prepare new development goals and setting targets. The UN Task Team was responsible for preparing the UN’s post 2015 agenda.
With 17 goals and 169 targets, the Sustainable Development Goals expanded on the Millennium Development Goals’ social, economic, and environmental aspects. It was broader, inclusive and transformative. They were designed to end hunger, poverty, discrimination against women and girls, and AIDS.
Sustainability is necessary for human survival. There is no bigger truth than that. Some of use bamboo toothbrushes. Some of us have solar water heaters. Some of us use electric vehicles. They are sustainable practices which will reap benefits in the years to come. Of course, it is a different understanding that we live for today without having to worry about tomorrow. What would happen if the Earth felt the same way too?
Every year, 6 million hectares of productive land turns into a desert. This would amount to the area of Saudi Arabia in a span of 3 years’ desertification process. What do you think?
What are carbon sinks?
Carbon sinks are systems that absorb more carbon than emitting carbon. Natural carbon sinks are oceans, forests and soils. They remove between 9.5 to 11. Gt of carbon di oxide per year.
What is a Sustainable Ecosystem?
A sustainable ecosystem is one that, over the normal cycle of disturbance events, maintains its characteristic diversity of major functional groups, productivity, and rates of biogeochemical cycling. These traits are determined by a set of four “interactive controls” (climate, soil resource supply, major functional groups of organisms, and disturbance regime) that both govern and respond to ecosystem processes.
The 4 pillars of sustainability
These four pillars are interconnected with each other. Culture plays an equal role with the impact it has on sustainability. Many ancient civilizations have been passing on practices of sustainability from one generation to another generation. At the same time, culture plays a significant role if the communities do not follow the right understanding and practices of sustainability. Social factors, economic factors and environmental factors play crucial roles in developing and maintaining sustainability. Culture, the fourth pillar that has been added helps tie together the whole concept. The Pillars cannot be addressed in isolation as they are interconnected. If treated in isolation, it will result in a trade-off with the remaining Pillars. Read more
Environmental sustainability, as the name suggests, focuses mainly on the well-being of our environment and biodiversity. Management and preservation of our natural resources, assessment of the carbon footprint (of individuals and organisations), and air and water quality are all aspects that are covered under this.
Economic sustainability focuses on the financial prosperity of people, corporates, and governments without compromising on the environment. It is all about ensuring the prosperity of those living currently without harming the prospects of future generations. Developing energy-efficient products, reducing consumption, and helping environmentally friendly companies can help profits and the economy along with the environment.
Social sustainability focuses on the empowerment of individuals in society. This includes aspects such as ensuring a liveable wage, access to healthcare, and gender parity. However, it doesn’t end there. This pillar also helps us look at the most marginalised sections of society to ensure they are uplifted with the rest. Therefore, this pillar also supports social justice efforts, care for the disabled, welfare programs, and social acceptance programs for those who need them.
Think of it. The Indigenous Tribes of Indonesia depend on the forest for their livelihood, fodder, present and future. Their culture revolves around natural resources, methods to sustain the natural resources and find ways to adapt to the changing trends. Even today, they believe in the forest. They believe in nature. They believe in communication without knowing the universal language of English. They raise their families into practising kindness, patience, and the beauty of nature. Their fight is to save nature. And they do not do it because they have a voice. They do it because their present and future is at stake. In all possibilities, their voices have been nullified because of clashes with the Government of Indonesia.
Why are they important for sustainability?
Indigenous peoples are the holders of knowledge systems, unique languages, beliefs and possess knowledge of practices to manage natural resources with sustainable methods.
Indigenous Peoples share a special relationship with their traditional land, especially on how to use it.
The ancestral land has a fundamental importance for the Indigenous Peoples, especially for their physical and cultural survival collectively.
Indigenous peoples have held their own diverse concepts of development, which have been based on their traditional values, visions, needs and priorities. Read more
Who are the Indigenous Peoples?
They are spread across the world from the Arctic to the South Pacific. The Indigenous Peoples are the descendants of those who inhabited a country or a geographical region at the time when people of diverse cultures or ethnic origins arrived. Read more
What is the effect of COVID-19 on sustainability?
Between 119-124 million people have been pushed back into poverty. The progress into good health and well-being (which is one of the Sustainable Development Goals), has been hindered. Life expectancy and coverage of basic immunisation has decreased drastically. People have lost their jobs, and a 147 million children has missed in-person instruction of school between 2020-2021.
The pandemic that it was, has affected most of us. Domestic violence increased with lockdowns being implemented in most countries. Child marriage is expected to increase. This impacts gender equality drastically. The loss of jobs has also led to increase in child labour, a total of 160 million children worldwide.
Most importantly, around 90% of countries have been reporting disruption to healthcare services. Countries have fallen short of vaccinations. The growth of the economy does not carry expectations of return to its former place post the pandemic. Foreign direct investments have fallen by 40% in 2020. Financial debt is only increasing.
It is not the country’s future alone. It is the future of everyone in it. Like Ansel Adam says, ‘It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.’ Decisive political action is crucial for sustainability.
Role of Governments
Governments of different States have been trying for years to push people towards efficiency in sustainability. Governments do try hard to push people towards good things too. Sustainable practices, products and renewable energy are some areas that governments of different States have been working on. But the effort to make the move and practice them, people are difficult about it. For sustainability to work and bring forth some good outcomes, the government cannot do it alone.
Why do we say so?
In the United Kingdom itself, the government has been trying to convince people to insulate their lofts to move towards energy efficiency. At first, people were provided with subsidies as benefits. The response and implementation of the move was minimal. After a behavioral team conducted research, they realized that people were reluctant to insulate their lofts. Why? It was years of household discards. How could they get rid of it all? Read more
The government then formed a partnership with B&Q. A scheme was started, where the lofts would be cleaned for a certain fee and insulated with payment for it made too. If the governments engage and involve people to give them power, along with participation from the private sector, changes do take place.
The Government Perspective: Why is it important?
What would happen if there were smaller governments for people? How much would we be able to promote and develop good practices? The thing is governments today are under severe pressure. With the pandemic, logistics and maintenance of a State is a difficult thing to do. From controlling the economy and administering justice, the government moved towards managing macroeconomy. Now, with environmental crises and the ongoing pandemic, evolution of the government is necessary.
While the government is busy doing their job, we should also actively participate. Eco-friendly policies, sustainable programmes, programmes for renewable energy- all are crafted and put into force by the government. Are we aware of them? Do we know how they work? Have we tried to dip our feet and wade into the waters?
Governments need help. The environment needs help. Your future needs your own help.
Despite countries working towards meeting their sustainable needs, the threat of climate change is only increasing. And it will not get better. Despite the Kyoto Protocols and COPs (Conference of the Parties which gave birth to the UNFCCC- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), GHG emissions, the use of single-use plastics, monoculture- such unsustainable practices still continue to exist. Global warming, desertification, deforestation, increased carbon levels in the atmosphere, depletion of the ozone layer; the science behind these phenomena have been brought to the forefront by scientists. They are severe issues which have impacted developed countries and developing countries. Side-effects of industrialisation as they are, they have brought about an ecological and an economic decline for all countries, whether rich or poor. Poverty, population growth and uneven development have placed unprecedented pressure on the Earth’s existing natural resources. It has also placed pressure on natural resources which in the natural process of replenishment. Read more
What should we think about in actuality?
It is our common future under threat. It is the future of this planet that is threatened.
From shifting to bamboo toothbrushes, coconut loofahs, chemical-free disinfectants, and cleaners, to segregation of waste, utilisation of electric vehicles, growing your own fruits and vegetables- even the move to digital platforms for making notes, publishing e-books and jute bags; all these practices are sustainable and environment friendly.
Many people do not have the opportunity to understand these practices. They might be living in fear of their lives. Many people do not know what education is, what clean water is. They may not even be aware of separating wet waste from dry waste. For all they know, the next day schools might be shut. The next day, houses could be broken. The next day, terrorists could bomb their homes.
What happens then?
The common future will end. And the threat to the planet only increases.
Even though there may be no way out to stop the development and progress of unsustainability, practice of sustainability can help mitigate the onset of climate change. My opinion would be that the worst is coming. We can either slow it down or prepare ourselves with the practice of sustainability.
So, when it hits us, the pain of the blow is lesser; so are the repercussions.
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