Sustainable Development in a Turbulent World


The drama of sustainable development has escalated to the point of crisis over the past 40 years, and even countries that consider themselves islands of stability amid a turbulent ocean are beginning to realize that they are not immune to the threat of rising international unrest.

Sustainable development has already become a crisis of national and global security. Every country faces increasingly complex challenges of energy, food and water security, the rising frequency and severity of natural disasters, and unemployment. Many poor countries have a steadily growing population that prevents them from meeting the education and employment needs of their youth.

The protests that have swept across the globe attest to the growing tensions caused by unequal income distribution and rising unemployment. Many of the world's conflict zones, including the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and West Asia, are experiencing high levels of hunger caused by low rainfall, and these conflicts are often explained away as crises of religion or politics. But there is no doubt that droughts, famines, mass migrations and other symptoms of economic, social and environmental unsustainability have had the greatest impact on the emergence and continuation of these wars.

The drama of sustainable development began openly during the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Stockholm in 1972, which emphasized the need for economic policies to be consistent with environmental realities. The Club of Rome's seminal 1972 study, Limits to Growth, emphasized the inevitability of economic goals colliding with the limits of the ecosystem's ability to meet human needs and the potential collapse of the global system in the late 21st century.

Unfortunately, nothing has been done about these challenges since then.

Twenty years later, at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, the world's nations agreed on three key documents to address environmental challenges:

Framework Agreement on Climate Change
Agreement on Biodiversity
Agreement on Desertification
But once again, unfortunately, these agreements were not seriously implemented and the drama of sustainable development continued.

Twenty years later, in 2012, at the Rio 20+ summit, the world decided to create the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to motivate the world to make decisions and adopt strategies to reduce the severity of environmental destruction caused by human activity.

The world lost precious time from 1972 to 2012 in not facing the environmental catastrophe. The concentration of carbon dioxide rose from 327 ppm in 1972 to 365 ppm in 1992, exceeding the danger line of 350 ppm and now reaching 400 ppm, which means that it is impossible to prevent the global temperature rise from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius.

The futile political debate over who is responsible for this destruction and who should bear the bill for repair continues while the clouds of environmental catastrophe gather and some of its effects appear, such as devastating storms, floods, droughts, countries like the Maldives and ancient cities like Venice are expected to drown and destroy more than 300 million homes around the world.

While humanity has failed to formulate a collective approach to these cosmic challenges, Hollywood has succeeded in making action movies about collective international action in the face of a threat to the globe from an external danger such as a meteorite impact or an alien invasion, but Hollywood has steered clear of the most popular possibility that we are facing a dark and catastrophic human-made march that may be the sixth wave of annihilation.

Sixth great wave of extinction

Even fast-growing countries such as China, Brazil, Turkey and South Africa are beginning to show signs of instability and slowing economic growth, and they are beginning to feel that the severity of the environmental crisis is beyond their national control, which is why the role of the United Nations has become pivotal.

Therefore, the role of the United Nations has become pivotal in confronting this global crisis and is necessary to develop measures to avoid environmental disasters.

The continuation of current policies means economic instability, slower economic growth, deepening structural imbalances in the economy, and certainly an increase in the intensity of natural disasters.

The continuation of current policies will exacerbate the issue of population growth, as the world's population is expected to increase from the current 7.2 billion to 11 billion within two decades, and since most of this increase will be in poor countries, the ability of these countries to escape the trap of poverty, famine, and economic decline will be almost impossible, thus increasing global poverty and increasing international unrest.

But we can meet and even overcome these challenges. By harnessing the great advances in the information and communication revolution, alternative energy, and genomics, we can achieve ambitious goals and move from the current policies that are destructive to human life to the alternative path of sustainable development.

Sustainable development provides an effective methodological framework in the face of complex global challenges. It offers an analytical methodology and an effective mechanism for setting national goals. The intertwining of economic development and social stability issues within the framework of environmental realities imposes a solution mechanism that takes into account the delicate balance between immediate and future goals on the one hand and economic, social and political development on the other, and the quality and efficiency of government and good governance becomes a key source of success in achieving sustainable development goals.

No single country, even the major industrialized countries, will be able to achieve the SDGs on its own, so the United Nations must take the lead in the strategy of shifting from the current policy path to a sustainable development strategy in all countries of the world. International financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will not be able to lead this transition in isolation from the UN for the following reasons:-

1. The issues at stake are essentially global and the UN is the only body that has the political legitimacy to discuss these issues.

2. Sustainable development is at the core of the UN's mandate, as stated in the first period of the UN Charter.

3. The SDGs cut across many complex, overlapping and sometimes conflicting areas such as diplomatic, strategic, cultural and economic issues.

4. Achieving the SDGs requires an international commitment to measuring performance, monitoring implementation, coordinating international efforts, and overseeing the course of sustainable development.

We are on the threshold of a new era of international development. From the end of World War II to the 1980s, human effort was preoccupied with decolonization and Cold War conflicts. From 1980 to the present, we have witnessed the dazzling explosion of the globalization era.

The global economy has become intertwined and interconnected, linked by a network of direct communications, rapid transportation, and a large movement of foreign investments, and the phenomenon of China may be the most prominent manifestation of this era. The Chinese economy has grown at an astonishing 10% for 28 years, contributing to the growth of many economies around the world.

The impressive growth of the Chinese economy dragged behind it a large group of emerging countries that took advantage of this era by building their infrastructure such as roads, energy, fiber optics, ports and airports, as well as spending large amounts of money on education and scientific research.

This rapid economic growth in developing economies has not only led to an improvement in the standard of living, but also a significant reduction in extreme poverty in places like sub-Saharan Africa and poor countries in East Asia such as Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos. In the end, the results of this era have been truly impressive, with the extreme poverty rate in developing countries falling from 44% in 1990 to less than 21% in 2010.

This success in the fight against extreme poverty has been accompanied by other successes in the fight against infectious diseases, child mortality, illiteracy, and more.

In short, the successes of the globalization era would not have been possible without the following four factors:

1. The United States and Europe have reduced restrictions on exports from developing countries.
2. Industrialized and developing countries alike ignored the devastating effects of rapid economic growth on the environment, such as water pollution, destruction of agricultural soils, and climate change.
3. The Bretton Woods institutions (the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) and the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1994.
4. The collapse of ideological and geopolitical barriers to international trade thanks to China's opening up to the world in 1978 and the end of the Cold War in 1991.

The rapid economic growth of developing countries (an average of 5-6% per year) and the slow growth of industrialized countries (an average of 2% per year) have had the greatest impact on reducing the income gap between the two groups. However, it is expected that this will not continue in the coming era due to the reduced capacity of industrialized countries to absorb the exports of developing countries, as well as the worsening environmental issues associated with rapid growth and the increasing cost of repairing this destruction, which requires a new methodology and model that preserves the advantages of economic growth and minimizes the disastrous effects of environmental destruction.

What the world needs now is a necessary and radical change in the methodology and fundamentals of the previous model of economic development in favor of a sustainable development model.

The longer the old model of development persists, the greater the risks of climate change, environmental pollution, social division, and food insecurity.

Humanity has witnessed successive waves of development since the Industrial Revolution: 1780-1830 was the era of the steam engine, 1880-1930 was the era of electricity and chemistry, 1970-2010 was the era of communications and information, and now we are on the threshold of the era of sustainable development.

This is where the role of the United Nations emerges in subordinating this great technological development in favor of a model of development that takes into account the severe constraints imposed on us by our planet Earth and the needs of our future generations for a clean environment suitable for human growth and prosperity and a social system that ensures justice, equality and good governance.

The strategy of sustainable development is the strategy of the future, as it imposes harmonization in the paths of economic development, environmental sustainability and social peace. In this way, the future becomes a choice, not an inevitability.

Thank you.


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