When you consider that the concept of “sustainability” has existed for 25 years and has received steadily increasing focus in recent years, it’s clear that insufficient progress and commitment have been made. A transformation on a large scale is needed.
A recent report, The Future of Sustainable Development: Rethinking sustainable development after Rio+20 and implications for UNEP, presents ideas and input on ways to transform our global economy into one that is sustainable. The ideas shared below were drawn from an informal meeting of experts to discuss the possibility, which was facilitated by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).
The authors propose that equity will be central to the creation of a sustainable framework. We cannot build a just and more economically stable economy for only a portion of our population. With this in mind, experts have begun to expand the goal of a “green economy” to a “green and inclusive” economy.
Good governance must also be practiced if we are to ensure that all people have access to basic human needs along with opportunities to participate in a just and productive economy. In addition, the gap between rich and poor countries, as well as the rich and poor within countries, must be lessened.
The authors note that as we move toward a greener, more inclusive economy, we will need to decouple the growth of prosperity from the increasing consumption of resources and environmental degradation. Governments must develop policies and institute incentives to encourage sustainable behavior and investment in new technology. Subsidies and other financial incentives that lead to the overconsumption of resources must be phased out. Governments must ensure the accountability of all market players. In addition, they should fund and otherwise ignite research.
As the world’s population continues to increase and puts additional strain on our natural resources, we will need to continuously improve. I like the concept of ”no regression” – creating new benchmarks as progress is made over time. For instance, should we really be using the cost of peak oil as an energy cost baseline while new technologies become available and oil is more costly to extract?
As businesses reach their 5 to 10 year environmental goals, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we must create new goals based on new benchmarks. These businesses will require larger-scale solutions to meet longer-term goals. Solutions on this scale will need to involve strong leadership, collaboration, knowledge sharing, innovation and capital.
A new movement this large and ambitious will require the support of influential, credible leaders who can reach a wide range of stakeholders. We must begin developing and fostering such leadership while providing room for others to follow without fear of failure.
The authors suggest that all radical change in history has been driven by outsiders working with insiders. They also point out that different motives and perspectives appear to affect execution and stamina. We must learn from others (and from the past) and apply this knowledge to all appropriate areas. This is best done through productive collaboration.
The participants in the meeting also believe that as the shift to a new economic model occurs, entities that will be negatively impacted or marginalized should be compensated to ensure they participate in the solution. We must motivate the operators of facilities or equipment facing obsolescence to abandon this newly unacceptable infrastructure in order to facilitate the switch to newer, more efficient and acceptable equipment and technology.
We are increasingly working in a global economy that involves many people from all parts of the world living under varying conditions in different cultural contexts. We must not think we can have a one-size-fits-all solution; nor should we profess to know what is best for such a diverse range of participants.
We should also integrate well-being and other measures of sustainability into our economic metrics. For example, the number of people that have access to clean water, education or sanitary services or percentage of healthy water bodies should be measured and considered. We can no longer measure growth through GDP alone.
As we can see, there is a lot to do. I hope you join us in this journey to a new economy that is green, inclusive and prosperous.