05 June 2014
Category : Opinion
5th June: World Environment Day
Today, 5th June, on the occasion of World Environment Day, Anna Pons, Project Officer in the FIIAPP's Department of Economic Development and Environment, talks to us in this post about the challenges of the future for achieving sustainable development.
On a day like today, exactly 42 years ago, the first United Nations conference dedicated exclusively to the environment was held in Stockholm. In this pioneering “Earth Summit”, the international environmental agenda was launched and, for the first time, beyond highlighting the value of nature, a warning was sent out regarding human action: “Through ignorance or indifference we can do massive and irreversible harm to the earthly environment on which our life and well being depend.” It was also there that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was created and 5th June was declared World Environment Day to raise awareness in the world’s population and to incentivize political action at all levels.
From 1972 to today, this environmental agenda has grown, gaining momentum with the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, where three of the most important environmental conventions were approved: the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. It was also there that the United Nations formally adopted the principle of sustainable development, which is defined as: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. This definition made two aspects clear: the existence of a direct link between the environment and development, and the vulnerability of developing countries in the management of natural resources.
It was after this summit that social and political concerns about environmental threats really started to grow, and little by little they are being incorporated transversally into the sectoral public agendas of international bodies. Thus, the environment is becoming intertwined with health, security, industry, transport, energy, migration, etc.
Nevertheless, despite the progress made in political agendas, the summits and the new objective oriented towards “sustainable development”, in this same time period the world’s population has grown exponentially—to 7.2 billion people today—at the same time as strong economic development has taken place in the most advanced countries. The combination of these two factors meant, and continues to mean, intense pressure on natural resources to the point where it is clear at a scientific level that the planet’s limits are being exceeded. We consume more than the Earth can replace naturally, and we produce more waste than we can dispose of.
This has given rise to a series of environmental imbalances with enormous repercussions, with climate change—whose effects are already visible—being one of the most important. Nevertheless, other imbalances such as the overuse of water resources, ocean acidification, chemical pollution, deforestation and loss of biodiversity are also enormous global challenges. In addition, because of the pace at which species are disappearing from the planet, we are considered to be facing the sixth largest extinction of biodiversity in the history of the Earth.
Developing countries are the most affected by environmental problems. On the one hand, they depend on natural resources for subsistence, directly or indirectly, and, on the other, they have fewer financial and technical resources with which to confront these difficulties. Therefore, when the latest Earth Summit—“Rio +20—was held in 2012, the final declaration entitled “The Future We Want” made it abundantly clear that “progress has been insufficient”, that urgent measures are necessary, and that these challenges can only be addressed through coordinated global action at a national, regional and local level, with the commitment of all social stakeholders being essential: government, the private sector, civil society, scientists, academics, etc. The call to action is directed both at developing and developed countries, while maintaining the principle of “Common but Differentiated Responsibility”.
The international debate on the new Post-2015 Development Agenda is based on the Rio+20 declaration, the preamble of which states that “the eradication of poverty is the greatest challenge confronting the world today and an essential condition for achieving sustainable development”. Therefore, to prepare this agenda, the Millennium Goals are being improved and reorganized into 10 Objectives for Sustainable Development. These will be the model towards which all countries should direct their efforts starting in 2015. Under this new framework, and based on respect for Human Rights, there are four essential dimensions: (i) inclusive development, (ii) inclusive economic development , (iii) environmental sustainability and (iv) good governance (peace and security).
International Cooperationand the FIIAPP, as a prominent actor, therefore have a key role in this new system and in supporting developing countries as they confront environmental challenges and accompanying them as they move towards more sustainable development. Nevertheless, the most advanced countries, in addition to facilitating and promoting the transfer of efficient technologies and the exchange of knowledge and best practices, must also become references in shifting consumption and production patterns to more sustainable models.
Lastly, today being World Environment Day, I didn’t want to end this post without appealing to each of us as inhabitants of the planet. The vast majority of our actions have an impact on the environment: our consumption habits, the transportation we use, which foods we buy and how we educate our children are just a few examples. Everything has an impact in some way or other on natural resources, and therefore no effort is superfluous.
“Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man.
And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable. And we believe they can do it again.”
John F. Kennedy
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