Scientific and Expert Center
Koltsov Institute of Developmental Biology
Russian Academy of Sciences

Sustainable Development: Problems and Prospects. Towards the Rio+20

    Today the world faces new challenges. The modern world development results in a depletion of the natural resources, an increase of negative environmental impact, a deterioration of a biosphere balance. The consequences of the climate change have become perceptible everywhere. It results in a worsening of social problems and limits the scope for a further development.

    This is why we need to provide a sustainable development. The essence of this idea lies in the necessity to "inscribe" our constantly growing demands in the planet's natural capacity. The idea is not new; its official life in the world community will soon be 20 years old. Few political slogans have lived for so long. Yet its essence will never become outdated. It establishes the rules of the game and is a condition of survival. Meanwhile, lessons are becoming increasingly harder, and their consequences are increasingly expensive. They include the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the recent anomalous heat in Central Russia and many other cases of natural and technical catastrophes. Note that it is increasingly more difficult to find concrete persons who are to blame or a concrete cause of an emergency. We should rather find fault with our attitude to ourselves and to nature, as well as with our erroneous behavior.

    Deep “ecologization” of an economy on the basis of the key priority of modern development – to increase the value of nature and natural resources as well as a human life and health is a challenging task for the agenda. Realization of the sustainable development tasks for market economy assume to ensure market requirements on nature heritage, ecosystem services and related goods characteristics, consumer requests (including the public and state). The measure will stimulate the developed countries efforts to decrease the negative environmental impact as well as provide the developing countries activities towards a green economy and nature protection through capitalization of their natural heritage and getting a support from world community. These directions should determine the priorities of international support for developing countries and a struggle with a poverty.

    It is necessary to support modernization on the way toward so-called double gain or win-win policy, which is associated with both economic efficiency and decrease of negative environmental impact of human activities. The world experience of such modernization shows that this approach not only increases economic indicators but also significantly improves living conditions. It is necessary to support and propagate this experience. This is the core task of modern innovative development. To accomplish this, it is necessary to not only understand and observe strict environmental requirements, but also to have economic interest, including all its instruments; in other words, modernization should be profitable.

    The key trend in the world development is energy production. It is necessary to ensure the safe use of traditional resources and energy efficiency. The actualization of the available colossal potential to increase energy efficiency implies urgent measures to ensure commitment to energy saving at all levels, from industries to households.

    Modernization should account the colossal potentialities to use renewable energy sources. This implies stimulating energy production on the basis of renewable energy sources. The experience of developed countries shows that, with a minimum support necessary to launch this process, it further develops increasingly rapidly. This trend ensures national independence and prospects for further development. The most topical and promising trends are the use of renewable energy sources for internal needs, including, in the first place, energy supply to thinly populated areas; ensuring people’s commitment to the use of renewable energy sources as additional sources of energy; and using renewable energy sources as auxiliary sources of energy supply in industry.

    The solution to the problem of economic modernization should also take into account the great opportunities in the context of ecosystem services payments, including the global ecosystem role of forests, swamplands, and other natural ecosystems. Great opportunities here are for the development of the market of ecosystem services and environmental investments. It is necessary to assess the natural services (increasing the value of natural riches and turning into goods things that have not been goods before, including a wide range of ecosystem services) and enter the international market to compensate for the efforts of conserving and increasing natural riches. The costs of disuse, protection and taking care of natural resources and services should be included in such an assessment. The mechanism of compensation for ecosystem services should be based on two main statements: necessity of the owner’s contribution and end use of the world community support to conserve the nature heritage and to develop sustainable use of natural resources, including ecotourism, organic agriculture, renewable resources use. We need to spread the market mechanisms for the green house gases emission trade to all other kinds of anthropogenic impact.

    All this predetermines the development and implementation of environmental policy. Here we should proceed from the fact that the ecology today is the economy. It is environmental requirements that determine the directions of innovative development and production modernization to ensure long-term success for economic development. The priority of economic policy as a wide use of natural resources and services should be added by the environmental policy priority aimed to provide an increase the value of nature and natural resources. Green and low-carbon economy starts to be the aim for the further development of developed countries. A distinct policy is important in this direction, and it should not be implemented in isolation from mainstream development but incorporated into the strategies, plans, programs, and mechanisms of the country’s development. The priorities of environmental policy and environmental requirements must be included into the general plans of development aimed at solving socioeconomic problems that are of everyone’s prime concern. It is practical to include even the implementation of environmental protection measures proper (organizing protected natural areas, biodiversity conservation, etc.) into foolproof market mechanisms as payments for ecosystem services.

    The top-priority measure to assess the situation and determine action priorities is to introduce a system of indicators of sustainable development. These are primarily indicators of the environmental capacity and energy intensity of economic growth and specific indicators of pollution. Moreover, we need to account for accumulated environmental damage, resource depletion, landscape degradation, and the effect of pollution on human health. Of principal importance especially for determining prospects for development is to evaluate the extent of the use of renewable energy sources and ecosystem services (including various ecosystems, biological resources; biodiversity, and the area of protected natural sites).

    Progress in the propagation of the ideas of sustainable development and active participation in this process presuppose adapting them to the specifics of each country. The concepts of sustainable development and the ways of its accomplishment are different in different countries and will no doubt keep changing. This implies an assessment of achievements and problems of sustainable development ideas implementation experience at the national level.

    The success of the implementation of the ideas of sustainable development depends on the active position and awareness of a broad public. This necessitates educational activity, target-oriented activity of mass media and public service announcements.

    A great role here should be played by the structures of civil society, including both mass public organizations as well as the professional institutions of sustainable development. This implies the development of a broad environmental movement to support sustainable development as a priority activity of civil society, determining this topic as a priority direction of support on behalf of the business and states.

    Mankind starts to realize that an increased frequency of social and natural abnormalities are consequences of our wrong behavior, to realize its responsibility for the future of the planet. In order to determine priorities for joint action one have to refer to the generally accepted rules of conduct, ethic code approved by the global community. An importance to approve an international ethic code has been already declared at the UN World Conference on Sustainable Development in 1992. The “Earth Charter” could be used as a base for the document. The document as a generally developed statement on principles of sustainable development, necessary to provide environmental entity, social justice, democracy and peace was finished by 2000. Today the document starts to be of particular importance. The document promotion very much depends on a support from Russia and the USA as the leading countries initiated the process of International Ethical Code creation as well as from other developed countries and BRIC.

    Who should be leaders in this process? Apparently, those for whom this is especially topical. This implies understanding the necessity of this way of development and the presence of certain economic possibilities to implement it. A number of developed countries actively joined this process after the Rio Summit of 1992. We should admit that, although ideas of sustainable development are very topical for all countries and need joint efforts of the world community, only economically developed countries are able to ensure sufficient advance in this respect. Other countries may join them as they develop and upon the condition that developed countries help them. BRIC countries are among the countries for which this is topical today. There are a number of reasons for this. They include economic growth, rich natural resources, and the necessity to seek the optimal way of development. The country's priorities in innovation policy, energy efficiency, and economic modernization in accordance with modern requirements naturally determine their movement toward sustainable development. These countries could play a leading role in an international sustainable development movement

Vladimir Zakharov


© Center for Sustainable Development and the Health of the Environment, 2015  
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