By Dr Seema Chelat*:
The world revisited the word ‘sustainability’ in 1987, thanks to The United Nations report on ‘Environment and Development.’ Again in 1992, after 15 years of the first proposal by UN, the Rio Conference, in which 192 countries participated, redesigned the important parameters to define the concept of ‘development.’ The Rio Declaration, ‘The future we want’, was to reach millions of people in the developing and under-developed countries.
Our current models of development will not support the demand for sustainability. We need to have country-specific approach adaptable to the local needs, demands and surroundings.
All over the world, policy makers are looking at innovative ways to build sustainable cities specific to their needs. Development sphere is facing a paradigm shift from old tested methods to a green protocol in every aspect of life. Sustainable technology, driven by the concerted efforts of industry and policy makers, has come a long way.
Technology plays a big role in development. A shift in the development pattern demands innovation in ideas and approach. We have the right technologies for sustainable development process. But the challenge is in their right deployment at the appropriate arenas. A linkage among people with innovative ideas, the grass-root workers and the financiers are essential for this. This will provide a platform for low-cost engineering solutions for the targeted beneficiaries.
The next generation of affordable technologies can help the most vulnerable people build a better future for themselves. Diverse range of technologies are playing significant roles in promoting environmental and socio-economic development. However, it is not a simple process. In this changed scenario, the earlier practice of imposing engineering solutions on a developing country will not work any longer. These countries can choose technologies that meet their needs, change and improve their local conditions. This is one way of technology-empowering of these countries by themselves according to their environment and individual needs.
Experts in the field have to redesign current technological systems without causing major social changes and political leaders have to reorganise their priorities. Technology does not exist in isolation. It is not independent of society either in shaping or its effects. Sustainable goals do not necessarily mean that we should compromise on our socio- economic priorities. Here comes the importance of technology. Technology will help nations achieve their goals by using and reusing the scarce resources most efficiently. But too much dependence on technologies will not guarantee success. The governments have to take tough decisions to push far-reaching technological innovations rather than resorting to makeshift technological fixes that have been the practice so far. The policy-makers should have the long-term vision and readiness to bear short-term economic shocks till the industry readjusts to the changes.
Sustainability In India
India is one of the largest economies in the world, and still has the largest number of poor people living in absolute drudgery and misery. Sustainability becomes a huge challenge because of the size of the have-nots and the need for rapid growth. How can the country have sustainable development ignoring poverty and inequality is the question the genuine policy-makers face. It is obvious that as an economy grows, socio-economic dimensions also change. But the fundamental environmental concern persists.
For ages, India had been in the forefront of preserving its biodiversity. But the biggest concern now is its ecological decline and regional socio-economic disparities. We have well-developed metros having world-level rich people and the poorest of masses struggling to survive living in squalor and poverty, and the rural areas without much progress or infrastructure. How to accommodate these contradictions and inequality in India’s growth story is a real challenge to the policy-makers and the captains of industry.
For most of the developing countries, sustainability is lost on the altar of social disparity. It is necessary to understand the ramifications of poverty and inequality in the efforts to achieve sustainable development. The various manifestations of these needs have to be carefully considered and holistically addressed. The objective of sustainability for countries like India will be in finding better ways of doing things without discounting the socio-economic needs.
Public and private partnerships for infrastructure projects, to some extent, can solve the issues of whether development, sustainability or environment can go together or not. Solving this issue is important as India wants both economic growth and protection of environment. For countries like India, sustainability should be defined depending on the characteristics of the community without forgetting its socio- economic components. The aim should be to achieve a symbiotic relationship between economy, society and environment. The long-term cost of sustainability is less expensive than creating one. Innovative financing methods can support the new projects in the developing countries.
Challenges And Way Forward
The challenges faced by the countries today at the technological front are the hidden costs in innovation and production as sustainability touches every economic activity. At the same time there is no enthusiasm from the investors’ quarters as they do not have any incentive to support the plan. The governments of today lack long-term vision and political will to bring about sweeping policy changes. Government apathy is worsening the situation. The public perception related to development has to change. The outlook should be broader to include the global benefits along with the local needs.
Ideally sustainability should be there at the conceptual stage of every activity undertaken by the government and the industry so that it will naturally be a part of the whole process. Conservation of important resources should be part of the decision-making process while preparing estimates of social wellness and growth. In the last century, global output increased manifold. But this achievement came with a price as this was based on the indiscriminate use of natural resources. Development without social equity cannot sustain. Sustainability is no longer a choice; it is an intrinsic necessity at every stage of development. The need of the hour is responsible behaviour by everyone.
Further, we need to find a common ground for socio economic demands of countries around the world to find tolerable and viable equations for development. It is pertinent to have a working relationship with policy-makers at the government level and experts in different fields. These are the champions with real power to scale up and improve the quality of life within the government framework and to push ideas into public policies. It is high time that we converted rhetoric into action. CSR initiative in the corporate sector is a viable method where the need, ideas and money meet and are put into perspective for a desired output.
Development is more than economic, and sustainable development is a collective responsibility. To ensure sustainable development, human beings should learn to live in ‘one world.’ For this, we have to change the narrative around development and rebuild a future where all creatures can coexist. The responsibility to provide sustainable resources for the future must be more valued than short-term profit.
(*Dr Seema Chelat is a consultant working with Socio-Economic Research Organization & Centre for Development of Indian States, New Delhi)