Anurag Saboo

Co-founder of DaMENSCH

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The need for sustainable development and decoding its impact on policymaking

Worldwide, communities, companies, and countries seek to move towards sustainable operations by deploying green options to curb carbon footprints while halting environmental degradation and the ongoing extinction of species.

Today, sustainability is a pressing need for both individuals and institutions. Climate change and its inevitable threat to biodiversity are global challenges endangering the existence of all living organisms. Yet, the imperatives of development and sustained growth to meet the needs of all nations and the burgeoning universal populace cannot be overlooked.

Therefore, the need to grow exponentially while simultaneously safeguarding the environment can best be achieved through the sustainable development model. Worldwide, communities, companies, and countries seek to move towards sustainable operations by deploying green options to curb carbon footprints while halting environmental degradation and the ongoing extinction of species.

Comprehending Sustainable Development

Given this scenario, it’s essential to properly comprehend the term ‘sustainable development’ and understand its implications on policymaking. Whereas myriad definitions of sustainable development abound, the one capturing this thought best is that of addressing the needs of the present generations without compromising the ability of future ones to meet their requirements.

Sustainable development encourages all stakeholders to conserve and enhance our finite resource base through the gradual transformation of how these are developed and used. This includes using technologies or resources that are more environment-friendly or green. For instance, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind while avoiding the use of fossil fuels like coal, which leave a heavy carbon trail and pollute the surroundings.

Deployed judiciously, a sustainable development model could save the world’s natural, material and financial resources. Conversely, unbridled development can damage the environment extensively and lead to biodiversity loss. Some of this can occur via the use and direct release of hazardous waste and toxic substances into the environment.

To embrace the sustainability model, a nation’s development must be based on a stable, harmonious relationship between human activities and the natural world. Such activities don’t damage the environment irreversibly. Instead, they allow the regeneration of resources used, making it possible for future generations to tap the same natural reserves.

The concept of environmentally sustainable development is not a modern phenomenon. Ancient cultures understood the importance of harmony between society, economy and the environment. But after the advent of industrialization, modern society seems to have forgotten the essence of living in harmony with nature through a sustainable development ecosystem.

Reemergence of Sustainability

In the 1970s, the sustainable development concept began gaining currency. When the Brundtland Report, Our Common Future, was published in October 1987, it made a firm splash on the political landscape. It aimed to treat the environment and sustainable development as an interlinked issue, seeking to reconcile the two objectives while moving from theory to practice vis-à-vis these principles.

Before long, the idea of sustainable development to safeguard the environment attracted universal public attention. As this became part of the political discourse, it was apparent the environment needed to be managed globally even as efforts were underway to reduce poverty across geographies. This meant maintaining essential ecological processes, preserving biodiversity and sustaining the use of living species and ecosystems.

All of which called for adopting an integrated, long-term approach in developing healthy communities by resolving economic, environmental and social issues in tandem – and avoiding any overuse of critical natural resources. Presently, sustainable development pivots on four prime pillars: advancing social equality and progress, protecting the environment, conserving natural resources and promoting stable economic growth. Clearly, every person has the right to a clean, healthy and safe environment.

But these goals can only be achieved if universal environmental threats such as poor air/water quality and climate change are reduced to safeguard the health of both the people and the planet. Against this backdrop, a historic UN Summit announced the 2030 Agenda of 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which officially came into effect from 01 January 2016. These include no poverty, zero hunger, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth, reduced inequality, responsible consumption and production, sustainable communities and cities as well as climate action, among others.

Placing the world on the roadmap of sustainable development, the landmark agreement between heads of state and governments acknowledged the need to go beyond insular economic measures of development. Instead, nations concurred about the need for considering all aspects of progress and societal well-being to eradicate poverty worldwide and protect the planet.

The SDGs recognize that the global priorities of economic and social development plus environmental protection must be interweaved if sustainable development goals are to be met. As a result, policy coherence becomes critical between local, regional, national and international governments for capitalizing on the synergies among SDGs and their targets.

Moreover, the SDGs note that food insecurity can impact all nations through many diverse channels. Nonetheless, specific policy decisions regarding food security challenges can vary between nations because of differing national milieus, including income levels, trade laws, geography and climate. Applying the lens of policy coherence to global food security indicates the main challenge remains in raising the income levels of the poor. Here, both rural diversification and agricultural development are required to generate greater economic growth and employment opportunities.

Also, trade must play a pivotal role in ensuring global food security. Towards this end, silos separating different policy sectors must be broken to facilitate cross-sectoral synergies to achieve food security.

Moving forward, countries could further boost policy coherence by deploying an integrated policy approach and ascertaining their national strategies are aligned with the 2030 SDGs Agenda. Finally, concerted efforts must be made in involving non-government stakeholders too, including civil society, NGOs, philanthropists, private players, academia and local communities. Undoubtedly, a multi-stakeholder approach is indispensable for sustainable development to become a global ground reality.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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