Wednesday, March 28, 2007

the conceptual failure of sustainable development

An oD article led me to this report. It is very interesting. (How's that for a bland statement!)

"The underlying causes of unsustainable development remain – in brief:
  1. Economic growth is considered an inviolable principle, rather than people’s rights and welfare, or environmental processes and thresholds
  2. Environmental benefits and costs are externalised
  3. Poor people are marginalised, and inequities entrenched
  4. Governance regimes are not designed to internalise environmental factors, to iron out social inequities, or to develop better economic models
  5. Therefore unsustainable behaviour has not been substantially challenged.

There are three paradoxes here. First, the economic paradigm that has caused poverty and environmental problems to persist is the very thing that we are relying on to solve those problems. Second, this unsatisfactory state of affairs co-exists with a policy climate that espouses sustainable development. Third, action is being neglected just when it is most urgently needed:
sustainable development remains at best a ‘virtual’ world, a planners’ dream."

This is all laid out in much greater detail in Environmental Economics.

Incidentally, the report subsequently led me to the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment. A fascinatingly in-depth Ronseal report ("does exactly what it says on the tin" for those who have not been priviliged enough to see Ronseal's adverts).

"Of the services and systems examined in this report, it is clearthat at a global level there are two issues where the capacity to continue to provide services has most clearly declined. One is marine and coastal capture fisheries, as described earlier in this chapter and in Chapter 18. It is now well established that the capacity of the oceans to provide fish for food has declined substantially and in some regions showing no sign of recovery. The other isthe loss of biodiversity, in large part because the rates of loss (of species diversity) are so much more rapid than the creation of new diversity through evolutionary processes. (See earlier section and also Chapter 4.) The implications of this loss are less immediately clear than those of the decline of marine fisheries, but over the long run they are likely to be considerably more importantIn addition, some systems have eroded their capacity to provide services on a regional basis, such as inland waters (Chapter 20),forests (Chapter 21), and drylands (Chapter 22)."

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