2016 is CISV’s year for Sustainable Development. Throughout the year, we will bring you ideas, discussion pieces, materials and resources to help you to explore, educate on, and take action toward Sustainable Development in your Chapter or Programme.
Everyone is discussing Sustainable Development. Corporations have their own ideas and practices on sustainability, countries signed the Sustainable Development Goals in the United Nations, and individuals challenge current norms of consumption and living all over the world. Looking at this situation, you could almost imagine it’s always been this way and that it is a natural development. In one way it is; Sustainable Development is a response to many challenges we face, including climate change, poverty, over-consumption, harm to the natural environment, and polluted urban environments that make us sick and depressed. However, what was to be included when discussing Sustainable Development, has been problematic for decades and remains so today.
So how did we get here? The idea of the environment playing an important and beneficial role in the lives of humans is a very old one. But concern for the environment didn’t become a concern for mainstream politics until the 1960s, when authors such as Rachel Carson started to question the impact that developing countries had and have on the planet. As time passed the devastating impact economic development has had on the environment became clearer. In the beginning of the 1980s, the United Nations set up the Brundtland commission, to focus on development and environment problems. Its final report, Our Common Future, brought a clearer understanding to the main ideas behind Sustainable Development as we know it today; with the three pillars: Social Development, Economic Development, and Environmental Stability.
This idea of Sustainable Development successfully brought together the older idea of economic growth, with the newer idea of environmental protection. The social aspect has often felt a little bit neglected and to this day, there is no internationally recognized definition of social sustainability (or, at least not when I studied the subject last year 😉 ) An optimist may say that Sustainable Development built cooperation between groups concerned for the environment, and truly moved it into mainstream politics. A more skeptical person may, however, say that in doing so, more radical opinions against modern day society were not heard. Some movements, that would not completely approve the commonly accepted version of Sustainable Development, are for example the ‘Zero growth’ and ‘Degrowth’ movements. Their argument points out that economic growth is still at the center of Sustainable Development, and that the environment may not be able to cope with further economic growth.
Yet it is still difficult to identify one single meaning for Sustainable Development… The UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) might seem to unite the international community, and be a great success (which of course they are!), but if you investigate and look at the indicators, there is still a lot of debate going on. Sometimes it is more about what is not being said, than what is, with many topics being seen as controversial. For instance, democracy is a term that is not used at all in any of the 17 goals. “Aid for Trade”, however, is promoted as a favoured way of giving aid. Free trade is mentioned numerous times, and preferably achieved through the World Trade Organization, which has been accused of being biased towards developed countries. These different ideas are not by themselves necessarily problematic –aid for trade could be the most effective way of giving aid for all we know. However, joint action might bring better results, than everybody dealing with the issues alone. The greatest success of the SDGs might just be that so many different countries were able to agree on such a massive plan.
With that said it is still important to be aware of what we as individuals, but also as an organization agree to. To be able to answer the question “Can and should CISV internalize this concept” (no matter which it is), we must uncover, understand and debate the basis and underlying conceptions or ideas. Hopefully, this text can help spark that important process.
By Anton Ruus
The Sustainable Development Team includes members of CISV’s Educational Programmes Committee, Kompaz Project, International Junior Branch Team, Communications Team, and the International Office. Our team coordinator is Madeleine Le Bourdon.