Revisiting Sustainable Development
07 Jun 2017
Originally published in Day newspaper on May 16, 2017
By Hennady Marushevsky, Tetiana Tymochko, Leonid Rudenko
Ukraine needs a Ministry (or Agency) responsible for ensuring the integration of the economic, social and environmental policies...
The term “sustainable development” has long been a part of our vocabulary, but how well do we understand what it is about and why it is important for Ukraine? If we consider the classic definition of sustainable development, formulated back in 1987, it is the “development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs .” It means planning for the future; the planning that takes into account the best interests of the country and its citizens.
This spring the International Mother Earth Day was marked. On the occasion, out of force of habit and tradition, the active young people organize to collect litter, plant trees, participate in the themed flash mobs. Those are very important local events, a certain support to the ecological condition of the environment and the formation of people's environmental awareness and behaviour. However, the critical condition of the ecological properties of the nature components, which has been recognized by the international community, requires profound changes in the system of nature management and needs a systemic approach to preservation and most effective use, which is not exhausting and harmful for the environment. This is stipulated by international conventions on biological diversity, climate change and combating desertification, and most importantly — by adopting the sustainable development paradigm in the 21st century.
In reality, there is a gap between Ukraine’s commitments under the three Rio Conventions and the specific steps towards their implementation, as evidenced by the last year SWOT and gap analyses, conducted with support from the UNDP and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Project. In Ukraine, the addressing of simmering problems often occurs in an emergency mode and without elaborate planning. For example, this winter (indeed, same as the past one), a lot has been said in Ukraine about the energy security and high resource dependence. According to the World Bank estimates, in terms of energy sector development policies and regulations, Ukraine scored only 37 points by energy efficiency indicators. In comparison, Austria, which has long made the green policy a priority, scored 73 points in the same rating. Our closest neighbours also showed good results: Romania (87), the Czech Republic (86), Belarus (62), Poland (57). The top positions in the rating were taken by Denmark (94), Canada (91), the USA (91) and the Netherlands (90).
Besides, having a big potential in the area of renewable energy – in particular, related to the use of agricultural biomass – Ukraine does not make sufficient use of this resource.
This is an example of just one industry, although such gaps can be found in many others – from the development of technologies and medicine to ecology and education. This is a comprehensive problem, which requires a comprehensive strategy, because successful addressing of environmental issues is impossible outside the economic and social context. It is fundamentally important to balance the strive for economic growth and social well-being while minimizing the negative effects for the environment.
In the European countries, the Sustainable Development Strategy has become the mechanism aimed to balance the economic, social and environmental components. Certain states began to implement the national strategies back in the 1990s, and now almost all the EU states have such strategies in place. This also explains the striking difference in our energy efficiency indicators.
It should be noted that sustainable development is not focused exclusively on the issues of the environment or alternative energy; it covers a much wider range of aspects, including the socioeconomic development, consumption and production, social cohesion, demographic changes, public health, climate change, development of environmentally-friendly modes of transportation, natural resources, self-government.
In early 2016, a Working Group of Ukrainian experts, supported by the United Nations Development Programme in Ukraine, started drafting a Strategy for Sustainable Development of Ukraine until 2030. In addition to the European practices, an important pillar of the document was the UN Sustainable Development Goals, approved by all UN member states in 2015. After six months of expert consultations, involving the authorities, the academia, the general public and entrepreneurs, the Ukrainian sustainable development strategy has finally been made ready for review by the Verkhovna Rada.
It is important to understand that the Sustainable Development Strategy for Ukraine does not only mean the fulfilment of international obligations; it is primarily an opportunity to get rid of inefficient obsolete practices that pull the country down, to move to a conceptually different development model, the key point of which is the triangle of economic, social and environmental aspects that must be mutually taken into account and mutually adjusted. This will also promote finding alternative solutions that will do no harm to both the environment and the interests of the local communities.
Indeed, the balance of economic, social and environmental goals is the ideal model of sustainable development, and it is not easy to reach, since the common perception of development is primarily associated with economic development. The approval and implementation of the Strategy will be one of the steps towards this goal – the transition from ad hoc and barbaric use of natural resources to their balanced use (that is, using them in a way and at pace that do not cause the depletion of resources in the long run and a significant deterioration of their properties).
In the nearest future, it is expedient to consider the idea of establishing a Ministry (or an Agency) for sustainable development that will ensure the integration of economic, social and environmental policies, coordination of inter-sectoral interaction, strategic planning for sustainable development, monitoring of the Strategy implementation at different levels.
The Strategy should become a guidepost not only for the government officials and Ministries; this process should involve the society as a whole. There is a good reason that the Strategy is structured around four development vectors – development, security, responsibility and pride.
The Strategy will work if the society makes an effort – there should be a high level of self-awareness and citizens' good will to change the habits and behaviour in their relations with the natural environment. And we need to start as soon as now – for example, not to drop litter never mind where, to start sorting waste (a long-time practice in the EU and one of the requirements of the EU Waste Directive, which, according to the terms and conditions of the Association Agreement, must be taken into account in the Ukrainian legislation); to consume water and electricity more efficiently. Of course, critically important are more serious steps requiring state regulation: stopping deforestation and devastation of amber deposits; effective protection of nature sanctuaries and coastlands; banning a number of construction projects that threaten ecosystems or critically reduce green areas in the cities.
The formation of a mindset that will minimize the destruction of the environment is a long-term goal, similar to the formation of a democratic society. To that end, the developed Strategy outlines the strategic vision of sustainable development, 7 strategic and 20 operational goals, with the indicators and targets set to be achieved by the society in 2020, 2025 and 2030. Depending on the results achieved, the sector development will be further adjusted, and “failing” to meet a certain indicator will be a reason to review the approaches to the development of the sector.
The main idea of the sustainable development concept – the balance of economic, social and environmental goals – was initiated by the UN and supported by all countries of the world. It is the ideal of development to strive for. Achieving it is not easy, because in the common perception development is primarily associated with economic development. One of the steps to achieve that balance may be the transition from the social and economic development planning, which is stipulated by the legislation and implemented in Ukraine, to the planning of sustainable development at the national, regional and local levels.
The Strategy neither prohibits nor permits anything. This is the exclusive prerogative of the legislation and, therefore, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. The Strategy is aimed at improving not only the environmental, but also the economic and social situation. Specific steps should be envisaged in the National Action Plan developed on the basis of the Strategy.
The adoption of the Strategy will enable Ukraine to progress from declarative support of the sustainable development concept at international meetings (in particular, at the UN conferences) to the official adoption of the respective binding state instrument. That is, it will enable Ukraine to fulfil its international obligations on sustainable development. Specific changes will be associated with the fulfilment of certain goals and objectives and the achievement of approved target indicators.
We hope that the Strategy will be soon approved, and become the mechanism that will help Ukraine choose the development route that will yield the best medium- and long-term effect.
Leonid Rudenko, ScD (Geography), Academician of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, Director of the Institute of Geography of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, Head of the Expert Panel for the Drafting of the Ukrainian Sustainable Development Strategy until 2030.
Tetiana Tymochko, Chair of the All-Ukrainian Ecological League, Chair of the National Ecological Council, Coordinator of the Consultative Process on the Strategy Drafting
Hennady Marushevsky, Cand.Sc. (Philosophy), expert on the institutionalisation of the provisions of the Strategy