Laying the Path for Sustainable Development in 2015

image for Zeenat's editorial2015 has been in the news, since the past three years now.  Ever since the UN conference on Sustainable Development, commemorating twenty years of the Rio declaration; the preparations for 2015 have been afoot.

Globally, nation states, member countries, “major groups” representing key stakeholders with varied interests, experts from various fields have been in dialogue to design a “Global Sustainable Development Agenda”; that would transform the way individuals, communities, countries and regions conduct themselves in relation to each other and the environment.

And, while this consultative exercise has been unique in the history of the United Nations and indeed in the history of international cooperation, nobody engaged in the process is blind to the fact that we are very far from a collaborative world; one, that puts the concern of all human and planetary well-being before narrow, individualistic, material profit oriented interests and actions.  However, the exercise gives us hope.  More so, because for the first time, common citizenry across the globe is energised.  Questions are being raised on issues of pollution in China, climate change in the US and human and ecological safety in India.  These come as people like you and I now start experiencing nature’s back-lash of over a century of unsustainable development practices and social strife resulting from extreme inequities.

Is it already too late to remedy what we have spoiled? On despondent days, it may well appear so.  On better days we still have hope, as showcased by the examples of:

  • Communities prospering as they live in harmony with their eco-systems as in LasGaviotas, Columbia;
  • Technological breakthroughs that enable us to reduce the extraction of virgin resources for infrastructure such as Fly-Ash Bricks in India,
  • Corporate decisions to share knowledge such as Tesla and policy measures that promote renewables as in the German Renewable Energy Act.

India, a country under the global lens for a variety of reasons, has the potential to offer many lessons with respect to shifts in economic processes, governance systems and cultural behaviour that may guide us to greater sustainability and harmony.  What really are the building blocks that will help our country transition to a greener, more sustainable future?  In our view, the following need to be built upon:

  • Decentralised local governance systems in rural and urban settlements – equipped with greater capacities, science based decision making tools, cooperative growth models.
  • Micro, small and medium industries based on value addition to local resources delivering local services and products – supported with cutting edge technologies, networked and capacitated to contribute to a greener global economy while withstanding the risks of globalisation.
  •  Community collectives such as Self Help Groups, farmers clusters, artisan cooperatives and youth clubs, resident welfare associations etc. that work together to improve their lot – enabled through appropriate institutional supports;
  • Information technology prowess that can help bridge many infrastructure, service gaps and data management gaps.
  • Finally, our demographic dividend, our youth power – equipped with the education, skills and health to take charge of this nation on the move.

India in 2015 will need to put its energies to address systemic and structural challenges that plague us and prevent us from maximising the potential that our building blocks offer.  Inequities across communities and genders, underhand liaisons between business and government, unholy influence of religious bigots over governance structures and corrupt practices from individual to institution levels are the termites eating away at the foundations- our forefathers and mothers built.  These negatively reinforce unscientific and unsustainable practices such as rampant exploitation of and construction over fragile mountains, swallowing fertile lands and forests by urban infrastructure, dumping hazardous chemicals and wastes into our rivers, lands and air; mono-culture of everything from our food, our languages, our clothes, our buildings and settlements and our education.

India in 2015 will need to break out of this downward spiral and transition to a greener, equitable and sustainable future.  The list of what can be done more, better and differently with respect to policy making and practice is long.  Addressing pressing poverty and inequity issues on the one hand and balancing conservation of natural resources with job-rich growth are obvious priorities for the nation today; laying a strong and sustainable foundation for tomorrow. This is a tough call and requires strong ethical basis and governance structures to guide and regulate economic actions.

Investments will need to be directed towards the fundamentals (in which we have collectively failed over the past 68 years) – these being:

  • Fulfilling basic needs for all,
  • Regenerating of our natural capital,
  • Food security and food sovereignty at national and local levels,
  • Ensuring basic education and opportunities for higher education to all our citizens,
  • Building capacities of our local governance institutions, technology, finance and management services for small and medium industries and
  • Cutting-edge research and development especially for social and environmental benefit.

Technology development will need to be directed towards innovations that enable resource efficiencies; and indeed resource replacements, enhance productivity of labour, and support greater autonomy of local institutions and small entrepreneurs- to service and manage their operations with greater efficiencies.

Capacity Building at all levels from young job seekers to government officials, planners and practitioners will be needed to design and implement systemic solutions to our complex problems.

Markets will need to be devised as just and fair exchange platforms that promote a healthy economy for a prosperous nation and not unnecessary consumption for GDP growth.

Going forward, 2015 will need to be marked by the commitments that we as a country will make towards setting up governance systems and reinforcing cultural values that will guide our economy towards greener, inclusive and socially just outcomes.q

Zeenat Niazi
zniazi@devalt.org

The views expressed in the article are those of the author’s and not necessarily those of Development Alternatives.

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