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Obstacles To Achieving Sustainable Development

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 5044 words Published: 24th Apr 2017

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There is no definite interpretation of sustainable development. Many scholars agree that the term sustainability is a very general concept and has too many interpretations (Saadatan et al. 2010) ‘ the meaning of sustainable development often appears unclear and accordingly underdetermined ambiguous and controversial (Parris and Kates 2003; Robinson 2004; Williams and Millington 2004; Fergus and Rowney 2005, Kates et al, 2005; ) ac cited in (Wuelser et al., 2012) . The term sustainability however originally crops from the ecological field. It was used to refer to an ecosystems’ potential for subsisting over time with almost no alteration. Later, the term development was introduced. This changed the view from just an environmental one but from that of a society and capital economy (Reboratti, 1999 pp 207-209) as cited by(Jabareen, 2008). Sustainable development on the global scene however, was introduced during the Cocoyoc Declaration on environment and development (Redclift, 1987, p.32). This new concept was further expounded by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) in 1987. The Commission produced an extensive report, Our Common Future that is commonly referred to as the Brundtland Report after the chair of the committee. The Brundtland report’s definition of Sustainable development is the one that seems to be commonly referred to in the international arena. It defined sustainable development (SD) as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. It further breaks down SD into two key concepts; concept of needs, in particular needs of the poor and secondly the concept of limitations that focuses on the technology and social factors and their ability to ensure environmental use to meet present and future needs (WCED, p.43). The report also defines development as” a progressive transformation of economy and society (WCED p.43).

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With regard to the Brundtland report’s definition and terminologies, three key aspects come into play, the economy, society and the environment. These three components of sustainable development are interlinked and a balance in the three factions is necessary in order to attain sustainable development. This harmony can only be achieved through equity. Equity as defined by the Oxford dictionary as ‘the quality of being fair or impartial’. In relation to the definition of sustainable development fair distribution is necessary to ensure the present and future generation needs are met. Our Common Future focused on the critical issues of equity and environment and raised the important ethical considerations regarding human environment relationships (Langhelle, 1999)****.

Under the societal bracket, equity across the generations can be divided into two; intergenerational equity and intragenerational equity. The former acknowledges the future generations. It expects equal distribution of resources between present and future generations. It is the fairness of allocation of resources between current and future generations (Jabareen, 2008). Intragenerational equity on the other hand, refers to the distribution of resources between competing factions of the present day. This type of equity mainly addresses the poor in present society. Sustainable development in this umbrella seeks to ensure poverty is abolished and fairness of distribution of the world’s resources to every individual is met. According to the Brundtland report, the prerequisite for addressing intragenerational equity is a fair distribution of economic and social power. It argues that this can be achieved by participation in decision making and democratic processes for enabling participation and suitable governance needs to be established (WCED, 1987 p.43). However, whilst observing these two types of generational equity, it is clear that the intergenerational equity heavily relies on intragenerational equity. If there is no balance in the present age, exploitations are bound to happen, hence the future generations will be left with little or no capital stock. Therefore, it is essential that the present needs are met by sustainable development practices in order to ensure that the future generations’ needs are also met.

Society cannot live without natural capital. The two factions are interconnected and a balance between the two is essential for attainment of sustainable development. Environmental integrity ensures that the natural stock is well managed so as to meet the needs of future generations. Environmental integrity is the management of natural capital stock so as to ensure future generation access to the same ecosystems. Jabareen (2008) further expounds that the ethical concepts under this umbrella fall into two extreme groups; the domination of nature and the intrinsic rights of nature. The former is represented by the doctrines of light ecology and the latter is governed by doctrines of deep ecology. However, regardless of which doctrine, one key issue is addressed, the sustainability of the natural resources. Natural resource should remain constant over time. Pearce and Turner (1994, p.44) explain that this stock should not decrease in order to avoid endangering the opportunities of the future generations ability to generate wealth and well being. This concept commonly known as strong sustainability, seems utopic and frankly highly impossible. The environmental damage has already occurred sustainable development as a strategy is to ensure that what is left and that which is untapped stays intact for future generations to come.

The correlation of the three pillars of sustainable development- economic growth, society and the environment seeks to achieve balance under this paradigm. Economic growth under this new discourse is expected to address both environmental and social integrity. Before the concept of sustainable development was formulated, economic growth was perhaps the only driving force of international world. Economic growth in the 20th century has been nothing but destructive. Nevertheless, under the new discourse, it is expected under its objectives not only to achieve economic growth, but also alleviate societal injustices and environmental justice to be adhered to. Poverty alleviation is mandatory under the new framework of economic achievements. As Dodds (2000, pp28-29), argues that ‘poverty and the environmental degradation are interlocking global crisis and that we do not face the choice between environment and development but rather challenge to find ways to integrate the two aspects’.

Sustainable development as with any new strategy or concept is not short of criticism. Some critics and analysts assert that it is difficult to classify SD as a globalizing force because it falls between fragmentation and integration (Sneddon et. al.2006). Redclift a famous critic of this new discourse argues that it remains unlikely that the developed countries (even developing countries) will put into action these measures. Proponents on the other hand argue, that albeit the process is occurring at a slothful pace, it has been applied extensively around the world and there are some success stories currently taking place both in the Northern and Southern nations. (Sneddon et. al.2006). argues that burgeoning levels of consumption, enhanced levels of ecological degradation, a growing public mistrust of science and vast inequalities in economic opportunities is to blame. Nevertheless, it is clear that sustainable development has yet to be achieved and in actual retrospect, unsustainable development is winning currently. Perhaps the reason why the process has been ineffective is due to constant change experienced at environmental, social and economic levels in the modern world. However, the process of sustainable development is still important and support in the international community is evident. However, the process is faced by threats from its greatest enemy, a function of neoliberalism, globalization.

One of the major obstacles to achieving sustainable development is globalization. Globalization is perhaps the grandest form of obstacle towards SD. This can be owed to the fact that it affects the three pillars of sustainable development; economic growth, social equity and environmental integrity. The precise definition of globalization is not known. Globalization as a term remains elusive (Castells, 1996: Mclauhan, 1962, Van Dijik, 1991; Gigoux and Samson, 2009) .Paehlke (n.d) describes it as “simultaneous expansion of international investment and trade, the integration of social, cultural and economic activities and the acceleration of the international community, travel and personal interaction. However, Robinson (2007:125) cited in (Gigoux and Samson ,2009) summarizes the characteristics of globalization as ; a globalized economy involving new systems of production, finance and consumption and world economic integration. New transnational or global cultural patterns, practices and flows, and the idea of global cultures ,global political process, the rise of new transnational institutions and concomitantly, the spread of global governance and the authority structures of diverse sorts ,unprecedented multidirectional movements of peoples around the world involving new patterns of transnational migration identities and communities and finally new social hierarchies forms of inequalities and relations of domination around the world. From these characteristics globalization is depicted as an international layout that involves integration of systems. Globalization seems unstoppable and is now commonly referred commonly as the new world order.

This new paradigm as previously mentioned affects economic social and environmental factors of sustainable development. Proponents of the globalization paradigm see it as a new discourse to achieving social, economic and environmental equity. Dasgupta (2007) asserts that globalization emphasizes the potential of capital accumulation and technological improvements to compensate for environmental degradation. The Brundtland report actually encouraged the internationalization of the three pillars of development. This is probably why globalization has still been accepted as a possible strategy to achieving sustainable development. Contradicting this theory is the current situation occurring globally, the spread of globalization has been unstoppable. It has left in its wake more demerits than merits that have adversely affected sustainable development.

Globalization can be said to be biased towards achieving economic growth. The Brundtland report stressed the need for equity in order to achieve sustainable development. The three pillars of sustainable development are highly interlinked. If one is to be encouraged more than the other, imbalance in the system is likely to occur. As Robinson described one of the characteristics of globalization as a new hierarchal form of inequality, it is in this light that we attribute the challenges of sustainable development under the globalization bracket.

Globalization has its main objective as economic growth. In an ideal sustainable world, achievement of economic growth should go hand in hand with societal equity and environmental integrity. However, the situation currently being experienced around the globe is one where economic growth has taken precedence. The result is a society that is experiencing the worst forms of inequality. Globalization has opened the markets making it a free global market. Liberation of trade has led to an increase in employment opportunities in most industrialized countries. This has led to a wave of labour migration to occur. Most of these migrant workers come from developing countries. Throughout history, migration has been a courageous expression of the individual’s will to overcome adversity and to live a better life (Zollinger, 2007). However, globalization has led to the highest number of labour migrants in history. According to the International Labour Office (ILO,2007) an estimated 191 million workers were migrants. In addition, 81 million together with their families accounted for 90% of the international migrants. Globalization has led to a decrease in the regulation of the labour market, growth in the informal sector and a new form of exploitation (Financial Express 2006). This has led to the re introduction of the term, precarious work to be used especially in the neoliberal regime (Munck, 2010). Discrimination against women has also been observed during the process. Female labourers are exploited in terms of work, pay hours and contracts. The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) states that demand for female migrants results from a number of global forces in which gender roles and sex discrimination are intertwined with globalization (Financial Express,2006). The vast number of labour migrations taking place led to the development of international legal frameworks such as….. that cater to the . surprisingly, labour movement are also supporting the rights of migrant workers. Munck (2010) attributes this to the fact that this has provided the trade unions with a new platform for revitalization after the long neoliberal onslaught.

Another negative impact due to globalization that stands out greatly is inequality in income. This has occurred in two forms; international inequality and intranational inequality. The former refers to the difference income levels of citizens of different states. The latter refers to the disparities between individuals of the same state. International income inequality is mainly due to lower economic growth and faster population growth in developing countries than OECD countries (Wade, 2001) as cited in (Borghesi and Vercelli, 2006). Data released by the World bank in 2007 showed that people living on less than a dollar decreased from 1.25billion to 1 billion (World Bank ,2007). However in regions such as the sub-Saharan Africa, the poor increased by 60 million (Zollinger, 2007). The UNDP (2007) stresses this aspect further by stating, the Champaign effect’ if the world was one country, 201% of the world population would have more than three quarters of worldwide income, while the poorest 40% would have 5%. An American citizen in 1990 was thirty eight times richer than an inhabitant in Tanzania. This has increased by sixty one times today. (UNDP, 2006). The inequalities between countries according to Lindhert and Williamson (2001) in Borghesi and Vercelli (2006) argue that, those countries that participated in the globalization discourse experienced growth and at the same time opened up their borders to inequality through liberation of markets and following autarkic policies. They further assert that countries excluded or isolated from this process lag behind while those who participate in it join the what they refer to as ” convergence club”. Their thoughts perhaps reflect what Brundtland Commission had predicted ‘asymmetry in international economic relations compounds imbalance as developing nations are generally influenced -by I but unable to influence international conditions (WCED,1987, p.67). Intranational inequality has also increased over the years especially in developed countries such as Great Britain and the USA. The number of working poor is increasing at an alarming rate in the industrialized countries. The working class seems to be short changed by the globalization paradigm. Take the case of an American manager, his/her income has increased in the past 20 years from being fourty times higher as the average income to one hundred and ten times. This can be attributed to the different access to globalization between these two factions. Therefore, it can be said that globalization albeit promoting one pillar of sustainable development, i.e. economic growth has led to serious disparities in the social world with high levels of inequality and increase in poverty especially in the developing countries.

Sustainable development requires the prudent use of natural resources in order to ensure that future generations enjoy the same access to nature as the present generation. The intrinsic relation between the environment and economic growth together with social factors has led to disastrous changes in the environment. of the three pillars of sustainable development, this is perhaps the worst hit in present day. The consequences of environmental degradation has led to social and political discourse that is least to say wanting. A major function on of globalization is industrialization. The internalization of industrialization to the greatest threat on earth currently, global warming. Global is as a result of extensive industrialization. Stiglitz (2007) asserts that there is no issue as global as global warming; everyone shares the same atmosphere. Emissions from industrialized countries such as the USA and China cross boarders and eventually affect the poorest of the countries in the world. Stiglitz expresses his worry using the case of Bangladesh and the Maldives. Bangladesh is a rice growing country. Due to its location, it is vulnerable to sea levels. Global warming will eventually affect sea levels. The country is likely to be submerged. Stiglitz predicts this to be one third of the country. Being a rice growing nation, their source of livelihoods will simply be destroyed and thus and to the total challenge of global poverty. Maldives on the other hand according to predictions its predicament due to global warming is going to occur very soon. This tropical paradise might be completely submerged in the next fifty years.

Natural resources are being exploited at an alarming rate during this period of intense globalization. The destruction of natural resources can only lead to dire consequences on the environment and society as a whole. Natural resources are essential for the lifeline of the planet. Forests are especially important. They are a natural sink for carbon. During this period of increased green house gas emissions, their carbon sequestration is needed to absorb the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However, the demand for land for development has seen industrialized nations transfer their projects to tropical rain forests which are mostly located in developing countries. Take the example of the Amazonian forest. This is the largest rain forest in the world. However, its distraction is occurring at an alarming rate to give way for development of dams, settlers and loggers. Research stipulates that the Amazonian forests vanishing at a rate of 200,000 square miles a year. On the other side of the globe, in Africa, Cameroon’s tropical forest is at risk of multi cooperation exploitation. An example is the Herackles Farm company. It has to date destroyed 72 000 hectares of land. This is for the palm oil project they intend to set up in the region. Palm oil is used to produce biodiesel, a cleaner source of energy to fossil fuel. The destruction of this forest has not only destroyed the landscape of the forest but has also destroyed the migratory paths of the wildlife animals in the tropical forest. Destruction of forests not only affects carbon sequestration, it also affects climatic conditions. Take the case of Kenya, the past ten years has seen the country destroy its major water tower, the Mau forest. This forest has been destroyed mostly to give way to the colonial pressure of land and the government decided to settle people in this forest. What followed is extensive logging in the forest. Microclimatic conditions started occurring following this. The country experienced the worst drought spell in the year 2009. Agriculture was highly affected and hunger followed. The hydroelectric industry and the tea industry were also affected. This being key revenue sources for the nation (Morgan, 2009).

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Still on the case of forest depletion, biodiversity loss must be addressed. Biodiversity is one of them major concerns the Brundtland commission had in Our Common Future. Brail boasts around 55 000 species of flora amounting to some 22% of the world’s total. The Convention on Biodiversity (CBD, 2010) reported that forests account for more than two thirds on net primary production on land and the conversion of solar energy into plant matter. Therefore, a global check to ensure sustainable use of natural resources should be addressed and fast.

The destruction of natural resources has also led to societal pressures. There is an intrinsic connection between man and nature. This intrinsic connection with nature is slowly being destroyed by globalization. The indigenous peoples for example have been shortchanged by globalization. The indigenous peoples of the world live in the most biodiverse areas of the world. This is probably the reason why they have become prime targets of global corporations who have already depleted their natural resources. GAoing back to the Amazon, one will find the Awa tribe. This tribe are hunters and gathers and rely on the rainforest for their source of livelihood. Encroachment of the forest by loggers and new settlers threat their lifestyle. Survival International (2012,a) in one of their films; The World’s Most Threatened Tribe, shows the plight of these people. One tribesman is captures asking why are they doing this to us? If they destroy the forest they destroy us. Extractive industries have also led to loss of biodiversity and added to the plight of the indigenous peoples. According to the UNHCR (2011), extractive industries generated effects that often infringe upon indigenous peoples rights. The Palawan of the Phillipinnes for example are a fighting the nickel mining industry. Mining causes the worst environmental and societal footprints. Mining causes; destruction of landscapes, destruction of agricultural land, sedimentation and erosion soil and water contamination. In a film by the Survival International (2012,b), Palawan Voices from the Last Frontier depicts clearly the plight of these people. A mother is seen worrying about the future generations and how they will manage to experience the forest due to the mining industry. Contamination of their waters has led to diseases that these people who are rarely in contact with others have contracted. With no access to healthcare, they are losing lives. However. Indigenous peoples have managed to fight the tentacles of globalization. Armed with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, they are fighting this global order.

Economic growth leads to an increase in Industrial activities. This leads to an increase in per capita. This eventually leads to an increase in population that has proved to be a crucial factor in environmental degradation. (Borghesi and Vercelli, 2006). The Brundtland report expressed its concerns on the rate of population growth especially in Africa. For example population pressure in Kenya has led to the destruction of conservation of wildlife. Land use favouring agricultural and rural development has led to reduction of wildlife conservation areas leading to extinction of some species. (Okech, n.d).There is a conflict between the wildlife and humans who have encroached their conservancies and reserves. Human encroachment was estimated to be 72% and loss of conservation due to degradation of wildlife migration corridors was said to be 70% (Okech, n.d). The killings of wildlife by the population due to destruction of agricultural crops from animals such as the elephants has led to a conflict in government. The Government is trapped on whether to support the people or support wildlife interests. More often than not it has resulted in favouring the latter, reason? Tourism in Kenya is one of the largest revenue earners of the country.

Still on the issue of wildlife conservation, the opening of borders has enabled an increase in poaching in Kenya. About a hundred elephants are killed in a year in Kenya (BBC, 2013). The free markets have enabled an international market for ivory especially in Asia. Poachers have increased in the country and this is one of the major contentious issues affecting the country currently under globalization.

Another major paradigm brought about by the new era of globalization is security. After the cold war, the world was still in a state of security threats. Globalization has brought about migration of people, spread of knowledge, advanced technologies and extreme climate change all of which bring about strong security implications.

The more traditional type of security threat brought about by political and military actions has become even more stronger with the advancement of technology in the globalized era. In addition, better transport and communication systems have made the transfer of weapons across borders easier and faster. Advanced technologies have also led to development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to spread across the globe. Not only are the super powers such as the US manage to develop these weapons, less developed countries are equipping themselves with these weapons. (Davis, n.d) suggests that strategies need to be developed in order to ensure this security threat is kept intact. He suggests that non proliferation tools such as domestic and international mechanisms for storage and transfer, multilateral export controls, arms control verification and enforcement measures would need to be evaluated. (Davis, n.d).

Apart from the traditional form of security threat, climate change has brought about a new type of threat in the new world order. Climate change can lead to transnational threats that occur due to migration, and extensive competition for resources due to environmental stress. This burden may lead to threat of violence especially in vulnerable states. (Dabelko,2008). Take the case of the Ilemi triangle. This is a region that supports a fragile ecosystem charecterised by the only surviving riparian forest. The Ilemi triangle is shared by several countries, Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia. The pressures of the Gibe III dam and the existing climatic changes may lead for competition of resources such as water grazing land and political conflict involving at least five ethnic tribes. In addition these tribes are equipped with weapons such as guns due to their pastoralists lifestyles. The Brundtland report had already addressed this issue in its introductory chapter of Our Common Future. It asked states to include environmental stress as a possible threat to national sovereignty together with the traditional political and military threats .The UNDP also suggested that environmental security was one area that should constitute a new global security paradigm. (Dabelko, 2008). Prominent reports by the EU, USA and the UK have also addressed this issue in their polices and identified strong linkages between security and the environment for the first time in 2007, the UN security council with a push from the UK devoted a session that addressed the environment as a security issue. Ban Ki Mon also linked the efforts of the UN to battle climate change with its mission to address underlying causes of conflict in Darfur Sudan. (Dabelko, 2008). Another strong body that has supported environmental security is the Norwegian Nobel Committee that called climate change both a fundamental threat to human wellbeing and a contributing factor to more traditional conflict. This was an echo of the WCED statement in 1987.

All the above described factors of the globalization paradigm could be avoided or reduced in order to achieve sustainable development through the global political network and global governance. However, the implementation of most of these international polices have failed and thus dire consequences on sustainable development. Global governance is described as a political process that is meant to address all the problems that are beyond the capacities of a single state (Zollinger, 2007). However, governance starts at national levels. Most states especially those in the South fail to address the human and financial issues to the international arena. The political leadership especially in the developing nations seems to have surrendered to the powers of liberation. Political motivation towards addressing environmental issues is lacking.

At the international front, the Rio summit seems to have failed the sustainable development paradigm.. Rio had the hopes of placing the environmental crisis on the international agenda. The environment since the Rio Summit in 1992 has been degraded immensely. Green house gases are at an all time high. Its subsequent convention the Kyoto protocol has also failed to show its strength countries like the USA have withdrawn from the KP regime. The irony is, the USA is the leading producer of GHG emissions. Khor (2001) argues that Rio failed to fulfill its promises because testing of sustainable development did not occur during implementation. Instead, SD came under competition of globalization. Globalization was given a further boost by the Marrakesh accord of 1994 that established the World Trade Organization (WTO) the strength of the WTO was its system which was based on retaliation and sanctions. As the WTO grew, globalization spread and thus undermined the sustainable development paradigm (Khor, 2001).

In conclusion, the administration of powers should go back to the more neutral organizations like the UN. The globalization proponents the WTO and the Bretton Woods Institutions power in the global world should be neutralized. They are both proponents of liberalism and protectionism (Khor, 2007). Better presentation of the Southern nations at the international scene should occur. This will ensure a possible balance between globalization and Sustainable development. As for now sustainable development paradigm remains to be a utopic dream.


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