Arthur Dahl's Blog at International Environment Forum
Framing Environmental Sustainability in the Post-2015 Agenda
Arthur Lyon Dahl
I have just posted the following contribution to the UN World We Want 2015 web site (http://www.worldwewant2015.org) on the topic: Framing Environmental Sustainability in the Post-2015 Agenda. They asked two questions:
What are the barriers and enablers to gradually moving towards environmental sustainability?
Fragmented institutions and short-term perspective
The principal barrier is the fragmented nature of the institutions of governance and economic activity, with narrow purposes and little or no responsibility for the environment or society. The multinational corporation is one example, free to generate profits beyond the reach of taxation, national legislation or environmental regulations, with no built-in social purpose or environmental responsibility, and a very short-term decision horizon except for capital investments. This includes what might be called the illegal or criminal economy, where wealth is created with no moral scruples (illegal logging, fishing, mining, human and wildlife trafficking, drug trade, etc.). The lack of effective international governance, and the weakness of national governments, allow these human activities destructive to the environment to far outweigh those that respect national laws and principles of environmental responsibility. Even the strongest governments yield to the pressures of, say, the fossil fuel lobby defending its short-term profits against regulation to mitigate climate change. A similar fragmentation is demonstrated in the present system of sovereign nations, each defending its interests in international fora rather than working for the common good of all nations.
Valuing our oneness and solidarity
The main enabler will be a change in mind-sets and values to give priority to the oneness of humanity and the necessary solidarity with every human being, recognizing that in a single globalized human and natural system, the well-being of each individual is inextricably linked to the well-being of the whole. This implies a shift in priorities from self-interest and material prosperity, to collective well-being and the sustainable use of the planet's environmental capacity and resources. The new medial and social networks should allow the rapid propagation of these sustainability values. This change will then need to be reflected in new institutions for wealth-creation other than the limited-liability corporation, with a primary purpose to be of service to society, and only secondarily to make a profit as one measure of economic efficiency. Similarly at the level of governance, we need multilevel institutions adapted to the global, regional, national and local scale of different environmental systems and problems. Steps towards global governance of the atmospheric and ocean commons could build confidence in wider measures for planetary resource management.
Building on the MDGs and the outcomes of Rio+20, how would you envisage a conceptual framework for the post-2015 agenda that can help drive a transition to an environmentally sustainable future? What are the key characteristics?
Putting the individual at the centre
The necessary conceptual framework would be to put the human being at the centre of development, in a spirit of unity in diversity, recognizing that human well-being is dependent on environmental well-being. The primary measure of successful development should that it enables each individual to fulfill her or his potential throughout a lifetime. Indicators would reflect the healthy development of the child; an education to become a constructive member of society; the possibility of full employment; a strong family life; opportunities to contribute to science, culture and the arts; all enabling moral, ethical and spiritual development and ultimate fulfillment in a life well-lived. This would replace the materialistic consumer society as the main focus of economic and social activity. Collectively, the goal would be to develop an ever-advancing civilization within planetary boundaries, protecting and even raising the planet's carrying capacity through environmental conservation and restoration, and integrating human and natural systems.
The key characteristics of this framework would be:
- a new definition of wealth including material, social, cultural and spiritual dimensions, linked to relevant indicators of well-being in each dimension;
- an economy focused on a just and dynamic social order that is altruistic and cooperative, eliminates poverty, and creates employment for all, providing the means to develop the infinite potential in human consciousness;
- a focus on growth in science, knowledge, human relationships, community solidarity, art and culture, beauty and interaction with nature, and other intangible dimensions of a mature civilization, while keeping material needs in moderation;
- multilevel governance, with a world federal system to manage planetary limits and ensure the equitable distribution of environmental resources, nations reflecting the rich diversity of human cultures and environments, and much greater participation and responsibility at the level of local communities in a spirit of subsidiarity;
- replacing the privatization of knowledge and intellectual property rights by mechanisms that reward creativity and innovation in service to the common good, recognizing that information does not generate real wealth through its scarcity, but by being shared as widely as possible;
- a strong ethical and moral foundation to education to ensure wide commitment to justice and equity in economic and social relations, and a spirit of service to the common good, reducing the need for systems of regulation and enforcement.
Last updated 2013