Addressing the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 1987, then Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, head of the Brundtland Commission, put it best.
“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” he said.
The Brundtland Commission, which was established by the UN to preserve and protect the environment, its natural resources, as well as prevent the deterioration of economic and social development, called on the nations of the world to enact policies aimed at sustainable and environmentally sound development around the world. Sustainability, it asserted, should become the central guiding principle of governments, organizations and institutions worldwide.
Since the sparks of the Industrial Revolution had ignited the flames of a consumerist way of life, much of the world’s economy relied, and still relies, on unsustainable practices regarding the use of resources. Harmful gas emissions from factories and large-scale mining operations, for instance, have quickened the pace of climate change, inducing global warming which in turn is melting the Earth’s ice caps, raising the level of the oceans, and endangering the world’s coastal cities.
But because such practices are so deeply rooted in the lifestyle of the modern world — not to mention the fact that they are very profitable for those practicing them — the pursuit of sustainable development has been fraught with challenges.
In the words of Alan Young, Chairman of the Board of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, in the organization’s annual report for 2016-2017, last year: “Last year proved to be rather remarkable, and yes, rather sobering”.
“We experienced a collective whiplash effect in moving from the optimism inspired by the progressive agreements leading to the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals, to the largely unanticipated success of populist campaigns, which have challenged the core principles of multilateralism and environmental protection — not to mention evidence-based, rational discourse as a basis for public policy,” he wrote.
“Ironically, while our potential to achieve truly sustainable and innovative economies and communities has never been more closely within reach, the opponents to such change have managed a surge in power that, if unchecked, will set that progress back at a crucially sensitive moment,” he added.
The Paris Agreement is an international pact signed in 2016 within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change aiming to respond to climate change. United States (US) President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the agreement, saying a withdrawal would help American businesses and workers.
Sustainability, however, is not solely concerned with the environment. Peace, human rights, equitable wealth distribution, and economic stability are all goals that fall under the umbrella of sustainable development.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as “Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, are 17 global goals set by the UN, developed to replace the Millennium Development Goals which ended in 2015. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) Philippines defined them as a “universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity”.
“The SDGs work in the spirit of partnership and pragmatism to make the right choices now to improve life, in a sustainable way, for future generations. They provide clear guidelines and targets for all countries to adopt in accordance with their own priorities and the environmental challenges of the world at large,” the UNDP said in its Web site.
Covering a broad range of social and economic development issues, the SDGs aim to tackle sustainable development through addressing of issues like poverty, hunger, health, education, climate change, gender equality, water, sanitation, energy, environment and social justice.
The pursuit of these goals, in short, is worthwhile. In the past, the Philippine government has partnered with the UN with the goal of pursuing sustainable growth in the country.
Cooperation is the solution. Towards reducing poverty, the UNDP aims to involve more stakeholders in the development process through innovative public-private partnerships for local and sustainable development. The organization also works with the government and civil society partners in promoting an enabling policy environment for peace and other goals.
“UNDP provides support to governments to integrate the SDGs into their national development plans and policies. This work is already underway, as we support many countries in accelerating progress already achieved under the Millennium Development Goals. Our track record working across multiple goals provides us with a valuable experience and proven policy expertise to ensure we all reach the targets set out in the SDGs by 2030. But we cannot do this alone,” the UNDP said.
“Achieving the SDGs requires the partnership of governments, private sector, civil society and citizens alike to make sure we leave a better planet for future generations,” it added. — Bjorn Biel M. Beltran