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Sustainable Development what it means today

Jeffrey Sachs, Professor at Columbia University, and

Director of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Had an in depth look at the Post-Capitalist Order.

He explains, sustainable development, what it means for us, why it

is the universally-agreed idea among all nations in the United Nations, why he believes it constitutes a new approach for the world, one that is extraordinarily important for our well-being, even for the survival of many

people on the planet today and in the future.

“Indeed, sustainable development constitutes a direction for the world that is a successor to our current economic system, which is often called global capitalism.”

In order to fully understand we must delve into how our current world economy works, why it does not produce sustainable development, why it

should produce sustainable development, and what we need to do, in economic and political reform, in new institutions and new approaches, new ideas, new global ethics in order to shift the way the world economy and global society works, so that, indeed, we are able to achieve

what all of the world’s nations have agreed to achieve, and that is sustainable development and specific goals for the years 2030, mid-century, and the 21st century. So what is sustainable development? It’s a basic idea that has been in development, debate, and discussion and even in adoption by UN member-states now for more than a quarter century. 

The idea, essentially, is that sustainable development is a direction towards human well-being. It holds that there are three basic objectives that all parts of the world should endeavour to achieve. One is economic prosperity, meaning that the material standard of life is decent, that extreme poverty has been ended, that basic needs are met in healthcare, access to education, access to infrastructure, decent work, and the like. Second, that there should be social fairness or sometimes what’s called social inclusion; that all parts of society, women as well as men, minorities as well as majority groups, all races, creeds, religions should be able to participate and enjoy the benefits of modern life, the benefits of prosperity, the benefits of global know-how, and technology. And the third objective is environmental sustainability.

This comes from the growing realisation that the way the world economy currently operates is a dire threat to the planet itself. Human activity is causing global warming, human activity is causing a massive destruction of biodiversity–that is other species and the ways that our ecosystems function. Human activity is causing massive pollution, the combination of climate change, loss of biodiversity, and pollution is putting us at peril at our own hands, and so this third objective of environmental sustainability holds the our economy, from the local to the global level, should operate in a way that is safe for us and safe for future generations in protecting the planet itself.

Now, sustainable development has been adopted formally by the UN member-states, actually on several occasions but two major occasions.

The first was at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, when governments got together to adopt three major environmental agreements. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the UN Convention to combat desertification, meaning the spread of deserts and degraded lands, and sustainable development was adopted as the organising principle at that time. Alas, those treaties have not properly been implemented. We have ongoing climate change, we have ongoing loss of biodiversity, we have ongoing spread of degraded lands and desert. And so in 2015, the UN member states came together to adopt sustainable development another time, but in a new framework, the framework of Agenda 2030, a set of principles for global cooperation for the period 2016 to 2030 that include 17 Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs.

And when that was adopted on September 25th, 2015 the nations knew that in just a few weeks, they would meet again in Paris to consider the specific but massive challenge of human-induced climate change, global warming, and on December 12, 2015, the same 193 members of the United Nations once again agreed on sustainable development as the organising principle when they agreed on the Paris Climate Agreement to implement the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Now, in this course I’m going to describe how those goals—prosperity, social Inclusion, and environmental sustainability–require a change of direction for the world, a new set of institutions and ideas, a new kind of governance.

We need to move beyond global capitalism to a system that will produce sustainable development, from the local to the global level. By global capitalism, I mean in very short-hand, in two words, a description of a complex global economic and political system that I think at least describes in essence the way that our world economy functions. Capitalism

means that the system is largely managed by privately owned companies and specifically by corporations, a legal framework of business, and the ‘global’ with the ‘capitalism’ means that this business is, to a very large extent, interconnected and spread across the world’s continents through trade, through finance, through the diffusion meaning

the spread of ideas and technologies, the flow of people as workers, migrants, refugees.This interconnected world in which privately-owned corporations are the main entities or organisations that guide the resources in the economy is our system of global capitalism. It has some strengths to be sure: it has produced a world of riches and dynamism of technology really unimaginable in the past. And yet, it is a profoundly flawed system as well it has put profits ahead of people, it has put greed ahead of our own survival, and so we need a change.

While there are aspects of our global economy that are profoundly good for humanity in giving us the opportunities or technology-based prosperity for seven point six billion people on the planet and a population that still grows by 75 to 80 million persons per year, we have to overcome the flaws of a system so driven by profit and greed that we are putting ourselves at dire peril and creating societies of such inequality of power, income, and wealth that they are a danger to themselves and a source of massive unrest, suffering, and loss of well-being. Well there are many variants of global capitalism because different countries, different societies, different regions have different styles.

One part of global capitalism that I think comes closest to the ideas of sustainable development are the social democracies of Scandinavia, and more generally, of northern Europe. Scandinavia, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark have an institutional

design, arrangement, and social ethos that has become called social democratic that’s to be distinguished from the specific political parties of social democracy. It’s an ethos, an idea, that societies should be organised to be fair and inclusive and green, indeed, environmentally sustainable, and those countries will see and the data, confirm it, our closest to achieving sustainable development.

They give us lots of clues as to how we should move institutionally in order to achieve this new framework, in order to achieve the goals that the world has sent. This social democratic framework and social democratic ethos which comes closest to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals gives us lots of ideas about how this new, Post-Capitalist order should be designed and how we should proceed to achieve the goals that we have set in Agenda 2030 and in the Paris Climate Agreement, the goals that can bring the world towards more well-being, more stability, and more safety.

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