Our knowledge of the natural world has raced far ahead of our wisdom in using it. As a result, we are razing our forests, grinding down our mountains, siphoning off our rivers, paving our plains, modifying our climate, polluting our air and tainting our blood. We are producing, in other words, a world that none of us wants.
The main challenge we are facing in the 21st century is one of scale. There are four times as many human beings on the planet as there were a century ago, and the world economy is 36 times bigger. This growth has allowed advances in living standards that our predecessors could only have dreamed of, but it has also undermined natural systems in ways they could not have imagined.
Satisfying the projected needs of a constantly growing world population with the economy we currently have is clearly not possible.
The economic model in place in the West — based on fossil fuels, motor vehicles and disposable goods — may have dramatically raised living standards for part of the human population over the last century, but its weaknesses are now beginning to show. Indeed, the global economy cannot expand indefinitely as the ecosystems on which it depends continue to deteriorate.
If the Western model were to become the global model, and if the world’s population reaches 10 billion during the next century as the United Nations projects, the effects would be shocking:
contrast to lifestyles that lead to over-consumption, crisis, disaster
and instability, scientists have proposed the concept of sustainable development. The term was introduced in
1987 in Our Common Future, a report by the World Commission on
Environment and Development, chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland. The main
idea is to improve the lives of people living today
without compromising the quality of life of future generations. In
simple terms, we need to live and use the planet’s natural and biological resources so
that our children and future generations can inherit a planet that
has not been irreversibly compromised. The three pillars of sustainable development include economic growth, environmental protection and social equality.
The economy can be maintained in the long term only if it satisfies the principles of sustainability:
The new economic model is based on a new design principle involving a shift from the one-time depletion of natural resources to dependence on renewable energy and the continual re-use and recycling of materials. It is a model that promotes solar power, more sustainable transport modes such as bicycle and rail, and the rational and efficient use of energy, water, land and materials.
The main sustainable development challenges are outlined below:Population – In 2011, the population of the Earth reached 7 billion but is expected to level out at between 10 and 11 billion over the next 50 years. Basic challenges related to population growth will be shortages of drinking water and arable land for food production. Poverty and inequality – Almost 25 percent of the world’s population are living on less than USD 1 per day. Because inequality continues to be a serious obstacle to sustainable development, the Johannesburg Summit (2002) resulted in a pledge to halve this proportion by 2015, and to halve the number of people suffering from malnourishment.
Food and agriculture – Increased food consumption over the past 30 years may have contributed to lower food prices, but arable land is limited in many regions of the world and the creation of new areas suitable for food production destroys ecosystems. In the future, food should not be produced at the expense of nature, and the current pace of biodiversity loss must be significantly slowed.
Drinking water – The shortage of drinking water in many regions of the world is a major barrier to sustainable development. It is expected that, at the current rate of development, every second person will suffer from a shortage of water by the year 2025. A pledge was made at the Johannesburg Summit to halve the number of people without access to clean water for drinking and basic sanitation by 2015.
Human health – In many cases, deaths in developing countries are avoidable. Humankind should direct greater attention and resources in the coming years to the struggle against diseases. The imminent task is to reduce the mortality rate among children under five years of age by two-thirds and the maternal mortality rate by three-quarters by 2015.
Energy – The consumption of all forms of energy is rising continuously. Improved access to reliable, sustainable and environmentally friendly energy sources and services and the creation of national energy efficiency programmes are essential over the next 10 to 15 years.
Forests – The world’s forests are disappearing, mainly due to the expansion of agriculture. In the coming years, forest recovery and management will be of the utmost importance.
Climate change – Petrol consumption is constantly rising. Participants at the Johannesburg Summit emphasised the need to ensure the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol and to embark on the required reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in developed countries.
Environment and security – Conflicts over natural resources and environmental pollution lead to instability. Addressing environmental problems could be a first step in the general quest for solutions to conflicts.
The successful application of the concept of sustainable development requires:
In this context, educators have a specific role in teaching both children and adults about the environment — how it functions, how they depend on it and how they affect it. Children are particularly receptive to such lessons, and the seeds of understanding planted now will produce responsible citizens in the coming generation.
One of the aims of education is to give people the tools they need to become caring and concerned citizens. Teaching students about the environment extends this understanding of citizenship to encompass their responsibilities as inhabitants of the Earth.
At the heart of the National Strategy for Sustainable Development of the Republic of Belarus is a people/environment/economy triad, in which socially inclusive, economically efficient and environmentally friendly development are seen as complementary elements contributing towards the overall goal of meeting the needs of present and future generations.
The strategy outlines a long-term programme for the gradual transition to sustainable development, defining specific areas for reform, measures to achieve strategic objectives, necessary resources and mechanisms, and appropriate management and coordination activities at local, regional, national and international levels.
In keeping with the principles of sustainable development, by 2020 Belarus aims to:
The most important short-term social and economic imperatives for Belarus are to:
The environmental component of the National Strategy for Sustainable Development involves:
These environmental objectives are based on the following principles:
The following non-governmental and civil society organisations are working in the field of sustainable development in Belarus: