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A sustainable future

Written By: - Date published: 8:10 am, February 8th, 2012 - 19 comments
Categories: business, climate change, education, equality, health, International, sustainability, water - Tags: , ,

The UN High Level Panel on Global Sustainability has delivered a report that combines pretty much all the big issues of our time.

The Panel is chaired by Finnish and South African Presidents Tarja Halonen and Jacob Zuma.  It contains the likes of Kevin Rudd and many other former Prime Ministers, heads of the World Health Organisation and present Ministers.

For a “Future Worth Choosing” they consulted thousands all over the world on how to get the best future for the world.  This means combining the issues of poverty and income inequality; health and education; peak oil and climate change; intergenerational theft and equitable distribution of the world’s resources.

It’s about creating a future that’s sustainable economically, socially and environmentally.  Getting economists, social activists and environmental scientists talking to each other and getting sustainable development to move from a generally agreed concept to a day-to-day, on-the-ground, practical reality.

Why has that not happened already, despite the authoritative Brundtland report 25 years ago?

Sustainable development has undoubtedly suffered from a failure of political will. It is difficult to argue against the principle of sustainable development, but there are few incentives to put it into practice when our policies, politics and institutions disproportionately reward the short term. In other words, the policy dividend is long-term, often intergenerational, but the political challenge is often immediate.

[And] … the concept of sustainable development has not yet been incorporated into the mainstream national and international economic policy debate. Most economic decision makers still regard sustainable development as extraneous to their core responsibilities for macroeconomic management and other branches of economic policy. Yet integrating environmental and social issues into economic decisions is vital to success.

The report makes a number of recommendations with a focus on equity/equality (of gender; economic, environmental and social resources; for future generations), a move towards science/empiricism and away from short-termism, and a need to mobilise financial resources towards international problems.

It summarises them at one point:

a. It is critical that we embrace a new nexus between food, water and energy rather than treating them in different “silos”. All three need to be fully integrated, not treated separately if we are to deal with the global food security crisis. It is time to embrace a second green revolution — an “ever-green revolution” — that doubles yields but builds on sustainability principles;
b. It is time for bold global efforts, including launching a major global scientific initiative, to strengthen the interface between science and policy. We must define, through science, what scientists refer to as “planetary boundaries”, “environmental thresholds” and “tipping points”. Priority should be given to challenges now facing the marine environment and the “blue economy”;
c. Most goods and services sold today fail to bear the full environmental and social cost of production and consumption. Based on the science, we need to reach consensus, over time, on methodologies to price them properly. Costing environmental externalities could open new opportunities for green growth and green jobs;
d. Addressing social exclusion and widening social inequity, too, requires measuring them, costing them and taking responsibility for them. The next step is exploring how we can deal with these critical issues to bring about better outcomes for all;
e. Equity needs to be at the forefront. Developing countries need time, as well as financial and technological support, to transition to sustainable development. We must empower all of society — especially women, young people, the unemployed and the most vulnerable and weakest sections of society. Properly reaping the demographic dividend calls on us to include young people in society, in politics, in the labour market and in business development;
f. Any serious shift towards sustainable development requires gender equality. Half of humankind’s collective intelligence and capacity is a resource we must nurture and develop, for the sake of multiple generations to come. The next increment of global growth could well come from the full economic empowerment of women;
g. Many argue that if it cannot be measured, it cannot be managed. The international community should measure development beyond gross domestic product (GDP) and develop a new sustainable development index or set of indicators;
h. Financing sustainable development requires vast new sources of capital from both private and public sources. It requires both mobilizing more public funds and using global and national capital to leverage global private capital through the development of incentives. Official development assistance will also remain critical for the sustainable development needs of low-income countries;
i. Governments at all levels must move from a silo mentality to integrated thinking and policy-making. They must bring sustainable development to the forefront of their agendas and budgets and look at innovative models of international cooperation. Cities and local communities have a major role to play in advancing a real sustainable development agenda on the ground;
j. International institutions have a critical role. International governance for sustainable development must be strengthened by using existing institutions more dynamically and by considering the creation of a global sustainable development council and the adoption of sustainable development goals;
k. Governments and international organizations should increase the resources allocated to adaptation and disaster risk reduction and integrate resilience planning into their development budgets and strategies;
l. Governments, markets and people need to look beyond short-term transactional agendas and short-term political cycles. Incentives that currently favour short-termism in decision-making should be changed. Sustainable choices often have higher up-front costs than business as usual. They need to become more easily available, affordable and attractive to both poor consumers and low-income countries.

It goes into much greater detail (in the summary document!) and our government and political parties should be looking at it and measuring themselves against it.

There are a lot of “big issues” to deal with in the modern world, and a lot of resources to deal with them – but we need a co-ordinated approach to get some traction and some action on them.

19 comments on “A sustainable future ”

  1. And the first person who needs to look at this report is Steven Joyce.

    He really needs to learn a bit about sustainability and environmental and social costs. With his complaints about the “can’ts” in the Herald he just shows his serious lack of understanding of long-term thinking and a sustainable future.

  2. Colonial Viper 2

    We have a political-economic system and leadership which rewards short term thinking, promotes consumer materialism and drives up profits the faster resources are used and consumed.

    The report makes it sound like we have 30 years, a generation to make these regulatory, mindset and paradigm changes. Actually that was 27 years ago. My feeling is that its now trying to position for the wrong thing – the long descent is what we now have to get ready for, and we’ve got to get that underway at full speed now. James Cameron is. We need to too, as a nation.

    As a friend of mine says – do you want to know what the economic and social degradation caused by peak energy will be like? Just look around you.

    h. Financing sustainable development requires vast new sources of capital from both private and public sources. It requires both mobilizing more public funds and using global and national capital to leverage global private capital through the development of incentives.

    This made me laugh. The report’s authors have no idea. Europe, Japan and the US are currently debt imploding, with governments around the world applying austerity like never before but still sinking further into the red.

    Where are these “public funds” going to be “mobilised” from? Are we all clear that to “leverage global private capital” means to get into even more debt?

    Its that paragraph which finally makes me think the entire report is a dream sequence of unrealisability. Time to prepare for the long descent.

    By the way the latest Keiser Report mentions NZ on a short list of countries to move to in the near future.

  3. Herodotus 3

    Not a mention that I could see regarding World Population and how the planet can cope with this increasing demand placed on it, and what is a substainable pop. level given the diminishing resources that we have. In particular with how oil has allowed us to feed this level and what happens when the oil levels reduce? Is this not the real hard question that should be adderessed?

    • bbfloyd 3.1

      typical national party toady…….fixate on an issue that is related, but was not part of THIS report…. if you were to take the hobbles off, you would probably recognise the fact that just because this report deals with one aspect of an issue doesn’t mean that it has been overlooked….. indeed, you may be surprised to find that efforts are already underway to deal with that issue…..

      but before you can deal with the issue of changing whole society’s approach to the numbers of births, you have to ensure that there is no need to continue to breed in order to counter high infant mortality rates…….that is just ONE aspect of the issue…… this is an extremely complicated and divisive issue that requires it’s own study, and entirely separate report…..

      but of course, being a tory, i wouldn’t expect you to have the depth of cognizance to grasp these little details….. much better to be shallow and reactive and use what intellectual vigor? you possess to simply attempt to undermine without actually saying anything useful…..

      • Herodotus 3.1.1

        As someone who appears to not know the difference between friend or foe, I find it amusing at you ability to attemp to place everyone with simple labels.
        How can a report continual to comment using the world “Substainable” when the macro environment is all about Population explosion.
        I’m for attacking the real issue not some phantom sympton. From what is reported here it is all about symptoms. Take point d on Social Exclusion- As resources are depleated due to greater demand what do you think this will have on exclusion??? Perhaps exasperate what is alread prevalent.
        I notice that you dont pose the same comments to DTB.

  4. I don’t think NACT will ever understand that if we don’t look after our environment there won’t BE an economy for them to exploit.

  5. Draco T Bastard 5

    It is time to embrace a second green revolution — an “ever-green revolution” — that doubles yields but builds on sustainability principles;

    This is one reason why we’re not becoming sustainable – all the politicians still think we need to increase the population even more despite the fact that we’re already around 6 billion people past the point of sustainability.

    B is good. So is C. Although, C will get the RWNJs complaining about rising prices pushing the poor into even greater poverty. This is, of course, rather stupid and faux outrage – they really don’t care about the poor. The costs are always there it’s just that one way they’re measured in dollars (making sure everything is properly costed) and the other way they’re measured in death (continuing BaU).

    Developing countries need time, as well as financial and technological support, to transition to sustainable development.

    Put all the knowledge of all nations on the internet and make it freely available, get rid of patents and other similar artificial restrictions and I’m sure you’ll find the developing nations developing quite well. Especially when the developed nations stop stealing their resources from them (ie, oil rich poor countries).

    At F they’re still thinking that infinite growth on a finite planet is possible so not a good example of a sustainability report.

    Financing sustainable development requires vast new sources of capital from both private and public sources.

    Depends upon what they mean by capital. If they’re talking money then no it doesn’t. If they’re talking resources then yes it does but then it comes back to developed nations stopping taking resources from developing nations so that they can actually develop.

    International institutions have a critical role. International governance for sustainable development must be strengthened by using existing institutions more dynamically and by considering the creation of a global sustainable development council and the adoption of sustainable development goals;

    Translation: The present governance model is failing but we should continue to use it anyway.

    • We could even “buy out” relevant patents in the event that there are people who genuinely rely on them for their livelihoods. And yeah, your translation is 100% correct, lol.

  6. Uturn 6

    On the whole I find these reports depressing. The language they use can mean positive change, but it’s always so ambiguous that any government could use the same words and claim to be justified in doing the complete opposite of what is intended. Even the UN High Level Panel on Global Sustainability state the responsibility is with national governments. Have they had a look at who’s running the world lately?

    For example, when they talk about getting the unemployed, children and women equality and re-involvement in economic outcomes, you’d think it would translate to a legislated level playing field and more meaningful jobs. But what often happens is that unemployed women with children would be shunted into any job available, like prostitution or meanial factory work. The government would then say they had gender equality with men: men work long, late hours, why not women? And they can “choose” to be prostitues or starve. You see how “equal” the vague meaning of these phrases turn out to be? And children can join them too; and the unemployed can work for free (already happening in the UK); all under the label of “redefining our relationships to each other” or as it was earlier known as – feudalism. And the driver of this horror? Economic growth.

    In the UK, just outside of Bradford, there is a largish housing estate that previously suffered high unemployment and all the social problems that come with people having nothing to do. There was a lot of land empty around the estate and after the community organised itself it won a grant to begin a sustainable permaculture perspective to the immediate environment. Results are ongoing and mainly positive. It solved a lot of immediate problems for the people. But the government didn’t cut them any breaks and the larger economic context did not change. The produce they grow cannot compete with the international or domestic market. It just feeds and supports them. They are locked out of the economic prosperity of their own efforts. They are, although generally healthier and occupied, still prisoners of the system that rules them – a system that does not want to give them self determined freedom. They are the peasants of old, with a few modern rights.

    I’m sorry, there will never be an alternative that embraces “economic growth” that will solve any of the world’s problems. Economic growth, or greed as it is commonly known, eventually leads to revolution and that has always been how humans have operated. For real progress, the system must come down and a new one rise and this UN report is just like NZ’s “slow right” policies or Bradford’s permaculture efforts. Neither address the problem and neither will allow the people to find solutions to a system enforced on them against their own good.

  7. james111 7

    Here we go the greatest wealth redistribution plan yet to come out of the biggest Socilaist power centre the UN.
    Should we at all be surprised they want to slow down growth in the developed world in the hope that the 3rd world might catch up one day.

    • You don’t understand ecology do you James.

      • McFlock 7.1.1

        it might be better to start a list of what he DOES understand:

        how about – noooo, not that.
        um, maybe … nope.
        mathemat– no, not that either.
        sentence construct– no.
        empath– nope.
        ethi–hell no.
        maybe something pretty basically logica… sorry my bad.
         spelli– nope.
        Punctuatio– ah, nah, sorry.


        Anyone has any ideas, feel free…

    • AAMC 7.2

      Anthropocentric delusions there James?

      p.s. there is no growth in the developed world and all those corporations are asking developed economy workers to compete with Chinese and Indians. Read about Caterpillar factory in Canada closing down? Workers refused a 50% pay cut in light of the CEO’s income quadrupling in 4 years to 22.5 mill USD. See, that’s not socialist redistribution, that’s taking the work to the third world to fund your greed!   

      • james111 7.2.1

        You mean the chinese free trade agreement that Helen proudly sigined so she could shut some facotries down in New Zealand make some blue collar workers redundant Imagine what you would be saying if it was John Key who put his name on it

        • Draco T Bastard

          Doesn’t matter who did it, it was a stupid thing to do that will ruin NZ’s economy and increase poverty.

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