Thursday, April 22, 2021

Towards sustainability

Sustainability is a fairly recent concept which has gained focus and momentum over the past decade. Most of us are intrigued by this buzzword, and trying to understand what it means. The academic definition of sustainability is “the process of change, in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations”. In a simplified manner, it is something that improves “the quality of human life while living within the limited capacity of supporting eco-systems”. It refers to the extent that the society’s operations and actions protect, mend and preserve rather than harm or destroy the natural environment. In a broader sense, it is the approach towards production and development to meet our present needs without any reduction in the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainability goals, or ‘The Sustainable Development Goals’ have been collated and defined by United Nations in 2015. There are 17 global goals, with 169 targets covering areas across poverty, hunger, health, education, energy, environment and urbanisation. Despite some level of criticism about the high number of goals or self-contradiction across some of these, the same have been accepted and incorporated as the footprint of global sustainability. The goals narrow down to end of poverty and hunger; better standards of education and healthcare (particularly water and sanitation); gender equality; sustainable economic growth while promoting jobs and stronger economies and mitigating the effects of climate change, pollution and other environmental factors that harm people’s health and livelihood. The three pillars of sustainability are – economic development, social advancement and environmental protection. Meeting sustainability goals requires the involvement of all stakeholders, namely the Government, economic and social sectors. Given the current situation, the onus falls on younger society members to take this forward and look for ways and means to address the concerns which, in our case, revolve primarily around pollution (air, water and waste), deforestation, soil erosion/depletion, loss of biodiversity and increased disease manifestation. Most of these concerns pertain to the usage and proper equilibrium of natural resources. Sustainability warrants us to formulate strategies to preserve and conserve natural resources, transforming from the usage of non-renewable resources to renewable resources, and simultaneously take steps to restore the depletion of renewable resources. As part of resource conservation, we need to assess the environmental impact of the usage of these resources. The environmental impact is a function of population and impact per person, which in turn depends upon the resources being used (whether renewable or not), and the scale of the human activity relative to the carrying capacity of the ecosystem. It is quantified by the IPAT formula, which states that the environmental impact of a society is the product of three factors – population, affluence and technology, wherein affluence is a measure of level of consumption (or usage) of resources and technology signifies the modalities of usage and the environmental impact per user. Here it is essential to decouple the economic growth from environmental degradation, and that can be achieved only by using improvised technology and practices. At present, our State is facing a major challenge of urban migration due to high dependence of rural population on agriculture, increase in the population of working age leading to higher unemployment rates and governance of resources. Given these challenges, there is a strong and immediate need for sustainable infrastructure and urbanisation, while creating employment opportunities using new models of development and innovative techniques. The need can be addressed with the adoption of technologies like renewable energy, improved farming techniques, green buildings, waste treatment and above all smart behaviour. Our society at large, and the youth, needs to step up and address the environmental impact by taking initiatives in respect of developing green businesses, encouraging divestment from environment-damaging businesses and by becoming low cost producers through energy conservation.