“Sustainable Development” has become a cliché. The world has realized that the current models for development are untenable – both in terms of resources and social conflict. The free market economy is going to progressively shift the control of resources in larger and larger measure from the communities and the state to the market forces. The real effects are at least three fold:
- Denial or defeating the purpose of rights and egalitarian legislations, which are the hallmark of democracy.
- Loss of control of the state in managing critical natural resources by transferring their management to corporates particularly the MNCs
- Progressive abstraction of the real value of natural resources based on global market speculation and cartels adding to consequent vulnerability of the local and larger economy.
Therefore the future ought to renegotiate the ground and pragmatic mechanisms have to take shape to structurally transform the economy. While the new economy needs to be efficient, it also needs to meet the other non-orthogonal attributes – environmental soundness, equity and endogeneity or self-reliance. Sustainable Development at the functional level could be conceived as a process of using resources that do not deplete the options for the future generation – more specifically – it means generating more alternatives while conserving existing options. Communities will be sustainable only when they are in harmony with the ecosystems.
It is also widely recognised that all these principles have to be concurrently adhered to and addressed at various scales (individual through community to the global scales) and different levels of human intervention (policy, programme and practices).
The current impasse we are really faced with arises out of the precarious situation where ongoing developmental activities have had a massive impact on deepening widespread poverty, squalor and environmental degradation, but a feeble impact on sustainable development of local communities and have contributed very little to their capacities to maintain and improve their environment and well-being.
The real challenge that stares us in the face is the challenge to hone our skills, choose our technologies and build our resources in such a manner that it provides for the human needs of Food, Clothing and Shelter and enhances the quality of Water, Energy and Biomass systems. The challenge beyond the basic needs is that the Community, Government and the Market should be able to provide the human institutional inputs - health, education and occupation - for societal development. While one can deterministically say that more closer the resolution of basic needs, more sustainable would a community be, but in the case of the basic human institutional inputs the scales could be more complex.
The moot question is whether the existing vested interests would be overcome by a determined effort by the communities with greater local control of institutional inputs rather than be dependent on distant speculative processes.
This demands that we walk beyond institutions and sectors, even nation-states and regions to seek solutions. And, it is becoming clear that this can only happen as an accretionary process. The future politics will have to lie in its practice.