The Many Roads to Our Common Future

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At the UNEP Switch-Asia SCP conference in Bangkok, Thailand, Student Reporter Mas Dino Radin sat down with Dr Magnus Bengtsson, Director of Sustainable Consumption and Production Research at the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), to tackle the issues surrounding implementing SCP policies in the developing, as juxtaposed with the developed world.

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that developed and developing countries have differing roles when it comes to addressing sustainability issues. Dr Bengtsson opined that developed countries have an important responsibility to carry out SCP strategies of their own, as well as helping developing countries to model theirs through local projects, technology transfers, and knowledge input. He noted that as developing countries grow and transition into the next phase of development, the relationship with developed countries must alter as well. Now, they are deemed to be independent enough to structure their own sustainability projects – something which can strain the relationship as more can be expected of a more developed economy.

Another key element of the discussion was the overemphasis on the role of developed countries when it comes to sustainability. Given that “lesser developed” countries are slowly growing in economic power – there are a few with GDPs higher than that of some of the European Union countries – it is imperative that responsibilities are shared equally. Both parties need to look beyond their own “narrowly-defined short-term interests” and focus on joint collaborations. The planet is shared between two parties so doesn’t it make sense that the path to a sustainable future is through working together? Unfortunately, as Dr Bengtsson observes, sustainable development efforts are largely undermined by the individualistic tendencies of nations. He even admitted that he was not very optimistic at the prospect of a shift towards a shared responsibility in the near future.

When asked about the feasibility of the 10 Year Framework of Programmes (10YFP), he agreed that it would take some time for civilisations to break away from their current unsustainable consumption patterns which are often but incorrectly equated to “increasing prosperity and human happiness.” Needless to say, developing countries need to undertake a critical re-evaluation of the model that is being mistakenly propagated – a model which Dr Bengtsson has described as an extraordinary mistake of the developed world. The success experienced by rich, developed countries has set a foundation that developing countries think they need to emulate. What is often overlooked are the flawed designs, inefficient infrastructures, and faulty strategies that developed countries have learned to sidestep while their counterparts mistakenly implement them thinking they are part of the process.

Developing nations aren’t the only ones with all the learning to do. What both nations can learn together is to identify the potential of innovative combinations by merging existing traditional practices which are already sustainable with modern technology.

To get the full scope of the conversation, watch the video below:

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