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A practical guide to sustainable practices

Why sustainability is one of the largest issues facing the planet today

Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Sustainability Week 2013 is welcoming more than 30,000 participants from 150 countries, according to organisers, comprising “thought leaders, decision makers, experts, scientists, business leaders and academics” who are discussing this week ways to find a sustainable way forward for the entire planet.

Some of the issues being tackled this week in Abu Dhabi include energy, water, renewable energy and sustainable economic practices that are workable without depleting the environment for future generations.

Gulf News takes a brief look at why sustainability is one of the largest issues facing the planet today.

1. What is sustainability?

According to the United Nations, “the demand for diminishing natural resources is growing. Income gaps are widening. Sustainability calls for a decent standard of living for everyone today without compromising the needs of future generations.”

2. Why should the average person care about a sustainable future?

The UN reports that “sustainability is inextricably linked to basic questions of equity — that is, fairness, social justice and greater access to a better quality of life.” Future sustainable economic and political growth is needed “to slow climate change, prevent further degradation and reduce inequalities as environmental degradation deterioration threatens to reverse recent progress in human development for the world’s poorest.”

3. But isn’t the high cost of adopting green practices hurtful to the business community?

According to the UN Environment Programme’s Green Economy Report, “in a transition to a green economy, new jobs will be created which over time exceed the losses in ‘brown economy’ jobs, particularly in the agriculture, buildings, energy, forestry and transport sectors.” 

4. Are there hard numbers to support the view that green economy spin-offs will offset traditional long-standing business practices?

The United Nations, once again, noted that the “move towards a green economy is happening on a scale and art a speed never seen before. For 2010, new investments in clean energy were expected to reach a record high of $180-200 billion, up from $162 billion in 2009.” 

5. How urgent is the danger that the world is using more of its natural resources than the world can sustain?

The UN’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability said in its 2012 report “Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing” that as the world’s population grows, so does the challenge of remaining sustainable. 

6. How does population affect the plausibility of sustainability measures protecting natural resources for future generations?

The UN sustainability report stated that as “the global population grows from seven billion to almost nine billion by 2040, and the number of middle-class consumers increases by three billion over the next 20 years, the demand for resources will rise exponentially.” 

7. Are there any estimates as to how much demand will increase by a ballooning population?

The UN report points out that, “By 2030, the world will need at least 50 per cent more food, 45 per cent more energy and 30 per cent more water, all at a time when environmental boundaries are throwing up new limits to supply. This is truye not least for climate changes, which affects all aspects of human and planetary health.” 

8. What does expert analysis suggest will happen if the world’s collective political will cannot be mustered into a singular applicable view of sustainability on a global scale?

“Indeed, if we fail to resolve the sustainable development dilemma, we run the risk of condemning up to three billion members of our human family to a life of endemic poverty,” asserts the United Nations in its sustainability report. 

9. Are there any recommendations as to the best next steps forward for governments, businesses and societies in order to reach tangible progress on sustainability?

The UN Panel on sustainability thinks so and in January of 2012 made a series of recommendations to countries around the world including a unified embracing of “a new nexus between food, water and energy rather than treating them in different silos. All three need to be fully created, not treated separately if we are to deal with the global food security crisis.” 

10. Do consumers need to be better educated as to the environmental footprint or overall total ecological cost of the growth or manufacturing of consumer goods such as clothes and appliances or services such as water and electricity?

A. “Most goods and services sold today fail to bear the full environmental and social cost of production and consumption. Based on the science, we need to reach consensus, over time, on the methodologies to price them properly. Costing environmental externalities could open new opportunities for green growth and green jobs.”