Is sustainable development merely a passing fashion or a long- term strategic process of human progress? The concept still remains obscure and in an effort to bring out its full significance, I offer some attempts at illuminating the issue.
Is sustainable development merely a passing fashion or a long- term strategic process of human progress? The concept still remains obscure and in an effort to bring out its full significance, I offer some attempts at illuminating the issue.
This approach to development is a concept that has emerged from northern Europe, i.e. from developed societies with a long tradition of social democracy and respect for the environment. The most widely accepted definition of sustainable development was coined by the Norwegian Gro Harlem Brundtland in her report of 1987 entitled Our Common Future, who considered sustainable development to be the “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Africa came to an awareness of these themes rather later: opinion polls revealed in 2001 that only 9% of African citizens were aware of the problem. Furthermore, it is not unusual to note that local elected officials and their constituents have problems in locally expressing the concept of sustainable development in day-to-day life. The norms and benchmarks applicable to sustainable development are varied and they are increasing in number. Their impact is either mandatory (international conventions directives, domestic laws), or optional (codes of conduct, ethical charters, recommendations made by domestic or international organisations, etc.). On the issue of standardising international sources of sustainable development, three basic elements can be identified:
— First, the fundamental principles of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) summarised in a declaration of 1998 which incorporates the content of the six main Conventions of the Organisation (freedom of association and negotiation, prohibition of child labour, respect for social rights and freedom of thought and conscience, gender equality).
— Second, the human rights proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of 1948 and implemented by the Pacts of 1966 firstly on civil and political rights and secondly on economic and social rights, and by all the later conventions on the rights of children, women and others.
— Lastly, the international conventions on the protection of the environment, adopted after the Rio Summit. The majority of these norms were drafted under the auspices of the United Nations; it is the source that we regard as the most legitimate to serve as a benchmark for world standards in this domain.
For several years, the prevailing economic theory has been that of development focused solely on financial outcome, entailing the systematic pollution of the ocean, earth and sea, climate change, the greenhouse gas effect, acid rain, the degradation of the forests, desertification and decrease in biodiversity.
Let us add that the population explosion is accompanied by overcrowding in the big conurbations, disease, malnutrition and increased unemployment, thereby gradually creating pockets of poverty with social and health consequences of a greater or lesser significance depending on the different regions of the world. The increased poverty of recent years in many countries of the world constitutes a serious factor of ecological imbalance.
Consequently, it is necessary to modify this approach by integrating on the one hand, the search for a new sustainable balance between man and the environment and, on the other hand, a spatiotemporal analysis of development to meet the challenge of the growing divide between the rich and the poor and to prevent the consequences affecting the natural environment and future generations to which a barely controlled or completely uncontrolled growth process could lead.
Three dominant factors inspired the convening of the Earth Summit i.e. the current divide between North and South, the search for harmonious and universal human development, anxious to combat poverty, and the urgent need to safeguard the environment. In view of this triple realisation, added to the global population explosion, concrete responses to five major questions are needed:
— How are we to reconcile economic and social progress without endangering the natural balance of the planet?
— How are we to divide wealth between the rich countries and those less well provided for?
— How can we provide minimum wealth to these millions of men, women and children still destitute at a time when the planet already seems to be being asphyxiated by the reckless removal of its natural resources?
— What do we need to do to bequeath a healthy Earth to our children?
— How can we create conditions of confidence for the populations and numerous other parties involved in the development process?
Sustainable development experienced its first stirrings with the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment in 1972. The concept made its first documented appearance in a report of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 1980. In
1983, the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), with twenty-two member countries on the five continents, was created to lead an investigation into the strategy to protect the planet. In 1987, the publication of the “Brundtland Report” (Our Common Future, WCED) was a major event because it definitively ratified the concept as the basis for human survival on planet Earth.
The concept of sustainable development was then approved at the world level at the Earth Summit entitled “United Nations Conference on Environment and Development” (UNCED), held in June 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Sustainable development was defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” According to the Brundtland Report, this definition laid the foundations for the constraints which those in power, national authorities and business leaders would have to implement in their development policies.
The basic principle of the concept is to make decisions and identify practices for all the stakeholders on the basis of the following three criteria:
— economic achievements and responsibility;
— social achievements and responsibility;
— environmental achievements and responsibility.
For local elected officials and their constituents, sustainable development involves the establishment of other methods of development for our society, i.e. ecologically sustainable development which preserves natural resources in the long term; economically viable development whose costs do not exceed income; socially equitable development which fulfils the aspirations of the populations.
Public management must encourage good governance and social responsibility by ensuring compliance with and implementation of the principles of participation, prevention/precaution, social unity, equity, transparency and shared values. It must also seek consensual solutions through consultation, implement them in a framework of partnership, develop a strategic vision and conduct a systematic evaluation of the outcomes of the action in this sphere.
The concept involves a policy and a strategy designed to ensure continuity in times of economic and social development while respecting the environment and without compromising the natural resources that are indispensable to human activity. As a result, three factors characterise any sustainable development project: the environment, social equity and economic viability.
After Rio, sustainable development became an indispensable international concept and the many conventions created since 1992 serve to confirm this; they include the convention on desertification in 1994, the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the Carthage Protocol on Biosecurity and the framework principles on the protection of forests, etc.
The Rio Summit also drafted a document called “Agenda 21” — an action plan for the 21st century — which determined objectives, defined methods and proposed voluntarist policies. Since this summit, the concept of sustainable development has become “the” benchmark in United Nations conferences.
Decided at the Rio Earth Summit, the general principles forming the basis of sustainable development strategies are as follows:
Participation/consultation: This means ensuring genuine participation by citizens in the decision-making process and not simply responding to challenges or consulting varying degrees of representation. It involves social acceptance which requires prior information, awareness raising, training activity and democratic discussion.
Precaution/prevention: where there is some doubt as to the consequences of an action, prevention measures must be taken, rather than later remedying environmental degradation and pollution. The identification and assessment of risks must lead to preventive measures in an effort to avert the feared events.
Equity: transparency, relevance and efficiency concerning the mechanisms for verification and public management are crucial to peace and social justice.
Polluter-payer: whoever degrades the environment is responsible and must consequently repair the damage.
Rationality and responsibility: this means taking into account all the consequences associated with decisions: this principle makes it possible to ensure that the objectives of socio-economic development and environmental protection can be reconciled.
Integration: development must be conceived as the integration of economic, social and ecological development.
Solidarity: this means solidarity with future generations whose survival must be taken into account and with it, the preservation of our natural resources and the environment. With this goal in mind, provision must be made for development that respects the renewal of resources or their replacement in the case of renewable resources. This principle also applies to the conservation of species and biodiversity.
Freedom of future generations: it is essential to leave some room for manoeuvre for future generations.
All these principles must be concretely implemented in the action framework of States and communities.
The actions of a sustainable development approach (national or local) must provide a response to four issues and goals:
— Human: the fight against poverty and inequality and enhanced social unity. The intended goal is to satisfy essential needs and expectations and ensure the well-being and quality of life of the populations in all their diversity and create the necessary solidarity.
— Democratic: strengthening of civic participation in decision- making methods and processes. In practical terms this means promoting the mobilisation of citizens to take ownership of their role in contributing to the advance of democracy.
— Ecological: protection of the environment, prevention of major natural and technological risks, the fight against pollution and wastage of natural resources. Among other things, it is a matter of preserving and using natural resources in an ecologically sound way.
— Economic: viable economic development, i.e. respectful of the ecological balances. The ultimate purpose is to ensure economic growth and effectiveness in development projects and to ensure that the fruits of growth are universally enjoyed.
Concerning sustainable development impact assessment, when it is conducted methodically and in a participatory way, it should reveal indisputable evidence of advances made in social, economic and environmental development, democratic governance based on participation, civic trust and the popularity of the government.
Since the first conference in Rio in 1992 and the Johannesburg Summit in 2002, sustainable development has continued to make regular appearances in speeches, but has not really become a reality when it comes to the drafting of the development policies of the various regions of the world and particularly in Africa. At present, almost two billion of the world’s inhabitants live on less than one dollar per day. And yet the reduction of inequalities and the gap between the rich countries and the poor countries was one of the priorities of the Rio Summit.
This is certainly a sobering realisation, but some progress is visible in a number of countries through strengthening of civic mobilisation and dialogue, as well as independent networks of expertise, the adoption of the “Agenda 21” by local communities, not to mention the development of societal rating of socially responsible businesses and investments.
There is a threefold issue for the business world: there is a need to clarify the environment of their activity through improved understanding of the issues, to reduce the vagaries of public decision- making faced with situations of uncertainty and to actively assume their share of social responsibility in the implementation of the global partnership for sustainable development. In the medium- and long- term, the issues of sustainable development and social responsibility in business will need to take centre stage if business is to recover its basic vocation which puts humanity and the environment at the heart of the economic development strategy.
Since the end of the Rio Summit of 1992, the majority of those in power have had to deal with the constraints imposed by the international commitments of their country for sustainable development, but generally do not have the resources and necessary skills for the integration of these constraints into the drafts of their development policies.
If international and national actions have made it possible to raise awareness among the many partners regarding the necessary integration of the environmental, economic and social and human development policies, the results and assessments, however, are not encouraging: they reveal a failure to take over at the local operational levels. Consequently, the spirit and dynamism of Rio have become blocked or at any rate have slowed down.
A study of the above and analysis of the experience enable us to identify the major obstacles or brakes preventing the integration of the principles of sustainable development into the policies and strategies of the States, local communities and the business community, which naturally vary from country to country. It is above all the absence of a clearly stated willingness to change, to innovate, to promote good governance and participatory democracy. The promoters of these policies, when they exist, lack organisation and methods that can create a realistic vision of the conditions for the implementation of a local plan. It is also a question of the absence of training in the tools and techniques of appropriate technology given to the individuals responsible for implementing these policies, who consequently have no representation of the impacts of their potential use on the life of the citizens. Lastly, poor civic mobilisation leads to a failure to promote the full participation of local stakeholders in the drafting of public policies.
For over thirty years, the world’s population has continued to expand. The majority of the population explosion of the next fifty years will occur in the countries of the South. However, the social and economic conditions of the bulk of the populations and the stability of the nations will depend on controlling population levels. Consequently, the modalities of organising the principal networks of urban and rural water, education, health, energy, housing, sanitation and cleanliness, of respect for the environment and of economic growth, constitute a decisive issue which cannot be resolved by the public enterprises or the private operators alone within the framework of the current conditions and regulations.
The need to adopt international, national and local policies and strategies in compliance with the principles of sustainable development was expressed during the Rio Conference of 1992 by the adoption of Agenda 21. Following the Rio Conference, the majority of the States undertook to draft their own national sustainable development strategies (NSDS); they involved a methodical, participatory and repeated planning process designed to achieve in a balanced and integrated manner at every level, from national to local, economic, social and environmental objectives in a perspective of intra- and inter-generational Equity.
The NSDS applies primarily to government policy, but it must also involve the participation of all economic and social players. Its primary purpose is to promote consistency between the policies, strategies, sectoral projects and programmes, to evolve towards mechanisms of governance giving priority to social dialogue and consultation to find solutions for the future, to encourage negotiation and the search for consensus in a climate of peace and transparency. The national strategies must ensure the transition from management based on actions to management based on consistency, integration and the outcomes and impacts of the projects and programmes; from sectoral planning to integrated planning which underlines the synergies of high yielding activities. They are also tasked with reducing dependence on foreign aid to set in motion a development process driven and financed from within, and with establishing a confirmed and continuous process of monitoring and evaluation, learning and development.
Let us point out that the implementation of a National Sustainable Development Strategy is a process both simple and complex because it will be required to confront various issues. The same issues have affected the success of the successive Summits of Johannesburg, Ouagadougou, Copenhagen, Cancun and recently of Rio+20, whose outcome is in any case fragile, because sustainable development requires structural changes and in-depth changes at the human level.
In other words, it requires rebalancing the powers between the economic priorities and the social and ecological imperatives.
How can this be achieved? The States must incorporate the obligation to respect the environment and social standards into the regulatory mechanisms of the financial markets to develop long-term viable and equitable economic projects instead of selfish stock exchange speculations. People must once again be placed at the heart of the economy. The imperatives of sustainable development dictate the necessity for a new practice in government decision-making: political decisions are still too frequently calculated in the short term, in response to specific economic interests, without taking into account the long-term impact for the population as a whole. The States must mobilise the synergy of all the players in social and economic life: the local communities, public and private enterprise, associations, NGOs, trade unions and citizens.
At the international level, the achievement of this objective requires the economies of the countries of the South and the North to become more balanced since the developing countries are carrying too much debt and are too hampered in their trade activities to devote energy and sufficient resources to education, health and the protection of the environment. Lastly, to manage ecological problems, it is necessary to establish a world environmental organisation, an international institution tasked with ensuring compliance with the commitments made by the States, like the World Trade Organisation (WTO) which manages trade.
One of the major difficulties encountered by the States in implementing sustainable development lies in the absence of not only financial and material resources but also and primarily of organisational resources and specific strategies in this domain.
In order to give concrete form to the integration of the principles of sustainable development in current policies and strategies and thereby promote mobilisation and full civic participation, the Republic of Congo opted to use a progressive method by organising a National Forum on sustainable development.
The idea of holding this forum began as a result of the realisation that the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) and the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) had the merit of releasing the country from the weight of the debt which was preventing it from financing its development. However, these two framework papers did not adequately incorporate international concerns on sustainable development, notably the protection of the environment and social advancement. Consequently, there was a need to design a three- pronged short, medium and long-term development plan: economic, social and environmental. Therefore, for the Congo it is a question of getting in line with international solidarity, but also of following a path that will best serve its interests.
Today, the Congo has committed itself to become an emerging country by 2025. This emergence should be based on the principle of sustainable development.
An issue of great concern to the President of the Republic of Congo, Denis Sassou N’Guesso, the problem of sustainable development has been given pride of place in the Congolese diplomatic agenda, particularly on the occasion of the Rio+20 Summit, alongside human rights and world peace. Congolese diplomacy now regards it as the response to the altermondialist dispute and a way to promote globalisation with a “human face.”
The commitment of the Congo to sustainable development is shown as a requirement, a response and the best choice to reconsider economic growth on a national scale in order to take account of the social and environmental aspects of development by basing its actions on universal values, i.e. equity, responsibility, transparency and participation.
The Congo has also made a commitment to follow the recommendations of the first Rio Conference of 1992, of the Johannesburg Summit (2002) and of Rio+20 (2012) on the undertaking made by every country to implement sustainable development and to acquire an instrument adapted to their specific conditions and National Sustainable Development Strategies (NSDS). Their role is to ensure consistency and complementarity of the international and national commitments and to serve as a lever for all national policies. The successful proceedings in October 2008 of the World Forum on Sustainable Development in Brazzaville show the political will of the Congolese authorities to integrate the concerns of sustainable development into their sectoral policies.
That will require all Congolese people to be involved in the work of building a new society: the responsibility of development must become everybody’s business at every level; every citizen, every player, every institution must understand their role in the development process; everything must be done for each player to become permeated by the values, practices and actions conducive to sustainable development.
It is against this background that from 26 to 29 April 2013 the Congolese Ministry of Forestry, Economy and Sustainable Development held the National Forum on Sustainable Development of the Congo in conjunction with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UNESCO, the FAO, and UNFPA.
The forum was opened by President Denis Sassou N’Guesso marking the commitment of the Congolese State at the highest level to establish governance designed to promote development with a “human face.” This solemn opening was followed by a series of general presentations, in plenary, on the concept of sustainable development, its principles, its issues, its cross-cutting nature and the need to integrate it into the country’s sectoral development policies. The participants were then split into workshops: energy, agriculture, transport, forestry, mines, industry, tourism, construction, development of the territory, land, etc. Presentations on the sectoral sustainable development policies were made by specialists in each sector. They supported the participants in designing the principal outlines of the sectoral policies incorporating the principles of sustainable development.
The workshop proceedings were summarised in plenary with a view to adopting the outlines of the sectoral policies of sustainable development which will subsequently enable the drafting of the policy and national strategy for sustainable development.
Almost 1,000 participants took part in this great event, notably the representatives of different ministries, public administration, the private sector, civil society, Parliament, academia, research organisations, the student community and international organisations. National experts and international organisations (UNEP, UNECA etc.) were asked to run the forum workshops.
After four days of intensive work filled with productive exchanges about the concept of sustainable development, simple and complex at the same time, the goal that the National Forum on Sustainable Development had set for itself was achieved. Based on the role of the various players in the implementation of sustainable development, the department prefects, the chairpersons of the departmental councils, the representatives of the various administrations, business and civil society reached an understanding of the cross-cutting nature of the concept of sustainable development and are now equipped with knowledge that enables them to inform and create awareness among their collaborators on the principles, issues, and future availability of a national sustainable development strategy, as well as about the validity of development designed to reconcile economic expansion and social progress without endangering the natural balance of the planet.
The participants understood this: sustainable development is a participatory and repeated process which requires for its implementation a change of mentality and innovation in practices at every level of the State, local communities, business, civil society and citizens. These changes are the price of making the Congo an emerging country by 2025, as provided for in the Chemin d’avenir, the national development programme.
The National Forum established the broad outlines of the sectoral policies and strategies including the principles of sustainable development. A glimpse of the process needed to establish an Agenda 21 enabled the participants to understand that the principles on which
it is based are the essential foundations of democratic governance, the guarantee of economic and social modernity which is expressed by compliance with and application of the principles of participation, transparency, precaution, prevention, responsibility, fairness and the quest for consensual solutions through consultation and their implementation by the partnership.
However, the participants were unanimous in believing that the implementation of this modus operandi in this new context will demand updated management and operation “practices” when it comes to attempts to engage in innovation and communication, behaviour and interpersonal skills, major cultural evolution, concern for excellence, vision, values and leadership.
Resistance to change will also constitute a major obstacle. The basic remedy consists of continuing information, creation of awareness and training programmes through active and unambiguous education.
In the context of the Congo, the implementation of a national sustainable development strategy requires, in addition to the definition, clarification and comprehension of the concept by everyone, the official establishment of the National Commission for Sustainable Development (CNDD) whose role will be to involve the players concerned in the processes of drafting, monitoring, implementing and evaluating the national sustainable development strategy (coordination and consultation mechanism). It is desirable to give priority as members of the Commission to persons who have taken part in the National Forum on Sustainable Development.
The implementation of a National Sustainable Development Strategy in the Congo will have to be done after the appointment of sustainable development unit officials for each institution and training of the players concerned in the tools and methods needed to ensure progress in this sphere. Another important element is the compliance of the sectoral strategies with the presidential programme for national development, the Chemin d’avenir and with the national sustainable development policy. A roadmap must be created for departmental administrations at two levels: general guidelines and concrete actions. Lastly, the Strategy will need the support of a network of experts and partners, together with a legislative framework and a mechanism designed to promote the transparency and visibility of sustainable development activities on a national scale.
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