Filed under: Climate change Development Environment Social inclusion

With a team of experts from the United Nations Development Group, we’re in Bratislava planning how to engage governments in Europe and Central Asia in the run up to the global sustainable development conference next year (a.k.a. Rio+20). Rio will take the debate on environmental sustainability forward by looking at fundamental global questions about the earth’s resources – game changers for development.

These questions are well formulated by a Communication that the European Commission issued yesterday: “Twenty years after the Rio Summit, the world is still facing two major and interlinked challenges: meeting the demands for better lives for a global population set to grow by over a third by 2050, and addressing environmental pressures that if not tackled, will undermine the world’s ability to meet those demands.”

Where does Europe and Central Asia land in this global debate? What is the region’s story related to a “green economy” and the larger goal of sustainable development? This is what the United Nations system in the region will focus on for the next year, identifying policy recommendations to put us all on a path where future generations will also have the opportunity for a good quality of life.

At first glance, the picture looks like this: human development is relatively high in Europe and Central Asia, but it isn’t sustainable. In pursuit of advancing human welfare, we are not using what we have efficiently and, ultimately, we are using more than the earth has to offer.

HDI vs ecological footprint in Europe and Central Asia

Higher levels of human development also mean a deeper ecological footprint? (image courtesy of UNECE)

We’re looking for ways to avoid over consumption, without compromising human development.

Sustainable development is not only about climate change, and it is not only about the environment. It’s about redefining development to consider resource constraints and look beyond income and GDP growth. It’s about changing our production and consumption patterns. And it’s about working across many sectors, with business and civil society.

Talking about sustainability means focusing on people. Who is most hurt by the status quo in terms of carbon emissions and resource consumption? How will exploding populations on the move affect the planet? How can countries promote well being of their current citizens while also saving something for generations to come?  Our goal after all is sustainable human development. (Andrey Ivanov’s Ted Talk is a great articulation of what we mean by sustainable human development.)

Our job at the United Nations is to help governments analyze and address global challenges and to support their concrete responses and solutions. The group of United Nations experts gathered in Bratislava recognizes that governments in Europe and Central Asia need sophisticated and coherent advice. We also know that there is no silver bullet policy to transform an economy towards inclusive growth in a way that is sustainable over the very long term. Every policy approach has its trade offs. As we plan our approach, we promise to give governments advice which takes into account the trade offs between economic growth, environmental sustainability and social issues. We will not dictate an approach, but plan to offer governments options.

We hope to find real life examples. How do governments in the real world take this ambitious agenda forward? Switzerland has a promising approach to measuring progress on sustainable development. The UK National Health Service has a sustainable development strategy. South Korea is implementing its green economy strategy. This is just a start to our search for real world examples of policy approaches.

Calling for your input: Do you have any good examples on what a green economy and sustainable development means in practice, or thoughts on what this might mean for Europe and Central Asia?