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Why sustainable development matters

/ 05:22 AM January 19, 2019

The 2018 edition of Arcadis’ Sustainable Cities Index (SCI) explores city sustainability from the perspective of the citizen. The Index seeks to understand in more depth how different cities enable different citizen groups to meet their particular needs.

Sustainable development entered the public consciousness a few decades ago.

The Brundtland Report in 1980 tried to answer a United Nations commission’s call for “a global agenda for change” in the concept and practices of development.  The rapid acceleration of the deteriorating human environment and natural resources followed by the deterioration in economic and social development signaled for better ways of living and governance.

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Today the concept of sustainable development has entered everyday language in business, social and environmental groups.  Sustainable development is increasingly understood as the harmonious interconnectedness of how people relate to the world around us within the three pillars involved in sustainable development, namely, economic growth, social equality and environmental protection.

We have become conscious that our planet is undergoing serious and accelerating stress.  The give-and-take relationship between humans and the environment has been in disequilibrium.  The Earth’s life-sustaining systems seem to be failing us with more frequency and unpredictability.

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The world economy in the last 200 years grew sixfold. The economy grew even tenfold in the countries that were first to industrialize. Consumption of the earth’s goods drove capital markets to dizzying heights.

It is estimated that at the turn of the century, humans extracted over 50 billion tons of natural resources from the planet’s ecosystems. This was 30 percent over our consumption in 1980. Our rate of consumption of the world’s good is expected to double to 60 percent in the next 20 years, going by our present appetite for material things, not just the slower growth in population.

Economic growth alone is not enough. Governments must address the complex challenge to effect a balance between competing demands on people, our habitat and economic systems. We can see how the focus on profit margins cause damage to human and environmental resources.

Over 10  million of us live in the megacity of Metro Manila. The lopsided ratio of our population here to the existing infrastructure is nothing short of a nightmare. With politics and corruption blocking our way to proper transport development, we have only our personal choices and well-planned behavior in this urban space to help us.

Managing our mobility through less travel times when possible, can contribute to better air quality and a healthy population. Some solutions to our city’s problems can come from its citizens. Citizens and stakeholders should assert the need for them to be included in policy-making processes.

An enlightened citizenry can push its way towards sustainable development.

And we have the private real estate developers to thank for building mixed-use living and working facilities, townships and other walkable areas.

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A productive population manages well the intertwining of social and economic well-being.  Unrest, poverty and diseases get collective attention in a sustainable city where public and private sector efforts are seriously coordinated in highly educated cities like Singapore.

Energy needs will rise by an estimated 50 percent in 2030, with China and India responsible for half the increase. Arctic waters are seen to be ice-free in summer by 2050.  Seas will continue to rise, meeting the melted glaciers and ice caps.

The seriousness of this threat sows fear in the ordinary person.  Yet global wealth or GDP is projected to rise high enough to meet the global cost to reduce carbon emissions. Expected world economic growth is, however, much smaller than the cost of inaction.

The health and quality of life of people should be the main concern of government, business and ordinary citizens.  In the United States, the annual estimated damage just from air pollution is around $200 billion.

The target to reverse climate change is quite high.  Carbon emissions must be reduced by 50 to 85 percent by 2050.

We all have our share to hit this target.  We must map out scenarios to shift away from activities that adversely affect the climate and still grow our economies.  We must enforce emission quotas and trading to make it more expensive to emit carbon dioxide.  We must develop and share alternative sources of energy. Our school system must educate the youth well on sustainability.

Our super star climate change tells us now that sustainable development is not just our use of the world’s resources without depriving future generations of the same resources.  We are being told by climate change this sobering reality:  the future is now.

The author is the Principal Architect of A.P de Jesus & Associates – Green Architecture  and Vice-Chairman and COO of the Philippine Green Building Initiative. For comments or inquiries, email [email protected]

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