Sunday, September 23, 2012

To Be or Not To Be Equitable

By Por Mairon Bastos Lima, International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth / UNDP, September 20, 2012 Have you noticed that most advocates of sustainable development speak of “win-win” strategies? I have always thought that a third word has been missing. Doesn’t sustainability have three pillars? The economic, the ecological, and the social? Guess which one is usually missing? Yes, the social. Efforts to incorporate previously neglected ecological concerns into development have increased tremendously over the last decades. Although what we do is clearly not enough yet, there has been a surge of investments in renewable energy, climate change has made to the top level of international politics, and other environmental concerns are gradually gaining ground all over the world. Many of these developments owe to an ever closer integration between ecological and economic concerns, as made clear by the Stern Review on “The Economics of Climate Change”, a path soon followed by the biodiversity field with the more recent TEEB – “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity”. Excellent! Maybe people will finally stop calling sustainable development an oxymoron and viewing economic development and ecological conservation as incompatible. Except that, more recently, it has come to the world’s attention that many of these so-called “win-win” strategies are being captured by elites only, that some of people’s most pressing needs remain unaddressed, and that many of those “green growth” or “sustainable” strategies are actually working to further disenfranchise the poor. Let’s recap: nearly 1 billion people are undernourished while another billion is obese due to food overconsumption; 780 million people lack access to safe drinking water, and 2.5 billion to sanitation. (And that is while most of the people you know are busy exchanging pictures online, commenting on each other’s “wall”, and thinking about replacing that electronic gadget from last year because it is already too old). Oh yes, let’s not forget: 2.6 billion people remain without access to modern energy services. I find it hard to conceptualize how many people that is – the numbers are just too large. How does one put an image to one-third or more of the world’s current population? Given that climate change is caused primarily by fossil energy overutilization in the world’s wealthier nations but will affect mostly the poor, many people are saying that socially exclusive “green” strategies are like adding insult to injury. That is because – we don’t see – but many of these have been “win-win-lose” strategies, the loss being in the social dimension of sustainable development. But what is this social dimension anyway? The social dimension is about creating equity, addressing social injustices such as the large existing discrepancies in levels of income, well-being and access to resources. The social dimension is about raising living standards and also about fostering democratic, inclusive participation and governance systems. The social dimension is about making sure that development does not further impair those who are already in disadvantage and marginalized, such as the poor and indigenous peoples, but rather that their needs are given special treatment due to their disadvantaged situation, and that their views are duly represented in policy and decision-making. Economic growth alone cannot provide for that; it never did. Not without institutions aiming at keeping development along the lines of equity. So sustainable development and green economy strategies have a choice: to be or not to be equitable. What we need, are not double, but triple-win strategies. Source