Sustainable Development in Our Hands
Written by Leslie Tjing
Sustainable development is typically thought of as a division of three separate sustainability concerns: societal, economical, and environmental, but recent economic crises have brought a wave of social and economic changes, which have proved that that is no longer the case. Rather, sustainable development is as much a social challenge, as it is an economic demand and environmental commitment. The playing field is equal in terms, but unequal in reality. Now more than ever, it is recognised that the world’s sustainability depends on the ‘maintenance/progress’ of society and economy in context of the environment we live in.
In understanding the need to create a practical agenda on sustainable development, The Institute for Cultural Diplomacy (ICD) has decided to prepare a symposium in the field of Cultural Diplomacy in Africa in July and August. The title of the July 25-28 Conference is “Cultural Diplomacy, Nation Branding & Sustainable Development in Africa”. In preparation for our dialog on Africa, it is necessary to take a macroscopic view of sustainable development and briefly discuss the efforts and progress that has been and must be made towards achieving sustainability in Africa and the world. We live in an increasingly interconnected world where challenges of one country are becoming global challenges for humanity. This is the age of globalisation.
One of the most recent major summits concerning economic, social, and environmental sustainability in developed and developing countries was the Rio+20 United Nations Conference. Cited by the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), the goal of Rio+20 was to present and discuss ways to “reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet to get to the future we want.” The governments of Colombia and Guatemala, inter alia, proposed “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDG), whereby a suite of sustainable development objectives was to have been developed by June 2012 – which was similar to the development process of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Although no definite themes have been created, Rio+20 confirmed SDG as a successor framework to the soon to be expired MDG. Just like the SDG, the Rio+20 Summit is a process. However crucial to the progress of sustainability, it is by no means the “summit” of talks on future sustainable development. The governmental delegations that attended Rio+20 are but a mere percentage of our global community. The talk about sustainable development must extend beyond heads of state and governments and become a roundtable discussion including organisations and the rest of civil society.
One key to sustainability is for civil society to become future driven, not just present driven. This means that countries must not only set long-term goals, but thereafter take action towards achieving those goals. Future driven companies and organisations conscious of the importance of sustainability are noticing that corporate success and long-term growth rely on a good balance of both development and sustainability. Development, as emphasised in the UN Secretary-General Conference Report “Progress to date and remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits in the area of sustainable development and analysis of the themes for the Conference” (17 – 19 May 2012 – published 1 April 2012) is the midwife of sustainability, just as sustainability is the life support system for development. The concept of sustainable development must be inherent to companies and organisations, such that the goal to work towards strategic sustainable development must become a primary, not a secondary objective.
In difficult global economic situations companies must not be discouraged from continuing to seek and invest in new, sustainable solutions, even if they are more expensive and harder to fund than traditional, non-sustainable practices. As we travel through the 21st century, we must remember that the best solution is not always a cheap solution and vice versa. The new models of sustainable solutions must be the confluence of creativity, efficiency and innovation.
Thus, a key discussion point in the upcoming ICD conference will be to rethink our approach to sustainability and include alternative innovative methods. Without doubt, the future of the world must be rewritten in the name of sustainability. The future of Africa will not be determined by the Rio+20 Summit, but by the way the message of sustainable development is delivered and actualized in Africa and by the way the nation handles the challenge.