Sustainability + Development

As someone who is keenly interested in environmental issues, I’ve often found it challenging to consider sustainability’s role within the larger development context. Global health, water resource management, information technology, and energy diversification are obvious choices when looking at proven methods for addressing poverty. But when we introduce the environment into the equation, the game seems to change. People versus the planet. One versus the other.

In reality, it isn’t a zero sum game and sustainability should be incorporated in international development. Just look at the UN Millenium Development Goals -the environment also has its place at the table, and it’s not at the consequence of human issues.

It reminds me of a conversation I had when I was volunteering at Oxfam America. There, one of the staff members described Oxfam’s approach to climate change. For Oxfam, climate change wasn’t really about the environment. It was about the people that were most affected by climate change, like subsistence farmers in Africa, who relied on the rain to fuel their crops.  Global warming and the lack of rains made it impossible for these farmers to harvest a bountiful crop.  These types of environmental problems, namely the aftereffects, were the main concern of Oxfam.

In a similar vein, I recently came across a report from the UN Environment Programme about SCP.  SCP, or sustainable patterns of consumption and production, are indicators that measure progress for what our society should look like.  As countries begin to lift themselves out of poverty, we need to question our own levels of consumerism, as well as what is sustainable for these other nations.  Read the full UNEP SCP report here.

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