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Why some People in Developing Countries might be Critical of the Notion of Sustainable Development

Category: Economics 3rd October 2019

Free essayThe development of discourse towards the concept of “Sustainable Development” has changed dramatically due to an enhanced global environmental awareness. Such shift increased because of the more detailed information of various environmental events, the outcomes of international conferences on the environmental topics of society development; academic research and publications also complemented a lot to general perceptions of this concept.

Although the notion of sustainable development is widely accepted, in developing countries, however, its realization has encountered some difficulties.

Some scholars debate about perception of its definition (Daly, 2002); others debate the emergence of socio-politic, economic and neo-liberal challenges (Hague, 1999; Keijzer, 2012; Todaro, 1997). In order to understand why it is happening, it is important first to analyze the origin, meaning, and problems of sustainable development process.

Before we proceed further, let us stop to draw the attention of “what is it that is supposed to be sustained in ‘sustainable’ development” (Daly, 2002). The author presents the possible answer from the two different perspectives.

Firstly, he talks about the need of the utility to be sustained. By that, he means the need of non-declining utility for future generations. He is convinced that the happiness (or resources) in future should be at least the same as at present times. By utility, Daly (2002) he means the average utility of members of a generation per capita.

Secondly, the author talks about the need of physical throughput to be sustained. By that, Daly (2002) means the need for non-declining entropic physical flow in the relation to economics: he is convinced that such process should start flowing from nature’s sources through the economy, and should come back to nature. In this case, he means the overall capacity of the ecosystem to sustain the afore mentioned movements or flows.

The main idea is to keep natural capital intact. Thus, we will be able to save the existing biophysical resources for the future from the point of view of access to them and the services available by the ecosystem at least as of the present. By the throughput, he means the total throughput flow for the community over some period.

As we can see, these two are completely different concepts of sustainability. Utility is considered a basic concept in economics, whereas throughput is not. Daly says (2002), thus, it is not very surprising that the dominant definition has been utility.

If we talk about the sustainable development of the entire planet that means that every single citizen shall be taken into consideration. In the common vision of United Nations Report on sustainable development (2012), the following main points celarly delineate general ideas, the result of the meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2012 on how they plan to achieve sustainable development in all its dimensions:

  1. Full participation of civil society (in order to ensure the promotion of socially, economically and environmentally sustainable future for present and upcoming generations).
  2. Poverty reduction (they committed to urgenly freeing humanity from poverty and hunger) and creation of greater opportunities for all.
  3. Acknowledgement of the need of the integration and interlinkages of those three main aspects. Acceleration of the Millennium Development Goals achievement by 2015.
  4. Rcognition of people as the centre of sustainable development.
  5. Reaffirmation of the importance of peace and security freedom, the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  6. Acknowledgement of democracy, good governance and the rule of law.
  7. Commitment to strengthen international cooperation .
  8. Taking urgent action to achieve sustainable development by recognition of equal opportunities for all (United Nations, 2012).

As we can see, these ideas reflect general need to unite all people on the planet no matter of their economic and societal status in order to reach sustinable use of the resources so it will be secured for future generations as well. However, there are many ideas that this a good written paper, and things do not work (or have not started working yet) the same way in practice, especially in the developing countries.

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Hague (1999) states about the emergence of a separate set of developmental models and theories with regard to developing countries concerning the issues of sustainable development. The author distinguishes the following: the theory of dualism, vicious-circle theory, big-push theory, stages of growth theory. He also presents the framework of different versions of modernization structures, which attempt to address economic backwardness concerns, lack of private entrepreneurship, poverty and unemployment, weak political institutions, and the need for rapid economic growth and nation-building (Hague, 1999).

Hague (1999) also mentions other reformist developmental approaches, especially the so-called “basic needs” approach, which addresses the problem of extreme income inequality and, thus, put the emphasis on the provision of at least basic needs for the underprivileged part of the population.

Special attention should also be paid to the Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEA) and their implementation by various countries. Starting from the early 1970s, alarming environmental events regarding the concerns for resource depletion, and the impact of humans on the global ecosystem provoked a worldwide expansion of environmental consciousness (Hague, 1999).

That time is also characterized by a major institutional transition at the international level, which helped to incorporate the notions of “sustainable development.” There were many high-profile international conferences organized that were devoted to various environmental issues; and the adoption of essential MEA such as conventions on climate change and biodiversity.

Many developing countries started to sign those agreements as well hoping to join world community while implementing those soft law documents and add to ‘living’ according to sustainable development principles. Some of the developing countries failed to implement that thoroughly not because of the lack of political will of the government; the questions of inequality and business preferences arose.

For example, many post-Soviet developing countries, since their independence, became very active Party on the international level including the environmental sphere. As a Party and, moreover, as the founder of the UN, they came closer to all multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), part of which they signed, ratified, joined, and some inherited from the Communist era.

There were many observations done on the implementation of Basel Convention (BC) on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. An analizys has been performed on how such accomplishment is done by those countries within the frames of reaching sustainable development objectives.

In developing countries, the legal framework has a great importance as implementation of MEAs, scientific, technical and financial support for the implementation of conventions, institutional capacity building and contracted capacity to coordinate its activities with other international institutions are regulated by law.

Analyzing the implementation of the BC in post-Soviet countries, especially, those, bordering the European Union it is important to note that institutions take some measures to regulate matters related to transboundary shipments of hazardous wastes, but it is done sporadically and non-systematically. For this reason, it is important to note that it is very difficult to develop performance indicators for BC, as it is virtually impossible to trace and monitor the hazardous wastes import process into the countries.

There is a lot of evidence that some EU countries are trying to avoid ‘dirty’ production on their territories and move them outside. It is more beneficial for those companies as they do not have to obey strict environmental rules with documentation, their land is not being polluted and they spend less money for the salaries of the employees of developing countries as the labor, compared to the EU is much cheaper.

As a result, the most serious criticism of BC is that it legitimates trade, which follows that countries with transitional and market economies and the Third World countries suffer from the export of hazardous wastes. Thus, the development of indicators to facilitate the implementation of reporting obligations of MEAs’ compliance to be comparable with other countries is very important.

Post-Soviet countries have created a system that ensures the implementation of BC at the national level: there are appropriate institutions, legal framework, a certain level of training and a clear procedural system. However, there is no clear strategy to implement the provisions of the Convention and its implementation plan. Thus, improvement is needed in the following interrelated areas:

  1. Institutional: there is no single coordinated institutional support for implementation of the BC. Institutions as structure, which provide the functions for the implementation of the Convention, are not sufficiently effective because of the small number of professionals. Therefore, it is important to build institutions from within, enhancing skills of working staff present.
  2. Methodological aspect: having a relatively strong legislative foundation, state procedures are not adequate for the requirements of the implementation of MEAs. There is no adequate understanding of the Parties of the Convention on how to act for the effective implementation. As a result, there is threat for public policy to be demagogic – unable to fulfill its commitments.
  3. Financial aspect: financing of international environmental programs is conducted by residual principle, but operates upon cost. This is partly due to failure of the governmental priority to guarantee their funding, and partly due to the large number of public programs on international commitments, which provide funding from the national sources.

The developing countries generally:

  • have fuzzy coordination of the administration to focus on solving environmental protection problems: either government agencies do not use all the potential that possess, or they do not use it in the right way;
  • the economic component prevails over the environmental issues in the government; c) the effectiveness of environmental policy hinders inadequate legislation, weak institutional framework and lack of inter-sectorial coordination and cooperation;
  • the public information program and its participation in decision-making will lead to significant improvements in this area.

The following approaches to measure the effectiveness of the implementation of BC by developing countries, and, thus, reaching the sustainable development objectives would be:

  1. Improvement of the control of transboundary movements of wastes.
  2. Compliance of the BC conditions regarding illicit trafficking of hazardous waste exporters and importers.
  3. Minimization of hazardous wastes and their transboundary transport.

As we can see on the example below, the written document on the aims to achieve sustainable development objectives is important. At the same time, it is not efficient in all countries of the world as there is still general idea of “having my own house aside” and not caring about others; the presence of systematic approach in solving environmental problems is still absent.

One of the reasons why developing countries themselves are being very skeptical of the notion of sustainable development is their perception of the term itself. Moreover, each country has different rules and regulations, and in many cases, they do not always correlate with others.

Finally, each developing country is ‘boiling’ in its own ‘juice’ and simply does not have a common understanding why should it care about other countries, if they are even more poor themselves. That makes them to be on both sides on the example of BC implementation: they signed it, but implement in the way that is more comfortable for them. For what is worse, ‘them’ is meant not only the governments of those countries as a whole, but separate businesspersons and oligarchs who are the main decision-makers in those countries. What is left is the hope that their views will change for the consensus between all of them, and sustainable life for future generations will be chosen as a result.

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