Thursday, February 9, 2012

Eating our seed corn: Warnings from the Global Sustainability Report

Stewart M. Patrick in the Internationalist: Last week, as the world’s media focused on the deepening crisis over Syria, it missed a less pressing story with profound long-term implications. The High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability, appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, released a sobering assessment for the world’s seven billion inhabitants. The document—Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing­­—offers humanity a stark choice: modify our patterns of production and consumption, or risk crashing through the “planetary boundaries” of growth and social progress.

It’s easy to mock UN reports, particularly from “high-level” panels. (Does the UN have any other kind?) But this document is an eye-opener—and offers some crucial recommendations for the Rio+20 mega conference in June.

First, it highlights just how far the world is from realizing the vision of “sustainable development.” That paradigm, introduced by the Bruntland Commission in its 1987 report, Our Common Future, is deceptively simple.

Sustainable development is not a synonym for “environmental protection,” as Resilient People underlines. It’s about ensuring that today’s actions, particularly in the economic sphere, advance growth and social welfare but don’t undermine critical ecosystem services. Fundamentally, it recognizes that our demand for water, food, land, and energy should not come at the expense of future generations. We must respect the environmental limits, or expand them through technological innovation and creative adaptation...

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