Call to link sustainability with post-2015 development goals

Bobby Ramakant, CNS Special Correspondent
Ashish Kothari, Kalpavriksh
One of the drawbacks of millennium development goals (MDGs) which countries aspired to meet by 2015 was that sustainability was missing. There was no sustainability indicator in place to assess development in MDG framework. With intense rounds of post-2015 Strategic Development Goals (SDGs) going on around the world, one positive sign is that sustainability is getting increasing attention in development discourses.

Ashish Kothari, a noted environmentalist with Kalpavriksh, and Chair of Greenpeace India board, said at a consultative debate on ‘Nationalizing SDGs’ that there is no indication of India being on target to meet MDG 7 (environment sustainability). He said that linkages between MDG 7 and other MDGs were weakly developed and at times were contradictory with no sustainability indicators factored in. He said that there were signs of hope from the government too to link sustainability with development. Economic Survey 2013 report of Finance Ministry of the Government of India also called for linking sustainability with development goals in post-2015 framework. In the 12th Five Year Plan of the Planning Commission (2012-2017) there was more emphasis on sustainability than in any previous five year plans. However this optimism might be short lived as the current ruling BJP-led government in India has decided to do away with Planning Commission and news reports state that it might be replaced by 8-member Think Tank team which will also include industry.

Ashish was addressing participants of a consultative debate organized in Delhi on 21-22 August 2014 by a range of organizations and networks such as Third World Network (TWN), PAIRVI, Beyond Copenhagen, Cecoedecon, Family Planning Association of India (FPAI), International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE), South Asian Dialogues on Ecological Democracy (SADED), IBON International, LANDESA, among others.

Ashish Kothari, who has also been associated with Narmada Bachao Andolan in the past, insisted that there are several states that are experimenting with alternatives such as organic farming, rural livelihoods, renewable energy, decentralized governance, and other such initiatives. There are signs of hope coming from civil society as well, said Ashish, as resistance to destructive development is intensifying. Also civil society is increasingly adopting practical alternatives for food, water, livelihood/ employment, markets, education, health, governance, and empowerment.

Ashish called for safeguarding integrity of nature. Conservation of nature for its own sake and for continued benefits we get from nature is central to our lives. All human activities need to build-in for elements of ecological sustainability, emphasized Ashish.

Ashish called for a sustainable way to fulfill basic needs of every human being. Water, food, air, unpolluted air, safe sound levels, safe adequate sustainable shelter/ housing to all must be made available by utilizing community-based locally available appropriate methods.

Speaking about energy security for all, Ashish said that we need to increase efficiency, reduce wastage, regulate demand, and opt for new energy production methods that are decentralized and renewable. Likewise for adequate sanitation facilities for all, Ashish called for fully utilizing sustainable and locally manageable methods.

Enhancing existing natural resource based livelihoods (forest-based, fisheries, pastoralism, agriculture, crafts, etc), that are ecologically sustainable is a top priority. This step will also attempt to replace unsustainable, unsafe and undignified livelihoods in all sectors with dignified ‘green jobs’. That is why Ashish called for increasing investment in livelihoods related to ecological regeneration and restoration in degraded areas.

There are reports to indicate that possibility of livelihood increases when we move from private transportation to public, unclean energy to clean energy, chemical farming to organic farming, said Ashish.

Ashish called for adopting sustainable production processes related to agriculture, fisheries, mining, and industries. We need to ensure ‘extended producer responsibility’ for sustainability, from raw materials to disposal recycling reuse, said Ashish.

Uptake of organic farming is lower than chemical farming because huge subsidies were doled out to promote chemical fertilizer. In 2008-2009, Government doled out INR 100,000 crore subsidy for chemical fertilizers. Such unsustainable and destructive practices need to be checked.

There is a need to curb unsustainable consumption including aggressive advertising. Most importantly Ashish argued when government is fixing below poverty line (BPL) then it should also fix ‘above consumption line’. There is a dire need to reduce the gap between incomes of rich and the poor which exacerbates inequalities in our society. Income level is also connected to consumption level, rightly argued Ashish.

“We must move towards a zero waste society” said Ashish. He called for caution when ‘used goods’ come from rich nations which is often garbage. Governments and other sectors must encourage technologies that are sustainable in the longer run.

The manner in which India’s infrastructure has come up over the years is unsustainable. For example instead of strengthening public transport system, private transport system got aggressively marketed in India. Such patterns need to be reverted for sustainable model of development and all new infrastructure must be built on principles of ecological sustainability.

We need to ensure healthcare services focus on preventing ill-health due to environmental degradation and ecologically sound curative practices (including indigenous knowledge). There are a range of widely rampant aggressive marketing of lifestyles that brew illnesses. Not only corporations need to be regulated and held accountable but also healthy and sustainable lifestyles for our own well beings be promoted.

We need to develop macroeconomic theories and concepts that respect ecological limits and socioeconomic equity. Reorienting financial measures (taxation, subsidies, fiscal incentives and disincentives); evolving (through decentralized processes) a long term national land and water use plan; ensuring socioeconomic planning is based on ecological linkages and boundaries (including at landscape levels cutting across political boundaries); developing or using set of sustainable human wellbeing indicators, to replace the current GDP and economic growth related indicators; are some of the action points to be looked in context of post-2015 development agenda.

Ashish called for moving towards participatory democracy so that governance emanates upwards from smallest rural and urban settlements.

Way forward
This consultative debate organized by civil society organizations and networks has resulted in commitments to organize similar regional and state level consultative debates around post-2015 development agenda bringing together cross-sectoral civil society leaders on the frontlines as well as parliamentarians. A parliamentarians' meet on development agenda and their interaction with civil society members is also likely to be organized soon.

Bobby Ramakant, Citizen News Service - CNS
24 August 2014