“You are anti-development” they said angrily, “You are opposed to development. You don’t want any development projects”.
She looked back at him, astonished, not knowing where to start. Her eyes betrayed the hurt, the pain and agony.
Her friend looked at them. Then he looked at her. He looked back at them.
“The ‘environment’ is where we all live; and ‘development’ is what we all do in attempting to improve our lot within that abode.” he responded quietly, “Gro Harlem Brundtland said that”.
“Who?” they heckled.
“Former Prime Minister of Norway, and Chairperson of World Commission on Environment and Development. She said that in her foreword to the report of her Commission in March 1987” she butted in, “her message was directed towards people, whose wellbeing is the ultimate goal of all environment and development policies”.
“How can you have wellbeing without development if you focus on the environment?” they said sarcastically.
“If we cannot sustain breathable air, cannot sustain abundant flow of water, lack the ability to sustain food cultivation, and cannot sustain human relationships, everything you call development will be destroying the environment” he said softly, “It will be unsustainable. It will not improve our lot within our abode”.
“As Brundtland points out, many of the development paths are clearly unsustainable.
And the development decisions of these governments, because of their great economic and political power, will have a profound effect upon the ability of all peoples to sustain human progress for generations to come” he added.
“On the development side, in terms of absolute numbers there are more hungry people in the world than ever before, and their numbers are increasing. So are the numbers who cannot read or write, the numbers without safe air or safe water or safe and sound homes, and the numbers short of human relationships with which to continue to be part of communities themselves. The gap between rich and poor is widening – not shrinking – and there is little prospect, given present trends and institutional arrangements, that this process will be reversed.” she highlighted. She looked at their hostile faces.
She continued, “Each year another 12 million hectares of productive dryland turns into worthless desert. More than 29 million hectares of forests are destroyed yearly, and this, over three decades, would equal an area about the size of India.
Much of this forest is converted to low-grade farmland unable to support the farmers who settle it. The burning of fossil fuels puts into the atmosphere carbon dioxide, which has resulted in global warming and the climate crisis. This increase of average global temperatures is already causing shifts in forest and agricultural production areas, rising sea levels, coastal flooding, changing rainfall patterns, and disrupting national economies. Industry and agriculture have put toxic substances into the human food chain and into underground water tables beyond reach of cleansing.”
“But the Ministry of Environment clears every proposal for all development projects, you are just being dramatic”, they retorted, “ you are being an alarmist”.
“That is the problem the Commission highlighted almost 33 years ago.” he added, “The existence of such agencies gives many governments and their citizens the false impression that these bodies are by themselves able to protect and enhance the environmental resource base. Those responsible for managing natural resources and protecting the environment are institutionally separated from those responsible for managing the economy. The real world of interlocked economic and ecological systems will not change; the policies and institutions concerned must.”
“The Commission also highlighted that the other great institutional flaw in coping with environment/development challenges is the governments’ failure to make the bodies whose actions degrade the environment responsible for ensuring that their policies prevent that degradation.” he said firmly.
“Most of the institutions facing those challenges tend to be independent, fragmented, working to relatively narrow mandates with closed decision processes.” he continued. His words rang an uncomfortable truth. Even the 17 Sustainability Development Goals were independent, fragmented, working to relatively narrow mandates with closed decision processes.
“The Commission actually saw possibility for a new era of development, one that must be based on policies that sustain and expand the environmental resource base.” she interjected, “It served an urgent notice based on the latest and best scientific evidence – that the time has come to take the decisions needed to secure the resources to sustain this and coming generations. It did not offer a detailed blueprint for action, but instead a pathway by which the peoples of the world may enlarge their spheres of cooperation”
She looked hard at them as she underlined “No wonder we remain focused on the short term ignoring not just the Short Now or the lifetime of a child born today, but also the coming generations.”
“So, what are you proposing?” they sounded more subdued now.
“We must restructure our institutions to recognize their interdependence, have integrated agendas, and work to mandates that further the common purposes of the systems that they are a part of with decision processes open to all actors within their systems” he concluded.
There was pensive silence.
Perhaps, the Brundtland Commission’s message to reshape our agendas and institutions would become our common purpose now, he wondered. After all that is one of the most important ways that we can change the system, isn’t it?
#All views expressed in this column are those of the author and/or the individuals quoted and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to them.
He can be reached @AnupamSaraph