A different approach to serving sustainability
Sustainability means much more than simply putting three dimensions – social, environmental and economic – together. It requires to re-evaluating our relations to the environment, society and economy at the same time.
Increasing human well-being should be the ultimate aim of any kind of development, which in its complexity demands a wide array of public policies that create both the material and non-material conditions for human well-being. Economy is an important tool for creating these conditions. Instead of economic growth, its objectives should be economic stability and decreasing socio-economic inequalities within the society.
Natural environment already provides us with the necessities for all economic and societal processes: ecosystem services. Natural resources, like water, soil, air, or biomass are used in the economic production, and are renewed and maintained by ecosystem services. The flow of these ecosystem services is provided by the natural capital, one type of capital that is being degraded on global level at an alarming speed.
Are we getting there?
Sustainability is clearly not a static state to be achieved by the society. Instead, it means that we are able to successfully adapt to the ever-changing natural, economic and societal environment, while increasing human well-being without undermining the environmental preconditions.
Today, our societies are far from accomplishing this. While we need to acknowledge social progress in various fields in many countries, at the same time serious social challenges, such as growing inequalities within and among countries, continue to persist. Also we need to recognize that progress is now happening on the expense of the natural environment. We do not have real-life examples of economies which have managed to stop environmental degradation, while being able to ensure growing human well-being. In Europe we see countries which do have considerable successes in fighting pollution and some successes in fighting biodiversity loss within their borders, but are continuing to cause serious negative environmental impact in other countries through their consumption of imported goods and services. This is worrying, as it seems that we have not been able to achieve the necessary systemic change in our economies and societies yet – we only managed to outsource some environmental degradation to other countries.
Making some practical steps to the good direction
Changing how citizens, politicians or businesses think and make decisions is not easy. We probably cannot transform our society overnight, or at least not without a major ecological and economic breakdown that would force swift transformative changes on global level. However, we need to make firm steps and apply no regret options to prevent the further escalation of multiple crises, which are interlinked on several scales – from climate change and forced mass migration, through unemployment and the unsustainable use of natural resources replacing human labour, to growing inequalities correlating with low mental health, imprisonment or consumerism.
We need to limit and drastically reduce the input to the society in terms of natural resource use and the use of land. Both of them are limited, and their overuse through the degradation of ecosystem services threatens the mere existence of the human population even at its current size.
We need to link economic processes into cycles and replace the currently prevailing linear business model. This does not only imply reducing waste, but also linking various sectors and services together to increase resource and energy efficiency at macroeconomic scale.
We need to replace outdated infrastructure with innovative, new infrastructures, e.g. green infrastructure, which can better serve the people with much less environmental harm. Contrary to the current practice it does not only require achieving higher efficiency, but also being able to bring down consumption and environmental impact in absolute terms.
We need to increase social cohesion, cooperation, and innovation. We need to strengthen and better build on European values to deliver common objectives.
We need to rethink how we spend public money. National and EU budgets must serve the above mentioned aims, and they must deliver measurable positive social and environmental impacts.
Why does CEEweb work on sustainability?
CEEweb strives for the conservation of biodiversity through the promotion of sustainable development. We are convinced that biodiversity decline can be only stopped if environmental and development issues are approached in a holistic way. Thus we aim to base all our activities on sustainability principles, and discover the linkages among the drivers, pressures, responses and the state of environment. As environmental pressures can be threefold: resource use, land use and pollution (including the spreading of alien genotypes, like invasive alien species or GMOs), we work on holistic policy responses, which can effectively regulate all these three types of pressures through changing the drivers behind them.
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